Tina Fey and Amy Poehler star in “Sisters,” which opened Friday. The current trailer showing features Fey and Poehler shopping, dancing, and reading in the bath together, as sisters. Seems inoffensive, right?
But the first trailer (Did they pull it after complaints?) features Poehler sexually assaulting an elderly man under her care. Then it moves on to Fey sexually harassing a local landscaper. In the extended version on YouTube (see it and wince, here), Fey’s crush tells her that his “safe word is: keep going.” The preview finishes up with Poehler’s date accidentally being penetrated with a toy (which is supposed to be comical).
Such a celebration of sexual violence in their art, calls into question a great many things, but most notably, Fey and Poehler’s reputation as feminists.
Feminism is defined as the movement that seeks equality between men and women. There are many subsets, like Radical Feminism, Christian Feminism, Socialist Feminism, et al. But as a sexual assault prevention educator, I’ve always found all feminists to be against sexual violence. (To my great relief.)
Fey and Poehler are specifically highlighting women sexual assaulting men, in their movie “Sisters.” Not as a serious issue that needs to be addressed in America, but something to get cheap laughs.
Now, to think male sexual assault is funny is not only abhorrent, but also un-feminist. If feminism were to support the idea, it would have to also support the idea of sexual assault against women as funny, since the goal is to treat men and women equally. And feminism has never laughed at men sexually assaulting women.
So why have Fey and Poehler acquired the title of feminists? Is it because they are strong women? Successful women in a male-dominated field? Because they say they are?
From time to time, we see Internet lists of famous feminists. Fey is invariably there, and one of her famous quotes is: “And if I have to listen to one more grey-faced man with a $2 haircut explain to me what rape is, I’m gonna lose my mind.” (here)
If said man with a cheap haircut understands that rape isn’t funny, and shouldn’t be portrayed as such in movies—perhaps her mind does need to be lost…
Poehler, for her part, runs the organization Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls, an awareness project that publishes articles and videos for young women. Profiling successful women in STEM fields, reporting on school-age activists, educating about the Bechdel test, and highlighting positive changes for girls in different societies, is just part of the posts shared from the Smart Girls’ site (http://amysmartgirls.com).
This work sounds feminist, but how can she then make this movie with such a horrible message to young women—namely, that sexual violence toward men is funny?
We would never expect a comedienne to get up and laugh about a woman being raped. Or would we?
Sarah Silverman, a successful actress, comedienne, and writer, is known for her support of reproductive rights. This support is often linked to feminism, as many women would be for freedom of choice for men, if they had the capacity to get pregnant. But Silverman doesn’t shy away from rape “jokes,” even against females, or pretending to be a victim herself.
Like: "Joe Franklin raped me."
And the ever popular: “I was raped by a doctor… which is so bittersweet for a Jewish girl."
(Note: In this article, I seem to be only referencing white, cis-gender, and American comediennes. Is there only a problem with this subset of comediennes—perhaps because of privilege and entitlement? Or is it that I see them more often, since mainstream media pushes them into the spotlight more than POC/foreign/queer comediennes? Am I just seeing myself in them, and that’s why I’m so disappointed in their behavior? I certainly would never subscribe to this kind of “comedy.” And I surely don’t know the answers to these questions.)
I spoke on healthy relationships and sexual consent last February at a college. “No Means Yes” was a rape myth that just wouldn’t die, I explained. For my example, I played a GIF of a moment from the movie Pitch Perfect 2. In it, a man propositions Rebel Wilson’s character for sex. She says, “No!” then winks at him. The man is understandably confused, and says, “So you said ‘no,’ but then you winked. So that’s a no, then?” Wilson says, “Of course not!” then winks once more.
Filmmaker Elizabeth Banks shouldn’t even have had that in her movie. Does she know how many times I’ve had to de-program teens from media rape myths? Does Wilson care how hard it is? Does Silverman think of how much pain she causes rape victims/survivors? Do Fey and Poehler see how hypocritical their messages are to their fans?
The answer is sadly, no. Comediennes say things for laughs, which bring money. If they can say whatever they need for a laugh, while railing against the same attitudes in other projects, their success is our fault. We need to stop buying that double-talk.
Male Comedians are shunned and made to apologize when they make a rape “joke” (Daniel Tosh comes to mind.) But it’s ok when a woman does it? A woman does it against a male victim? A woman who’s known as a “feminist” does it? Such a double standard isn’t usual for feminists, whose whole issue is one gender being treated differently from another.
We need to stop handing out the “feminist” title like candy. Good job, Fey, for showing those men in Hollywood that women can be funny! Good job, Poehler, for encouraging young ladies! Here’s your treat: the crown and scepter of feminism!
A feminist doesn’t make rape jokes. Period. Feminists work for other people, comediennes/comedians work only for themselves.