What the Amy Schumer Saga Says About Feminism and Compromises

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Courtesy of Universal

Watching “Inside Amy Schumer” has often elicited a storm of different reactions: laughter, recognition, shock, occasionally frustration.

So it’s not surprising that this week has been a rollercoaster for those who’ve followed Schumer’s meteoric rise.

Shock, horror and sadness are only a few of the emotions that swirled online as Kurt Metzger, a longtime writer for the Comedy Central show that launched Schumer to prominence, spent days making offensive and incendiary comments about a situation involving allegations of rape within the comedy community.

Via Twitter and Facebook, Metzger mansplained how women should process and report their assaults. His behavior was a textbook demonstration of male privilege and a series of examples of clueless and cruel victim-blaming. And yet as much of this occurred, Schumer remained silent.

When she finally commented on Wednesday, via Twitter, she conveyed disappointment about Metzger’s actions, but she didn’t use the kind of bold, cut-through-the-b.s. language that is familiar from her stand-up material and her show. She distanced herself from Metzger, but in ways that felt equivocal and halting.

There was some doubt about where things stood late Wednesday night: Was Metzger fired or not? Was the show canceled or not? She finally cleared things up Thursday morning: The show is not canceled, but it’s taking a long break, and Metzger no longer works for “Inside Amy Schumer,” but then again, nobody does, because it’s not gearing up until next year, after her tour.

As the situation played out, observers — many of them, like Schumer, self-declared feminists — tried to understand how she could have employed a man with such toxic tendencies for so long. Because this isn’t the first time Metzger made a series of poor decisions; back in 2013, a similar controversy swirled when feminist writers Lindy West and Sady Doyle accused him of harassing them online. There are few things more tiresome than a comedy bro being offensive to women in the name of speaking uncomfortable truths or whatever his excuse is, but that seems to be Metzger’s thing. Sigh.

Perhaps the lowest point of the more recent Metzger affair was when women who asked Schumer to speak up found they’d been blocked by her on Twitter. It’s hard to describe the letdown of seeing someone who’s positioned herself as a champion of women literally wall off the words of those airing their concerns in a civil fashion.

Maybe we should have seen all this coming. After all, Schumer has said things before that crossed lines, only to retreat into the usual excuses about how she didn’t mean to offend anyone. Last year, she faced criticism over what one writer called her “blind spot about race,” and while she apologized for an offensive joke about Mexican men, she also said that those who called her humor “lazy” are “wrong.”

This is a pretty familiar pattern: The more famous a comedian gets, the more scrutiny he or she is subjected to, and while everyone understand that writers and artists must grow and evolve — and possibly make mistakes along the way — defensiveness and self-righteousness seem to be the instinctive responses of many in the comedy world when challenged in reasonable ways.

But this time felt different. The Schumer-Metzger mess is a huge, exhausting reminder that even when a woman is the boss, she can make other women feel like she doesn’t have their backs.

If you’re a woman over the age of 14 or so, the depressing deflation of being let down by a woman you had admired isn’t a new feeling. But to be so disappointed by someone whose whole public persona is based on bold talk, refreshing honesty and confrontations with sexism in all its slippery forms is a huge bummer.   

As the controversy gained steam, I kept thinking of a sketch that aired in the second-season premiere of “Inside Amy Schumer.”

A focus group made up of men talked in graphic and insulting terms about whether they would sleep with Schumer, who stood behind a one-way mirror, listening to them list her faults. Like a number of her sketches throughout the years (particularly the lauded “12 Angry Men Inside Amy Schumer”), it brilliantly captured the ways in which women can’t avoid being subjected to unfair and crass judgments. It was yet another comedic distillation of the idea that double standards and unfair limitations too often determine the shape and scope of our lives.

