Why I Teach Young Women About Amy Schumer
Yes, she’s raunchy, she’s provocative...and her work is genius. And young women are listening to her.
I am not the first to call her a role model. I agree with those who praise her, who thank her for being real, for telling it like it is, for openly criticizing media portrayals of women, for having an inspiringly authentic body. And I see more.
In a very clever, intricately woven body of work, Schumer calls upon us - the women of today - to build a new culture. She doesn’t point fingers or place blame, she simply illuminates our responsibility to build the culture in which we wish to live. She leads by example, expressing a voice of realism and truth. Her work is not about complaining about the way things are, it’s about reclaiming them and making them how we want them to be.
One after another, her sketches on Inside Amy Schumer (Comedy Central) illuminate the glaring misunderstandings perpetuated by and about women today. Whether it’s the media’s double standards (“Julia’s Last F**kable Day”), hip-hop’s contemporary ass-obession (“Milk, Milk, Lemonade”), the ludicrous articles in so-called women’s magazines (“Sex Prep”) or our illusory perceptions of what we should look like (“New Body”), Schumer brilliantly satires the images of women idealized by our society, and the harmful ways in which we respond.
She forces us to see the contradictions, the unrealistic standards, what is off about the way things are. But Schumer’s true genius lies in her inspiring call for what can be. In each of these pieces (and many others) she does much more than simply point out what is “wrong” with today’s culture. She uses her platform to unabashedly draw attention to how we, the women, perpetuate the very culture that oppresses us. And in this way, she calls upon us to create something new.
In her hit movie, Train Wreck, Schumer manages to reclaim female sexuality while simultaneously criticizing objectification and telling a very real, very relatable story of young single women in New York City. The lead character is a promiscuous 30-something (named Amy) who sleeps with who she wants to, when and where she wants - even making it all the way to Staten Island. In the words of my students, “It was so cool seeing a woman in the ‘player’ role for once!”
But that’s not how she reclaims female sexuality. That would be too simple; Schumer is more sophisticated than that. Later in the movie, Amy admits that she makes fun of her sister’s family life because she thinks it’s something she herself will never achieve...until she falls in love. And then, in the movie’s most poignant scene, Amy dances with the Knicks City Dancers - the adult version of the high school cheerleaders we all hated back in the day, and still judge now - to show her man how much she loves him.
The subtle genius in this scene is unmatched. Earlier in the movie, Amy harshly judged these same women - understandably, any empowered woman would do so, right? - but now she joins them. Yet her dancing is different, somehow less sexualized, more honest and real. Same as in “Milk, Milk, Lemonade” - not because she is any less attractive than the other women in the video - because she just doesn’t sell her sexuality in the same way. Watch again. You’ll see what I mean. She’s a beautiful woman with great sex appeal, she’s not afraid to demonstrate it...but she doesn’t objectify herself.
In the sketch “Gang Bang,” Schumer faces the question of objectification head on. It’s a double edged sword; on one hand, we don’t want to be treated like objects. On the other, we want attention from men, and we feel especially validated by sexual attention. Or, better said, we feel bad when we don’t get the (unwanted!) sexual attention we thought we were going to receive. Not too differently from my student Olivia, when she faces the ugly truth about catcalls:
I think I was in seventh grade when a man in a car first honked at me. The sad thing is, I didn’t feel disgusted at first. In fact, maybe I was a little excited, because I never thought I got any special attention from guys. Now I am sixteen years old, and there isn’t one day that I can walk down the street and not get honked at or catcalled.
For women today, objectification has sadly become a way of life.
I am not talking about the images we see around us - I am talking about the way we see ourselves.
Images affect how we act and dress. Girls my age in particular are going through a stage of uncertainty and just want to fit in. Trying to be like the images we see, especially in the media, seems like the perfect way to fit in. I think the media shows us as brainless, pretty objects for boys to boss around and have sex with.
Amy Schumer brilliantly reminds us that we still - in our 20s, 30s, 40s and beyond - do all kinds of crazy things to fit these images. In doing so, we perpetuate the culture of objectification and continue to suppress our true self-expression.
Amy Schumer’s comedy is not an example of a woman finding success in a men’s world. It is an example of a woman defining success, reclaiming a language of realism for women by expressing her truth. I admire her brave call to action, reminding us - the women - that we are the creators of our culture. It’s in our hands to change the way we are portrayed and perceived. Amy Schumer is re-writing the modern woman’s narrative. It’s no surprise she’s become as huge as she has.
Thanks Amy, in the name of women everywhere.
Originally published on The Huffington Post