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In the 1980’s, there were only three female role models —Chrissy from Three’s Company, Daisy from The Dukes of Hazzard, and Bea Arthur. That was it.
I remember lying in bed at night wondering who I would grow up to be. A ditzy blonde, a trailer park slut, or a Golden Girl? I’m exaggerating, of course. There was also Janet, the brunette, slightly more intelligent alter-ego of Chrissy. But no one wanted to be Janet. Yes, she was smart and plucky, but even at seven, I knew she wasn’t fooling anyone with her Ringo haircut and so called “career” in the floral industry. She was going nowhere fast.
There were a few others; Laverne & Shirley, aka Clumsy & Asexual, Cagney & Lacey, whose palpable sexual attraction to one another was the only mystery they couldn’t solve, and the Facts of Life girls whose first-world problems made them entitled and therefore unlikeable— with riveting plot lines like:
1. Tootie needs new roller skates.
2. Blair dyes her blonde hair green.
3. And who could forget the groundbreaking episode when Natalie made television history by losing her virginity to a boy named Snake? PS. Not one of her so-called friends explained the lifetime implications of losing one’s virginity to a boy named Snake. Really, not even Mrs. Garrett caught that? Snake. Come on Garrett, we know you had a few “Snakes” in your day.
I learned at an early age that women weren’t considered funny in the mainstream, unless they were the butt of the joke, or a sexy distraction to the joke. My generation lacked a voice that wasn’t attached to a Thigh Master, Daisy Dukes or Floridian muumuu.
Fast forward thirty years and enter Amy Schumer. Her show Inside Amy Schumer is a collage of skits, interviews, stand-up, and star-studded reenactments of movies like 12 Angry Men, and a Charlie Chaplinesque film about the porn industry. But this is a better way to describe her: Had the SNL women of the 1970’s — Gilda Radner, Jane Curtain, and Lorraine Newman created a show called Jane you Ignorant Slut and Friends, and that show gave birth to a love-child, her name would be Amy Schumer.
Schumer has sprung from funny girl to “it” girl in the last month. And old mamas like me, who grew up in the 80’s where “funny” was Charo and Phyllis Diller, are jumping for joy, shouting, “Finally!”
It’s not just about being funny. Schumer pushes the boundaries of what it means to be a woman, what’s acceptable, and more significantly, what’s not. She broaches hot-button gender topics through humor like the Trojan Horse of Feminism. By the time you get the point, you’re laughing so hard, you don’t care who invaded your toga party.
In one sketch entitled “Compliments,” several women congregate on the street, congratulating one another on personal successes— a job promotion, a pregnancy, weight loss. Immediately after being given a compliment, each woman explains how she is unworthy of accolades, followed by a communal sigh of relief when the compliment is deflected back into self-hatred. A compliment about a new hair color is met with, “Oh please, I tried to look like Kate Hudson, but ended up looking like a Golden Retriever’s dingleberry.”
The exact moment I began to feel that Schumer’s “self deprecating schtick” was becoming a schtick, she started making fun of women making fun of themselves to make those around them feel okay. Because it’s not okay for a woman to accept a compliment—to acknowledge that she is beautiful or smart, deserves a promotion, baby, or successful relationship. Women have to be all things, but when acknowledged for it, pretend they look like a Golden Retriever’s dingleberry.
It’s not even okay for Amy Schumer to be Amy Schumer. A large portion of her stand-up routine is about how unattractive she is (which is grossly untrue). She’s beautiful—not Chrissy Teigen beautiful, more Nellie from Little House on the Prairie meets Missy Gold from Benson beautiful. But still beautiful.
If Schumer embraced her own success without pretending like she doesn’t deserve it, US Weekly would immediately feature an article entitled, “The Downfall of Funny,” next to a photo of Schumer mid-blink, holding a vodka, with a closeup of her back fat and cellulite (red circles and arrows highlighting all visible flaws). The article would feature quips like, “She Says She’s a Size 6, but Our Experts Say More Like 16!,” or “Funny but Infertile—Schumer Pines for a Baby, Even an Ugly One,” or a swimsuit photo entitled, “A Punchline to the Gut!”
The brilliance of Schumer is that she engages in the f-word (feminism) without confrontation. Even the most staunch misogynist hasn’t time to react before she takes the skit to a ridiculous level that melts any serious discord into laughter.
In one episode, Schumer is part of a panel of women being interviewed, but no questions are actually asked because the women are too busy apologizing —apologizing for asking questions, apologizing for standing up, for sitting down, apologizing for apologizing, apologizing for wanting a glass of water. And just as you’re about to say, “Enough already, women apologize a lot!,” a scorching cup of coffee is spilled on the lap of one of the panelists, and as her bloody legs bubble up with burns, she says, “Oh, sorry.”
She’s proving that not only are women funny (and always have been) but humor is the best and possibly only way to challenge gender roles, equality and the sexual objectification of women.
At the risk of Child Protective Services being summoned to my house, I let my nine-year-old daughter watch Schumer’s sketch entitled, “Milk, Milk, Lemonade.” It’s a satire on the playground jingle, “Milk milk, lemonade, round the corner fudge is made.” While saying the rhyme, the person points from each nipple, to their vagina and to their butt. It’s hilarious—when you’re nine.
Schumer takes this silly children’s rhyme and creates a music video with hip-hop lyrics, reminiscent of Sir Mix-A-Lot’s video, “I Like Big Butts.” It pokes fun (literally) at how the male fascination with big butts is as silly as a child’s playground rhyme because, “This is where the poo comes out.”
When I was in sixth grade, my girlfriends and I memorized and reenacted the video, “I Like Big Butts.” To this day, a white girl from Iowa, I can recite the entire song and most of the dance moves.
“I like big butts and I cannot lie, you other brothers can’t deny, when a girl walks in with an itty-bitty waist and a round thing in your face you get sprung.”
At this point in our dance, my girlfriends and I would lurch our prepubescent bodies forward completely unaware that “sprung” was code for erection. In my mother’s defense, she had no idea we were watching this. We didn’t have cable. But our friends did.
As a mother, I cannot protect my daughter from a culture that says women must not only be intelligent, funny, successful, sexy, laid-back, non-confrontational, stylish, witty, but also have some junk in the trunk. As much as I prepare her with mother-daughter talks about how the women in magazines are so airbrushed, they are actually more air than ink, I can’t reshape reality. The rules have been written and they are ingrained in my daughter’s brain every time we drive by a billboard with models dressed in lingerie and angel wings (because that’s what I wear to bed), or watch cartoons where the heroine is powerful, but also well-endowed, with a tiny waist, and huge, dumb, doe eyes.
I can’t protect my daughter from the reality, but I can show her how smart, funny women are mocking that reality. And funny is power.
In sixth grade, we didn’t have a role model who challenged the lunacy of men worshipping big booties, while eleven-year-old girls twerked at a slumber party like a perverse Macarena. That was normal. But for my daughter’s generation, normal will be the sarcasm that comes after.
Amy Schumer breaks the mold, and embodies the concept that making fun of reality is the only way to change it.And that is what I want for my daughter, a do over—a time where funny girls rule, where sexy is knowing who you are, and what you want. Where women are judged by the size of their intellect, and not the size of their butt.
Because that is where your poo comes out.