Amy Schumer, the comedian and actress, is famous for her raunchy, frank sexual humor. This week, she’s also in the news for what many have hailed as a “perfect” response to a sexist Twitter comment. But where some see a blow struck for feminism, others see a thin-skinned, hypocritical reaction to an innocuous joke. Schumer’s detractors have a point — one that highlights a larger cultural double standard.
On Monday, Jackson Murphy, a 17-year-old film critic who runs a blog called “Lights, Camera, Jackson,” tweeted a photo of himself and Schumer after meeting her at the Critics’ Choice Awards. His caption was, “Spent the night with @amyschumer. Certainly not the first guy to write that.”
Schumer shot back, “I get it. Cause I’m a whore? Glad I took a photo with you. Hi to your dad.”
Murphy quickly apologized, then tweeted to Schumer again to repeat the apology and tell her he had deleted the joke. To her credit, Schumer offered a gracious reply: “That’s really okay honey. I just remember thinking you and your dad were sweet and it was a bummer to read that.”
But that was only the start of Murphy’s public drubbing. The media, from celebrity websites to The Huffington Post and BuzzFeed to the Daily News and even the British press, piled on with headlines like, “Amy Schumer Claps Back at Teen Critic for Sexist Tweet” and “Amy Schumer Shuts Down Slut-Shaming Film Critic.”
The obvious paradox — as critics like National Review writer Stephen Miller pointed out — is that Schumer has built her career on shaming herself. One review of her recent HBO special referred to “her signature brand of raunchy jokes, mostly about getting laid.” In a recent GQ interview, Schumer discussed a sexual encounter with a cabdriver. She has done a skit about getting herpes from a hookup. She has joked on Twitter about having “seasonal slut disorder”: “During winter months twice a week I need to sit under a sun lamp and [expletive] a stranger.”
Apparently, what’s sauce for the gander in this case is not sauce for the goose.
One could argue that Schumer’s jokes reclaim female sexuality, while comments like Murphy’s stigmatize it. But actually, it’s clear that the hapless teen critic had no intention to “shame” the comedian. In his apology, Murphy told Schumer, “Thought you’d like the joke.” And why not, since it was riffing on her own humor. The only way this joke is sexist is if one accepts the (sexist) premise that women, but not men, are degraded by sleeping around. Would a similar quip be seen as objectionable if made about a male celebrity known for his wandering ways? Aren’t those who take offense merely validating the double standard?
In some ways, it’s men who now get the short end of a double standard. A number of men have told me they are concerned about being accused of sexual harassment if they respond to a woman’s ribald banter and accidentally cross the line she chooses to draw. Murphy’s shaming is a case in point.
While Schumer has said women are judged more harshly than men, her example suggests the opposite. Thus, she has told a story about playing a prank on TV journalist Katie Couric at a dinner — apparently in retaliation for a dismissive comment — by sending Couric’s husband a text message from Couric’s phone proposing a specific sexual act. A man telling such a tale would be pilloried.
Schumer has often championed feminism in her comedy. But her feminist slogan seems to be, “Can dish it out, can’t take it.”
Cathy Young is a regular contributor to Reason magazine and Real Clear Politics.