At the end of the sketch, Amy asks the focus-group leader a question: “A couple of them said they would bang me?” He nods, and she turns to the camera and smiles. The joke is that, even though the men shredded her, some part of her wanted their approval. It’s funny because it’s true; I’ve been there. A lot of us have been there. So much of Schumer’s work is based on the idea that, even as women reject the punishments and judgments they know are unfair, they still have to operate inside biased systems, and they can still find themselves responding to the alleged “rewards” offered to women who conform. 

“A Chick Who Can Hang” is another skit that explored how women have to conduct themselves in order to be accepted by men, and how tiring that can be. Because she depicted that kind of everyday sexism and those kinds of brain-melting compromises with such subversive glee and amusing focus, I let the lesser sketches go. I didn’t write about being troubled by some of the gender and race content of some of her jokes (and that’s my bad). I made allowances, because Amy Schumer, the woman who aired effective comedy sketches eviscerating rape culture, got it, right? Especially as a woman who revealed in her new book that she was sexually assaulted, she got it. Didn’t she? 

It’s a confusing situation that partly reflects the binds that so many women are put in on a daily basis. But that explanation is not a justification, and I am clear about one thing: Schumer did not come up with a statement that made it clear that she picks women over Metzger. She tried not to make a choice, but evasion can speak volumes.

The banning of Aaron Glaser from UCB for alleged rape is just one of many rape, harassment and assault controversies that have roiled various comedy communities in the last year or two. Those painful confrontations with the toxic elements of comedy culture have, for the most part, happened after the 2013 debut of Schumer’s show — after she came up through that world. Maybe her embrace of feminist concepts in her work helped change the culture she sprang from, and much of her work clearly reflected personal experiences. But maybe her success has made her more prone to compromise, not less. Without her offering a more complete explanation of these events, it’s difficult to say (and her recent interview with Charlie Rose on this topic didn’t help). 

Speaking of her memoir, it was hard not to feel a few shreds of sympathy for Schumer in the last few days. This week marked the arrival of her book, “The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo,” but a thoughtless and selfish man  made everything about him and pulled the focus away from her moment. What woman hasn’t been there — having to deal with a male colleague whose poorly timed and immature hissy fit threatened to undo her hard work? Could he have picked a worse week to have his manbaby meltdown? 

But this isn’t just about that, and attempts to turn the conversation into a discussion of what Schumer has suffered aren’t working, not for me anyway. As writer and comedian Nikki Black wrote in a compelling essay, the past few days have really been about how women in comedy don’t “deserve to be treated like our experiences are unreliable.” 

Metzger’s actions are typical of the kind of gatekeeper behavior women face, especially as they ascend the ladder. Sometimes when gatekeepers get testy and possessive, you just have to break the gate, and Schumer had that power. But this week has laid bare the kinds of disappointing compromises even powerful women sometimes make in order to succeed in male-dominated professions. When she needed to make it clear to her fans that she valued her feminist beliefs over the actions of a rogue employee, Schumer didn’t step up to the plate.

Maybe she will in season five of “Inside Amy Schumer.” If it ever comes to pass.

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  1. Will says:

    Why does Amy have to jump when other people say so? It seems like she was walking a fine line and initially trying not to abandon a colleague. That seems honorable to me. Just because she doesn’t immediately disown the guy doesn’t mean she agrees with what he’s spouting.

  2. Jim Cosgrove says:

    So why isnt ‘mansplaining’ a sexist (and lazy) term?

    Oh yeah because its a out men.

    Like how ‘rape jokes aren’t funny’… Unless they’re about men and then they can be a staple of crappy sitcoms and movies.


  3. limn says:

    Metzger name anyone? Someone he knows personally who needed his Tweet-level guide thru the legal system; or someone who refused to believe [until he corrected them] that voiced opinions of guilt or innocence are not within the lay public’s domain of discourse. Anyone?

  4. Me says:

    We have a legal system for a reason. Crybullies can’t expect their online witch hunts to be taken seriously by adults.

