“Ladies, wouldn’t be wonderful if our pussies were detachable?” An interesting consideration. Wanda Sykes continues her joke with the observation that women would no longer have to be afraid of jogging alone at night. When a predator jumps out at you all you have to say is “Sorry, I left it at home!” The audience is roaring at this point. I’m thinking this is social commentary in its most inclusive form. Well, my initial thoughts were not actually that concise but for the sake of the piece let’s go with it.True, it would be naïve to think that every person who hears this joke will understand and really give credence to the oppressive, violent reality from which the joke is spurned.  But, we are talking about a venue that reaches oodles (and do not underestimate the oodle) more people than academic journals or feminist literature.  And, as we all know, it is the masses that the attitude shift has to come from.   

Using comedy as a political tool is not a new idea.  Satire reaches far back to Ancient Greece, and trots along to Tina Fey’s ever-amusing Sarah Palin impersonation.  Nevertheless, I believe that comedy as a medium for feminist commentary is overlooked and underused.  Before we look at some of the existing feminist comedians and their undeniable hilarity I want to talk about the mainstream comedy movies of the moment.

I am talking about the comedies that teens and young adults quote for months and months after its release. Superbad, Pineapple Express, Knocked Up and The Hangover to name a few.  These movies have been wildly popular over the past couple years. In fact, The Hangover has recently become the highest grossing R Rated Comedy ever.  All of these films have elements of sexism.   

In is undeniable that these films, along with other aspects of popular culture, help form and reinforce social attitudes.  This is especially true for impressionable youth.  When I have brought up a feminist critique of these films, in a non-feminist setting, I have heard the all too familiar routine of pointing out my over sensitivity and inability to loosen up.   

In Superbad the chubby not-so-attractive character grinds with an attractive girl at a house party and, gasp, she somehow gets period blood on his pants. “Someone had their period on my leg. I’m going to throw up…this is so disgusting!” As I have read on the many, many comments of this youtube clip it appears to be one of the favourite moments of the movie. Disclaimer: if you want to keep your faith in humanity do not read the comments on this youtube clip. Actually, that is a bit of an exaggeration. If you want to avoid the aforementioned do not watch the newly released comedy The Ugly Truth.  This film pokes fun at date rape. Um, date rape is not funny. Ever.       

That scene in Superbad, along with similar scenes in similar movies teaches shame to young girls.  I would also argue that it is just as harmful as more blatant forms of sexism because it is embedded amongst a slew of other things that all cool young people must find funny.  For the masses of people who found a lot of that movie hilarious (myself included) it is a radical statement to call that scene sexist.  If that is a radical statement then we have a problem here.          

We need to take this power of comedy and inject some feminism.  In fact, it is already being done by some very clever women.  For those of you who have not watched any of Sarah Haskins’ Target Women segments you need to get off your rocking horse and check it out immediately. Her segment on Current TV mocks the absurdity of advertising targeting women.  She delivers her commentary in an infectiously amusing sardonic manner.  On jewelry: “There’s nothing that says ‘I love you’ to a woman like a diamond. Nope, not even the words ‘I love you.’” On diets: “For the New Year all the women in the world have resolved to lose weight. But how!? Where can we find we find an array of tips on dieting and exercise…oh that’s right, everywhere!” On ridiculous hair product advertisements: “Hair care used to be just about brushing it a hundred times before bed. Now, beautiful hair is something to die for. In a deserted jungle temple.”

In Canada we have Shauna Dempsey and Lorri Millan’s aptly named Finger in The Dyke Productions.  One of their most famous productions was titled Lesbian National Parks & Services.  In 1997 it began as a site specific piece in Banff National Park.  Dempsey and Millan sported their twist on typical park ranger uniforms and gave information on the “preservation of lesbian wildlife” to the unassuming public.  Their aim was to activate LGBT visibility in public leisure spaces.  Due to their humourous, non-threatening  approach the Lesbian National Park Rangers received wildly positive feedback.  No small feat in a community that is heavily populated by conservative American tourists.  With the initial success they took the production further by creating a mockumentary and a field guide.  The field guide expands the duo’s contagious humour with a section of the book titled “Keeping Wet In The Bush” and an explanation of the “bulldyke moose and her strap-on antlers.”   

These are just a couple examples of what feminist comedy can look like.  As a feminist community we need to encourage more of this kind of work and support the work that already exists.  It is damn funny and it works a tool for public awareness.  Again, I do not wish to discredit other avenues for social change but it is about time we put feminist comedy on the map.                          

Ellie Gordon-Moershel

Ellie Gordon-Moershel

Between interning with the rabble podcast network and full-time feministing in daily life and with the F Word Media Collective, Ellie likes to amuse herself by imagining a world in which animals wear...