Watching Amy Schumer is a little like watching President Roth on the StairMaster. There is nothing superficially funny about it: He is just another dude getting in his workout. But when you think about what is actually going on—the president of our prestigious university, coming down from the Mt. Olympus we call North College, taking a break from his busy day of phone calls with angry Beta brothers and disillusioned DKE donors, in order to maintain the perkiness of his posterior—then it becomes comical.
Amy Schumer’s comedy is similar in the way that it blurs the distinction between performance and reality. She is undeniably a huge celebrity; she packed a full house at the Apollo Theater and was invited to Time’s 100 Most Influential People event, and we recognize that, even though most of her comedy is live, she is still putting on a calculated and well-practiced show for the audience. At the same time, however, the unmatchable candor and extreme trust in us, her audience, has become her comedic modus operandi, and makes us forget that she is not our own personal best friend. Like watching Roth at the gym, watching or listening to Amy Schumer evokes a certain level of visceral voyeurism, a strange feeling that we’ve stumbled upon something incredibly private.
It is this high level of vulnerability and exposure that I believe captures the essence of contemporary femininity. This de mode sexy is exemplified in the extreme by comedians like Amy Schumer and Lena Dunham, and in subtler ways by stars like Jennifer Lawrence. While the old cool revolved around women who portrayed and emphasized an effortless flawlessness, who wore the oxymoronic natural makeup look and claimed to ‘eat whatever they want,’ we all know that that was certainly not the case. The new cool is just the opposite; it’s about being cool with your flaws hanging out for everyone to see. The new sexy is not about claiming, “I just threw on the first outfit I saw” when you really spent 45 minutes getting dressed, but about arriving to a social event in an outfit of sweatpants and sweatshirt. It’s about admitting the truth in Fabulous’ line, that those “Louis Vuitton shoes, she got too much pride, her feet are killing her, I call it shoe-icide” and replacing it with an embrace of Drake’s idea that the prettiest version of a woman is with “sweatpants, hair tied, chillin’ with no makeup on.” In other words, contemporary cultural norms regarding how we are meant to act out femininity are shifting from a script of prudishness reminiscent of the Victorian era to one of brutal honesty.
Perhaps this cultural metamorphosis vis-a-vis womanliness is a facet of the modern zeitgeist of perpetual oversharing. From the barrage of egotistical and excessive Facebook status updates to Snapchats we wish we could un-see, to the popular use of Twitter as a personal play-by-play platform, this compulsive desire to show and tell is more easily and quickly satisfied, and thus more widespread, than ever. However, the general public’s constant stream of irrelevant updates and extreme transparency compared to Amy Schumer’s humor indicates the existence of a fine line between the former’s information sharing as a means for narcissistic self-exposure and the latter’s use of frankness as an empowering tool for exposing gendered double standards.
It seems that for Schumer, the greatest inequality faced by women is the implicit societal pressure to keep certain things private, even in a society that superficially claims to promote oversharing and exposure. Her unashamed discussion of topics such as UTIs (“You know how I got it. I had sex and then I was too lazy to pee right after”) and the challenges of female biology (“It’s work having a vagina. Guys don’t think that it’s work. but it is. You think it shows up like that to the event? It doesn’t. Every night it’s like getting it ready for its first Quinceañera, believe me”), she ingeniously reverses the burden of embarrassment by forcing us to confront our initial visceral discomfort with such topics. Her shameless storytelling and sex-related talk ad absurdum calls into question our surprisingly strict notions of inappropriateness and collapses an antiquated binary between what women should share publicly and what they should keep private.
Schumer’s oxymoronic confident self-deprecation is responsible for her success as a comedian, a role model, and an accidental activist. Her refreshing commentary on issues including sex, body-image, and the harmful impact of the entertainment industry is enacted not by a critical analysis of underlying systemic sexism, but instead by employing humor to capitalize on the utter ridiculousness of daily practices and familiar taboos. Ultimately, the new feminism, the new cool, and the new sexy, inspired by Schumer and many of her contemporaries, is one that strives to create and celebrate a new generation of courageously vulnerable women. The conceivable oath for this bona fide new woman is put best by Schumer herself: “I will speak and share and fuck and love, and I will never apologize to the frightened millions who resent that they never had it in them to do it.”
Solomon is a member of the Class of 2018.