  5. Vanessa Skinner says:

    The way Schumer has handled this so far doesn’t mean she’s not a feminist. She’s in a mess. Maybe she hasn’t stepped up yet, but that doesn’t mean she won’t.
    This isn’t a time to crucify Schumer for Metzger’s idiocy; it’s a reminder that women continue to be vulnerable.

  6. Claudia W says:

    I think the issue here is that Amy S is wrongly perceived as a feminist. I’ve never viewed her as such. Her unwillingness to call out the rape apologist/mansplainer doesn’t surprise me at all. She wants her cake and to eat it too.

  7. del says:

    Women are hypocrites. They talk about wanting empowerment but then many of them base their entire appeal on showing their bodies for attention online.

  8. Jacques Strappe says:

    That a smart women like Ms Schumer can and does often inject vulgar, offensive and childish locker room humor into her schtick (in and out of the spotlight) and sound just as crass and mean sprited as any popular male comedian, makes me rethink feminism and question my long held belief that most women are intellectually superior to men or at least possess better wiring in the head.

  9. Jacques Strappe says:

    Metzger is a dick for sure but one point he made while defending his overall A-hole-ness kinda resonated with me and that was how social media isn’t the forum to try a rape case. That rape is horrific, maybe even worse than a slow and painful death, is a given. Making serious accusations about rape on social media about an individual whether true or fictitious, and then engaging in a mock social media trial, is just one of the many abuses of social media where hatred and vindictiveness or even misguided attempts at humor can create a reality distortion. Not that social media should be reserved exclusively for pithy humorous comments about cat videos but so much of the commentary is toxic,vulgar and reckless that visiting is becoming routinely dispiriting. .

    • Social media is also not the forum for a clueless guy to pretend to be the foremost expert on rape and the judicial system and presume to lecture women on exactly how they should handle being raped if they are to be believed by him and the court of public opinion. Really, Metzger has no moral standing in this whole thing whatsoever.

      • JASON ROSS says:

        Hold on Donna, YOU are misrepresenting and in fact ignoring a very reasonable response from Jacques. He clearly said pretty much ALL of what Metzger said was reprehensible and only draws attention to ONE of the comments resonating. That of trial by social media. He replied very fairly to your comment, and you just continued grinding your axe. He attempted to engage you in discourse, and you ignored that and carried on on your soapbox.

  10. Jennifer says:

    Blocking everyone on twitter is where Schumer lost my support.

  11. DirkD says:

    metzger’s point is entirely valid. his rightful insistence is simply that CRIMES be dealt with in the proper venue – through LAW ENFORCEMENT and the JUSTICE SYSTEM… and y’know… not a FEMINIST LYNCH MOB pulling “mean girl” tactics. like it or not, crime accusations can be true or they can be false (care to weigh in on nate parker?) and a crusade drummed up by the word of the accuser alone is not a system that serves ANYONE well (please tell me you read or saw “to kill a mockingbird”). how the hell is it that in this day and age, the insistence of “innocent until proven guilty” is dismissed as MANSPLAINING?? and it’s amusing watching this feminist article writer bend herself into a pretzel trying to interpret schumer’s earlier works as somehow pro feminist. please… slash off the scales from your eyes. schumer, when she was still funny, cared not about the politics of feminism or intersectionalism. she cared about BEING FUNNY. she had material that would send a modern social justice warrior college student into the emergency room for all the apoplectic “triggering” it would have caused. schumer isn’t “growing” or “evolving” … she’s PANDERING to the pressures exerted by the social justice feminist mafia. it’s been explained to her that the only way forward is a new “enlightened” way… or the big time won’t be for her. bravo. way to kill funny. — and don’t for a second try to ignore the fact that all the BULLYING and HARASSMENT that she’s been getting as a result of this is by… guess who? FEMINISTS. gee, i wonder if twitter is going to ban them? :P — ffs, behave as you constantly berate men to behave – STOP PRESSURING HER to do or say this thing or the other. LET HER BE and do as she will. does not feminism DEMAND THAT?

