My feminist writing has grinded to a halt for the past half a year due to challenges of maintaining – as cliché as it sounds – a good work-life balance. Last Monday, however, I managed to escape work and child care duties to attend a Guardian Masterclass entitled “Understanding the History of Feminism”. I don’t intend to dwell upon the actual workshop too much except to say it was not as rigorous as I had hoped. I had taken the class to improve my understanding of feminist theory and the movement’s history but we ended up spending most of our time engaging in group discussion rehashing experiences of every day sexism that are familiar to most women and by no means shocking or even surprising.
Although peeved at the time, the exercise proved fruitful in the end since in my group – in the context of affirmative action – we talked about the complete absence of female role models in a multitude of industries and how one single person with influence can inspire a whole generation of women to pursue a female unfriendly career path. As an example I mentioned female comedians and noted the explosion of female comics on the scene in the last several years with the likes of Mindy Kaling, Tina Fay, Amy Schumer, Lena Dunham, Samantha Bee, and Jessica Williams creating shows and writing memoirs. The talk inevitably turned to the responsibility of these influential figures in the wider society in perpetuating stereotypes and moulding values including the racism controversy around Amy Schumer’s Tweet about street harassment. I was unaware of this story but the basic gist of it is that in response to a Tweet by Paulo dos Santos saying “Lena Dunham, Amy Schumer, et. al. refuse 2C that misogyny among men of color, while hideously prevalent, is no more so than among white men.” Amy shoots back with “how would you know? Statistically who is hollerin at you in the street more pa?” before deleting it shortly afterwards.
I am not going to beat Amy Schumer’s drum. She may genuinely be a racist. I won’t argue against that. Before Amy Schumer became the Amy Schumer of today, I found her stand-up routine’s racist material, very offensive not to mention unfunny. Schumer has responded to critics by arguing that she plays a character in her stand-up routine, a blonde bimbo who says stupid things and holds stupid opinions. Yet her jokes around blacks and Hispanics were not made at her own expense. Rather they perpetrated overworked stereotypes. They were lazy, tired jokes. More predictable than provocative. Yet, I believe that as a social commentator and a woman, even a racist one, Amy Schumer should still be able to tell her story, to share her observation, and to state her statistic – albeit a crude one – on street harassment and cat calling without being silenced. The catcallers of Amy Schumer’s world may really be a small sample of our society with a statistically overrepresented number of Hispanic migrant workers just like the workplace sexual harassers of Gretchen Carlson, Andrea Tantaros may be white corporate America.
Of course making racist jokes in the first place strips Schumer of credibility to comment on the racial breakdown of cat callers. But I take her comments from a different angle. I take her Tweet to be an expression of range or at least of irritation at yet another man telling women how it is. The “how would you know?” epitomises that feeling. This may appear naïve but to my knowledge no one has attempted to critique Schumer’s credibility or whether or not she suffers from bias – subconscious or otherwise – in tweeting this. The label was simply used as a trump card to shut her up. Go after her for her lazy material, for her offensive jokes. But not for stating she’s been target of street harassment by one group of men more than others.