Guest: Female comics expand the conversation on female sexuality

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Women in comedy help even the playing field between men and women

It doesn’t need to be clarified that Amy Schumer, the stand-up comic and actor, is almost always talking about sex. It’s the lens through which most of us are familiar with her work, which is infamous for its ever-present sexual undertones. She explained it well David Greene in a 2016 NPR interview: “I do talk about sex because I do think that a lot of things translate from the bedroom into how you live your everyday life.”

Schumer doesn’t talk about sex abstractly, but from her personal experience — of which, she constantly hints, she has a lot. She characterizes herself as promiscuous slut, but with the intention of mocking the concept itself. By focusing her comedy around the idea of “slutiness” she criticizes a culture that often limits women more than it does liberate them.

Sexual taboos in comedy can come in surprising forms.

There are, for example, countless male comedians who spend the majority of their airtime talking about their sexual activity — or lack thereof — but far fewer men, or women for that matter, will utter the word “vagina” on screen. Schumer breaks the trend, and in doing so breaks down a lot of the stigmas and inequalities that surround female sexuality.

She argued in the NPR interview that inequity in the bedroom can seep into professional spheres as well. Just by joking about sex, these double standards become less pervasive by breaking long-held taboos. Jokes level the sexual playing field between men and women and free women from constraints on how they come to understand and express their sexuality –– both positive developments that will improve social life.

Maybe if women weren’t labeled sluts for having a sex drive and prudes for being modest — and maybe if they receive equal attention from their male partner in the bedroom — they would reclaim agency in their professional and home lives.

Amy Schumer, though perhaps the most prominent, is not the only female comedian talking about sex. Nikki Glaser, who also guest stars on Inside Amy Schumer, pushes her audience to reconsider their preconceived notions about sexuality.

“I like putting myself in uncomfortable situations” Glaser told Vanity Fair. She says that if she’s dreading presenting her material, “…that’s when I know I’m doing something good.”

Glaser makes it clear that there’s power behind the things that make us viscerally uncomfortable. When we feel this way, there is often a significant reason why –– and that reason should be explored. By taking a personal and crude approach to sexuality, Glaser changes the protocol in comedy. She speaks openly and obscenely about sex from a woman’s perspective — something men have been doing about their own sexuality forever.

Issues surrounding active discussions of women’s sexuality are also well-explored by comedian, writer and actress Lena Dunham in each of the many mediums in which she works. Not only does her show Girls touch on sexuality in a realistic and raw way, but her memoir, Not That Kind of Girl, rivals the show’s grittiness.

In a section dedicated to her romantic past, she speaks honestly about being raped in college by a mutual friend and the confusing and disarming force it created in her life. Dunham does not parse words when speaking about her sexual experiences –– whether positive or destructive. She paints an honest picture of a girl discovering her sexuality and in doing so offers a realistic point of reference to the girls and boys who read her work.

Comics like Dunham are beginning to build an honest, challenging and provocative discourse which girls can use to educate themselves on their own sexuality. That Schumer, Glaser and Dunham have already entered the mainstream comedy scene indicates that their dialogue, and what it reveals about existing inequalities, is beginning to be accepted by society at large. And this would suggest that the potential for change and a more open conversation is imminent.

Written by: Stella Sappington

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