    • Dk says:

      You obviously don’t know what a rape victim has to go through, just go to the police and everything will be peachy keen. Yeah right, they won’t be shamed or harassed by anybody nooo. You just told a women writer she should slash her eyes bc you disagree with her. Leave out the lame scales excuse, it’s still violent. See a problem there?

      • JASON ROSS says:

        NO HE DIDN’T. He said ‘slash the scales from your eyes’, it was a metaphor that could equally be directed to a man or woman. You are deliberately finding ‘misogynistic gender bias in mode of address’ where there was none. Effectively the same as saying ‘check your privelige’, which in turn simply means ‘you only have the right to say what I want you to say’.

  12. homosezwut says:

    I know this isn’t exactly on topic, but can anyone post average viewing numbers for Amy Schumer’s show reportedly taking a break & Larry Wilmore’s show that just got cancelled. – Just curious. thx:)

    • David says:

      They’re 2 different animals so to speak, one is a weekly sketch a few months a year, another “nightly” all year. Also, grow up.

  13. Z says:

    Huh, how on earth is saying you need proof to back up your claims mansplaining?

    • CS says:

      Not just mansplaining, but apparently it is also “having an immature hissyfit.” These are technical terms, right?

  14. Bb323 says:

    Amy’s never been the champion of women, It’s the show EP Jessi Klein who is. Amy has always been a guy’s girl.

  15. Garret says:

    It wasn’t one time. This has been going on for years with Metzger. Schumer has known about it for years. People are allowed to have friends others don’t like or approve of, but when you hold yourself out as an advocate for a certain group, you invite criticism over it.

    Metzger also grossly misrepresented the situation, as a private theater isn’t obligated to hire any comedian for their stage. They don’t have to get Metzger’s permission or approval to refuse to allow someone to perform in their theater. He was essentially saying, if he doesn’t believe they have a good reason, they’re not allowed to do it. And he’s also essentially saying that, because he hasn’t personally been provided with any evidence other than unnamed accusers, the theater doesn’t have any. Again, it doesn’t matter if they do, but if they do, they aren’t obligated to call Metzger in to see it.

    Just in case he doesn’t approve.

  16. BillUSA says:

    Y’know, it’s hypocritical of anyone to admonish a male comedy writer for his perceived trespasses of taste. Taken in the context of the comedy profession. the stuff that is said on shows and stand-up routines gets really down-and-dirty, disgusting even. So who decides when a male comedy writer has crossed the line in everyday conversation? How does one tell when he’s joking or being serious? In this day and age, it’s awfully hard to not be accused of harassing someone of the fairer sex. Is it that easy to nail a guy to the wall in a world where sexual humor is the norm? How do we know his earlier accusers weren’t just getting back at him for something unrelated?

    I don’t know, and that’s the point. Of course a feminist writer employed by a leftist propaganda rag would side with a foul-mouthed, wishy-washy female because to do so fits nicely with the demeaning of men. The agenda is quite clear on this issue. There is no margin for misunderstanding. No gray area. A woman has a grudge against a guy? Just say he sexually harassed you and he’s toast.

    Do men not sexually harass women? Yes, more than is reported I’m sure. Are all sexual harassment charges founded? I bet my life against it. Do I find the subject of rape something to be scoffed at or otherwise dismissed? Just refer to my remarks about Nate Parker’s pass he got from the court on the rape he didn’t try to prevent. Yet, I repeat, in the context of the profession, I believe there is a bias against men that may tilt the favor a little too heavily in favor of the female accuser.

    And for those who need the dots connected for them, this diatribe is mainly focused about the alleged harassment Metzger is accused of. Perhaps if entertainers like Schumer weren’t so outwardly disgusting in their presentation, there wouldn’t be such double-standardism. Like I say about young women of today, they dress like street-walkers but want to be treated as queens. But like women are prone to do, when the going gets tough they want to change the rules.

  17. Robo says:

    You lost me at “male privilege”. a voice for men dot com.

