From parodying pop songs that tell women they don’t need makeup to satirizing double standards toward aging women in Hollywood, Amy Schumer has garnered not only media buzz this year for writing and starring in Judd Apatow’s Trainwreck, but has also taken the pop culture world by storm. In everything from hosting the MTV Movie Awards to interrupting Ellen DeGeneres on her own show, Schumer has earned a reputation in the industry for her feminist-laden brand of comedy.
Last Sunday night, Comedy Central’s Inside Amy Schumer won the Emmy for Best Variety Sketch Series, leading several media outlets to praise Schumer for the feminist rhetoric in her show. Vogue dubbed Schumer the “radical frontrunner for feminist comedy,” while she was lauded by The New Yorker for her “raucous feminism.” Meanwhile, Schumer received a Peabody Award and was named one of Time Magazine’s “100 Most Influential People.” Schumer has made a name for herself with honest humor about sexual double standards, gender inequality, sexual assault on college campuses, and equal pay. In one skit mocking Hollywood’s double standards against women, “The Last F—kable Day,” Schumer stumbles upon Tina Fey, Patricia Arquette, and Julia Louis-Dreyfus as they are celebrating Louis-Dreyfus’ last day of sexual desirability.
While many are quick to commend Schumer for the feminist overtures in her comedy, Schumer herself is a far cry from this generation’s feminist icon. The Guardian has criticized Schumer’s “shockingly large blind spot when it comes to race” in regards to her racist remarks against Latinos. “I used to date Hispanic guys, but now I prefer consensual!” Schumer said in one of her early stand-up routines. “Nothing works 100 percent of the time, except Mexicans,” she said in another routine. At the MTV Movie Awards, Schumer also quipped that Latina women were “crazy” (much to the chagrin of Jennifer Lopez, who was watching from the crowd.) While these comments could be viewed as benign coming out of the mouth of a liberal feminist, Schumer’s fans have been quick to jump to her defense, citing that her jokes were “in character.”
Schumer herself has responded to backlash. “Playing with race is a thing we are not supposed to do, which is what makes it so fun for comics,” she said. “You can call it a ‘blind spot for racism’ or ‘lazy’ but you are wrong. It is a joke and it is funny. I know because people laugh at it.”
Schumer has compared herself to Dave Chappelle for transgressing the social taboo of joking about race. While Chappelle’s humor is largely bred from personal experiences and social commentary on race relations in America, Schumer is a white woman standing on stage and making jokes that depict Mexicans as rapists and make light of the exploitation of immigrant workers. A joke that, in light of Republican front-runner Donald Trump’s comments connecting Mexican immigrants and rape, comes off as more tactless and ignorant than funny.
Schumer’s brand of feminism, often touted as “white feminism,” largely ignores the struggles faced by women of color and other marginalized groups. In fact, Schumer’s feminism, which fails to acknowledge intersections of race, sexuality, and class, isn’t feminism at all but is veiled under the guise of female solidarity. As Mikki Kendall pointed out in a trending #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen hashtag on Twitter, that solidarity usually only includes white women and often makes people of color the punchline of jokes.
While Schumer defends her jokes about race for comedy’s sake, it’s possible for female comedians to touch upon controversial topics without coming across as ill-informed. Take for example Saturday Night Live cast member Cecily Strong’s speech at the White House Correspondent’s Dinner back in April this year. Strong riffed on everything from sexist depictions of women in the media (“I solemnly swear not to talk about Hillary’s appearance because that is not journalism”) to police brutality (“Obama’s hair is so white that it can talk back to the police”). Strong’s smart, tongue-in-cheek humor shows that female comedians can play on hot topic issues about gender and race—all without making racist jokes about rape.