|TW: Rape, sexual assault, consent, light swearing
So, I was really excited to see a new Amy Schumer special show up on Netflix, and immediately Carolyn and I dropped everything to watch it (not that we had a lot going on at midnight, but you know what I mean).
As it progresses, though, I become more and more uncomfortable with the way she’s talking about sex. It doesn’t bother me /that/ she’s talking about sex–I mean, she is one of my favorite comedians, so sex as a topic is a given. But increasingly, it’s becoming apparent that she has no interest or investment, at least in her jokes, in the idea of consent.
Within the first ten minutes, she told two jokes that bothered me, both of which are strangely rape-y:
In one, she describes waking up after blacking out from alcohol, only to discover that there’s a man going down on her. She looks around, trying to figure out what she can tell about him: “He has brown hair…and he’s a hero.” She then goes on to describe, at length, how disgusting the space between her legs is–but she never complicates the assertion that the man who, while she was blacked out, began to effectively rape her was anything other than a hero. Now, of course we all get to decide what we’re comfortable with sexually, and it doesn’t bother me at all that she wouldn’t mind that happening to her. (Okay, it does bother me a bit, but it’s none of my business.) But if a male comedian made a joke about going down on a woman while she was blacked out, and described himself as a hero because her pussy was gross, we wouldn’t laugh. Because it wouldn’t be funny. And the same, I think, is true here–there is nothing funny about glorifying sexual assault just because you didn’t mind it, because that tacitly tells men listening that it’s okay to go down on a woman when she’s black out drunk. And here’s a clue–it’s fucking not.
Second joke: She says that if a man tells her it’s not his thing to go down on her, she says she’d tell him it’s fine, take him mountain climbing, and push him off the mountain. This joke is a lot less menacing than the first, I think, but gets at the same problem: Consent matters in sexual relations. I’ve met people who were pressured into oral sex against their will because their partner felt they were deserved it, and the trauma from those situations is as real and as problematic as that from any coerced sex. Don’t get me wrong–I do think there’s a strange double standard where women are expected to perform oral sex on men and men aren’t expected to do the same. The solution, though, is to free everyone from societal expectations when it comes to sex. The solution, in fact, is to talk about what we’re comfortable with, and to try to support one another through those difficult conversations. When a woman feels compelled to perform a sexual act despite an inner unwillingness, that’s f’ed up. And the same is true for men. And I’m really upset and disappointed at the strange double standard she’s expressing there.
But I’m not confused by it–as she argues, women should feel more empowered to act like men in the bedroom, going after their own sexual gratification without concern for their partners, just like men do. The problem here is that she has correctly put her finger on what makes sex so often so pernicious and destructive–namely, that many men take whatever they want sexually without caring who they hurt. But she’s arguing that that should be the norm. In effect, she is endorsing rape culture by arguing that the real problem with rape culture is that women should be allowed to do what they want as well, that they should be allowed to be rapists, too. And in doing so, she’s working under a strangely “feminist” veneer, arguing for equal rights–both men and women should be allowed to take advantage of one another. But, man, is that argument both gross and upsetting and wrong.
Listen, I get that jokes can do great work in terms of unravelling the complexities of sex, gender, and consent. After all, I am generally a fan of Amy Schumer, even if I do often disagree with her. But rape, in and of itself, isn’t funny. And what’s really not funny is watching a comedian argue in favor of rape, arguing in favor of more rape, without realizing she’s doing so. That’s not feminist. That’s bullshit.