Many female comedians today operate from a post-feminist point of view, which leads them to joke about complex issues such as rape or gender inequality. Post-feminism is characterised by the belief that the battle of the sexes is over. This feminist wave refuses the idea of women as the passive victims of patriarchy, which has resulted in rather confusing notions of feminism. Post-feminist comedians rely on sharp honesty to tell personal stories, which has gained them numerous critics from inside and outside the feminist circuit. It´s common notion that, in the world of comedy, anything can be subject of mockery, but we are left wondering whether this post-feminist standpoint to comedy is somehow betraying the feminist project as a whole.
According to scholars Dafna Lemish and Limor Shifman, post-feminist humour focuses on sexuality and consumption, rather than politics, as means of empowerment. These female comedians find in the perks of capitalism the arguments to gain authority for their entire gender. In this line, traditional feminist comedy seemed more political; it put emphasis on the differences between genders which made it operate as an activist movement. Post-feminism, on the other hand, assumes that gender equality is a given and constructs its humour from that belief.
Ali Wong is a good illustration of a post-feminist comedian. Her performances became so popular that landed her a special one-hour show on Netflix. She humorously details why “feminism is the worst thing that has ever happened to women” because it has threatened their alibi of playing dumb. Particularly, she notes, feminism has ruined her life plan: to get married and pregnant, lie back and eat snacks in front of the TV. Wong’s comedy humorously attacks the work of second and third-wave feminists who fought, among other things, against the androcentric idea of women playing exclusively the role of wife or mother. Indeed, this comedian seems to reiterate a patriarchal narrative of motherhood, yet she does so from the belief that gender equality is a reality which, in turn, annuls patriarchy and does not compromise feminism.
Another good example is the work of Sasheer Zamata, who builds on race and sex to write her texts. In one of her stand-up sets, she tells a personal story about some voice-over work she did. She points that the director of the project wanted her to sound more “ghetto.” She felt terribly hurt by that indication, however she still did it because “the money was good.” Zamata here points at the benefits of capitalism, the empowerment that previous feminists strived to find by means of political action. Zamata’s work, however, wouldn’t put the work of feminism at risk, if we lived in a world of true equality.
Some would argue that these female comedians have been influenced by the kind of comedy their male counterparts used to do years ago and some still do today. The comedy based on jokes on sex and gender gained these men the anger of many feminists. A good example of this is the case of Sarah Silverman, who is being severely criticised because of her tendency to joke around sensitive issues such as rape. The question here is whether we can speak of genuine gender equality or not, since the answer would help determine whether these comedians advance or undermine feminist agendas.
Words: Sergio López
Copy edited by Elena Stanciu
Cover Image: Sarah Silverman during Saturday Night Live monologue, 2014.