  18. BlindEye says:

    Of course Shumer didn’t respond to any of it, she only knows how to say things when they’re written out for her, she’s terrible. Also, whoever wrote this needs to let go of her bias, whenever one jerk says something it’s “mansplaining?” As in you assume he’s speaking on behalf of other men? Seems pretty sexist to me, it works both ways, so great job making yourself a hypocrite.

  19. JR says:

    Perhaps worth noting that he isn’t just a “rogue employee” but a friend. Confronting a friend in public is something most people try to avoid, even if they did screw up big time.

  20. del says:

    Schumer is supposed to be a “champion of women?” Ha. Perfect example of wanting to have her cake and eat it, too. Let’s see her do even two minutes of her act without talking about her “pissy” (change the i to a u) constantly. Then she complains when people call her a “sex comic.” Wow, so empowering, a woman talking about private parts.

  21. PJ says:

    We live in a world where, if you stand for “innocent until proven guilty” and due process, you are called a “mansplainer” and shunned. Sad.

    • dee says:

      Word. As a woman, I feel like we live in a world where every other SM site is all femnazi and blind without attempting to see both sides of it. And let’s not forget that women who don’t report a crime until much later on can be scrutinized as being untruthful. WHAT DO YOU EXPECT?

      I’m not saying that in most these situations, the woman is full of it, but if you really and truly feel violated, chances are you will report it right away. If there is no other proof or evidence ( months later for example) …. how can you expect to not be between a rock and a hard place?? I get that men do this kind of thing a LOT … but it’s up to you, the one who ‘s violated, to REPORT IT ASAP. I sure as hell did when it happened to me.

      Either way, Amy Schumer is a vile and pathetic hack. And she’s playing a MARKETING PLOY yet again to get people to buy her terrible UNORIGINAL book.

      She deserves to be kicked out of this business for plagiarism and the audacity to keep doing it. NO ONE IN THEIR RIGHT MIND WITH SOME LEVEL OF RESPECT SHOULD DO BUSINESS WITH THIS HACK. Me thinks CC is thinking along these lines by now. Months ago, a rep from the network said that their may not be a season 6.

      Maybe some of these folks from the network already appreciate how low class Amy Schumer has been to others over their own work. She’s done this so many in her business…. even to folks who aren’t in the business. Like she did me: maid not for you . com. …. I’m dead booty serious.

      • Jane says:

        Are you joking? It would be nice if people reported rape right away but there are many reasons they don’t, including the fact that they may be traumatized, feel ashamed, have been friends with the rapist and in shock, may be afraid of not being believed, etc. So trying to pretend that that’s the issue is crass, and I wonder if you are Kurt in disguise.

      • BlindEye says:

        If you really are a woman, then I appreciate you for recognizing the low-hanging and vulgar humor Schumer and others like Melissa McCarthy try to pass off as female empowerment, when it is clearly complete nonsense. You hopefully understand sexism can be misconstrued easily, and you’re the type of real woman the world deserves. Here’s a man telling you, “you go girl!” :) Tell those fake women how it is.

  22. My guess is that since Amy knows and works with Metzger, she also knows that a human being can’t be simplified and defined by a misinterpreted or poorly worded tweet. The writer here extrapolates so much more than actually exists and uses a lot of accusatory and derogatory language like he “mansplained,” calling guys “bro” and just lays into the negativity about men in such a way that is really polarizing and transparently hateful. Even though I agree with some of her points and do believe women are subjected to a lot of stuff they shouldn’t be, I think readers are pretty sick of the certain writers’ self-righteous attempts to steamroll and vanquish people’s behavior they don’t agree with through griping and blaming and insulting. This is not a good way to have a dialogue as it’s really a one way finger in your face type conversation. Let ye who has no sin cast the first stone.

  23. Journalist says:

    Blah blah blah I have opinions about things

  24. Sigh says:

    Anyone else remember when Variety was distinguishable from the average blog?

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