Amy Schumer, Rape Culture, And Twitter
The comedian condemned the actions of one of her show's former writers — but the incident highlights the difficulty of navigating celebrity and feminism on social media.
She blocked them because they had tweeted at her about the behavior of one of her former writers on Inside Amy Schumer, stand-up comedian Kurt Metzger, who was angry that another comedian named Aaron Glaser was banned from the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater in New York for allegedly sexually assaulting women. Because the investigation had been conducted internally at UCB and not by the police, Metzger argued that sexual assault victims should not be believed unless they go to the cops, that UCB had no right to ban Glaser, and that social media "mobs" are going after innocent people. A sample:
He started posting about Glaser and UCB over the weekend, and continued until yesterday.
Soon, people — mostly women — started tweeting at Schumer, asking her what she was going to do about Metzger. Then they started noticing that they'd been blocked.
Today, Schumer disavowed Metzger's statements.
She also tweeted that Metzger "is not a writer on my show," although she didn't clarify for how long that had been the case. (His IMDb credits list him as a writer on Inside Amy Schumer episodes from 2016.)
The tweet disavowing him was met with thanks but also with questions about why Schumer had blocked women who had tweeted at her about him. And more than one Twitter user pointed out that Metzger's "recent actions" should not have come as a surprise; he has previously harassed women writers online ("I didn’t know she had a mental fucking illness. I had no idea. I wouldn’t have made fun of her," he told Splitsider in 2014 about one of them) and has discussed his own issues with domestic violence. (The history of his Wikipedia page is interesting, in that it shows the back-and-forth regarding whether this information should be on his page.)
The incident raises several issues that highlight the expectations we have for someone like Schumer, whose rise to fame was based in large part on her take-no-prisoners feminism and her clear disavowal of rape culture, particularly in light of her own experiences with sexual assault. And as Heather Havrilesky wrote in Esquire, Schumer has lately only grown more emboldened to highlight gender in her comedy, and "has seemed determined to take the issues on which she's built her brand more seriously than ever."
You could argue that it's not Schumer's responsibility to condemn all of the reprehensible actions of the people who've worked for her. You could argue that it's "feminist policing," that we expect more from our female celebrities than we do our male ones, that it's put Schumer in an unwinnable position and we shouldn't take her to task for her reaction, that she probably hopes it will just blow over. You could argue that she's entirely within her rights to block whomever she wants on Twitter.
The problem with these arguments is that Schumer — whether she likes it or not — does have a responsibility, which she finally acknowledged Wednesday. She's become an icon for millions of women. She's powerful, and she's been adept at using this power when she wants to. She tweeted "much much love and respect" at the writer of an Elite Daily article published today headlined "How Amy Schumer Empowered Me to Come Forward as a Rape Survivor."
But there's a cognitive dissonance in using your influence and the language and power of feminism when it's convenient, and then withdrawing and/or getting defensive when there's a whiff of controversy around you or your work. When she got taken to task by The Guardian in June 2015 for some of her jokes being racist, she responded on Twitter, writing, "Stick with me and trust that I am joking... That includes making dumb jokes about race."
A week later, another Twitter user criticized her for a specific joke in her stand-up set — "I used to date Hispanic guys, but now I prefer consensual" — and this time, her response was more nuanced. She wrote that she was "evolving as an artist," and that "once I realized I had more eyes and ears on me and had an influence I stopped telling jokes like that on stage."
In April, when she criticized Glamour for implying that she is plus-size, Schumer was then criticized for being so quick to reject the label. As Christina Cauterrucci wrote in Slate, "More than once, in the same breath as Schumer has promoted the idea that women of all sizes are beautiful and worthy, she’s slipped in the fact that she’s a size 6. Her message is sometimes less 'I’m cool with my body, and you should be too, because there’s no wrong body' than 'What a shame that someone like me, who isn’t objectively fat, gets lumped in with all the actually fat women.'"
Perhaps Schumer's reaction to all of these incidents, including Metzger's, can be best understood in light of her movie Trainwreck. As Anne Helen Petersen argued last year:
"Like so many women of her generation, she grew up surrounded by the ideology of postfeminism, which suggests that now that the 'work' of feminism has been achieved we can all focus on having fun. The problem, however, is that 'fun' is still circumscribed by patriarchy, and a woman’s worth is determined by her ability to hew to expectations of desirability. You can have a job, in other words, but actual success is only measured in your ability to simultaneously attract a man, maintain an ideal domestic space, and preserve your body."
Trainwreck tried to explode the myth of postfeminism. Maybe what this whole episode with Kurt Metzger shows is that Schumer still struggles with it herself.
Metzger has responded on Facebook. His response reads, in part: "I was talking to the perennial social media mob who, without knowing victim or accused, GLEEFULLY want to be part of social mob justice. Some of whom are my friends. And I apologize for using the term 'lynch mob.' Lynch mobs sometimes actually hang a rapist. This one merely got a rapist banned from a monthly UCB show and then patted themselves on the head. I am always on the side of the VICTIMS, and I felt that this does them a great disservice."