Comedy and Feminism: Mortal Enemies, or Best Friends?

I love Liz Lemon

Photo courtesy of CC

To me, someone believing the old cliche that “women aren’t funny” is one of the most annoying and frustratingly stupid things ever. It’s a misconception that’s still being fought against, but now with the help of more female and feminist comedians than ever.

There are tons of female comediennes rocking the industry right now, but a history of marginalization and trivialization of women in comedy, a male-dominated industry, as well as the issue of representational fatigue of feminist messages, makes women’s voices and feminist representation in comedy now, more important and powerful than ever.

Representational fatigue is a dilemma discussed by rhetoric scholar Eve Wiederhold that describes what many feminists face by way of people who are desensitized to feminist issues or simply don’t want to hear them because of negative stereotypes against feminism. Many times we feel discouraged from spreading feminist messages because we’re afraid and paranoid that people will automatically think we’re “crazy, bra-burning feminazis” who hate men and enjoy ruining everything fun, which is ridiculous, but the amount of backlash feminists get regularly makes these feelings seem more justified. Comedy, specifically subversive feminist comedy, could be a great solution to this problem!

Subversive comedy tries to break down political systems and norms by subverting one’s expectations. Marginalized groups like minorities often use subversive comedy as a means of self-empowerment and as a political statement, while still making it palatable for their audience. It works the same way for feminists. In Tina Fey’s show “30 Rock,” the main character Fey plays, Liz Lemon, as well as the other female characters on the show, use common stereotypes about women to point out every day sexist norms. By doing this, we see how ridiculous these norms are that are usually ignored. One example are the “Oh no! my period” scenes that are a recurring theme on the show. 

Amy Schumer is another great example of a popular feminist comic because almost all of her sketches on her show, “Inside Amy Schumer,” are about gender politics or double standards, yet she successfully reached an audience of 50/50 males and females in her last season.

Women are more in control of the comedy industry and of their own content now than ever before. Not only that, but the types of women we see and the roles provided for them are both becoming much more diverse, which is really important. Diversity in the media creates more of the same, so we’re on the right track towards experiencing many different voices and experiences through comedy. Even the hilarious new show produced by Amy Poehler, Broad City, can be thought of as feminist because it shows new roles available to women in it’s crazy, weird, sexually liberated characters Ilana and Abbi.

One issue with subversive comedy is that not everyone will get it. Many people may take a bad message or stereotype literally if they don’t understand the underlying joke in it. However, I think that’s just a risk we’ll have to take. Even if feminist comedy doesn’t hit the mark every time, at least it’s starting a discussion on important issues that most audiences would otherwise ignore.

Comedy is a feminist act because it so powerfully points out norms that we usually ignore, but in a way that makes us laugh. Even those who aren’t open to feminist messages are tuning in to funny women whether they’re feminists or not because funny is funny, and if we use comedy to fight against the forces of oppression, it can be so powerful.

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