An exploration of the current state of Feminism, and the movie, “I Feel Pretty"
Merriam-Webster defines a manifesto as, “A written statement declaring publicly the intentions, motives, or views of its issuer.” I have views. I have intentions, and motives. I am definitely “an issuer”, and yes, this is a written form of all of these posted on the very public internet. But please, refer to the title.
For a while now, I have been struggling with identifying as a feminist. Yes, by pop culture standards, I am a feminist – someone who believes in gender equality, but other than that, what does it mean? If I am a feminist, what have I done for the fight for gender equality? If I am a feminist, do I have to do anything? And my biggest question, if I am a feminist, how can Ivanka Trump consider herself a feminist, too?
My thoughts and issues with feminism as it appears now are best summarized by Jessa Crispin from her book "I am not a Feminist: A Feminist Manifesto" :
“Feminism has moved away from collective action and imagination toward being a lifestyle. Lifestyles do not change the world.”
I don’t want to be a lifestyle feminist. I want to learn, take action, and do more for the world. So. I’ve been reading, A LOT. And listening to podcasts, and watching female lead show after female lead show… I’ve fallen down the feminist rabbit hole.. or pussy hole, if you will.. and last week it lead me to Oprah Winfrey’s Super Soul Sunday where she was interviewing Amy Schumer about her new movie “I Feel Pretty”.
When I first saw the trailer a month ago, I had no intention of going to see it. The idea of self-confidence as, more or less, the plot seemed boring as fuck, but then Oprah said the movie actually made her have, “a real LOL moment!” Oprah went on to compliment:
“. . . but the reason this movie resonated so deeply with me is because you were saying in your way the same thing I’ve been trying to say for years. Is that you become what you believe. . . And that if you switch at a paradigm, and you’re willing to see things differently, things become different . . .”
So. On Avengers opening weekend, I packed up my notepad and pen, and smuggled in my two cans of Simpler Wines Rose to watch the Oprah LOL-fest, I Feel Pretty.
I know. Canned wine? Gross. But this is a 12 ounce cans of Rose, and it's not as bad as it should be. Also, only $2.50 at Trader Joe's! Perfect for sneaking into a movie theater. #ad #kidding #notgettingpaid
“Let’s be honest for a minute. No matter how many times we hear “It’s what’s on the inside that matters,” women know deep down, it’s what’s on the outside that the whole world judges.” - Rene in I Feel Pretty
This may be one of the most realistic, albeit depressing, statements in the film. It’s a bold calling out of our society, but unfortunately that’s as deep as it gets. The rest of the film’s messages are as diluted and sugar-coated as the cosmetic's company it tries to mock. Though the movie was cute and I did LOL, it could have gone much further into the issues it so desperately tries to promote. Schumer’s first film, Trainwreck, did a better job at getting to the heart of the main character without forgetting the comedy. I Feel Pretty couldn’t nail either. Granted, Schumer didn’t write this one -- Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein did, as well as directed. In more than one scene, a lack luster script is smoothed over by an awesome cast, but their talent couldn’t save everything. I left the movie theater feeling pretty “meh” about it, which I didn’t expect after The Oprah nod of approval. I just wanted more, and not in a good way.
Others seem to agree. It currently only holds a 34% on Rotten Tomatoes, a 4.3/10 on IMDB, and there is more than one article about it’s bland and underrated message. But there are some that take more issue with Schumer than with the movie. Maureen Callahan wrote an article for the New York Post titled “Amy Schumer Deals Another Blow to Feminism”. At first, I wanted to say, “Okay Maureen, cool your jets. It’s a movie, not a work of art.” But as Callahan points out, Schumer in her publicity for the movie DOES make it seem like more than just a comedy. In an interview on Katie Couric’s podcast back in February, Schumer made this statement regarding the film’s message:
“[Negative feelings about your looks] disable you. You want to hide. It doesn’t let you live to your potential. And that’s what we want from women the most right now. You have so much potential, and you can do anything. We need you to lead, and they feel held back.”
In interview after interview, Schumer makes bold statements about how she wants this movie to empower women to change the world. That’s great! But sadly, not what it delivers. But to say she and I Feel Pretty are hurting feminism? We gotta go deeper down the pussyhole…
“[It’s this] ever growing and expanding, glitzier sphere of celebrity and advertising where feminism is made to seem really cool, but it’s kind of divorced from it’s political dimensions, and its made to seem exclusively an act of individual consumption.”
This quote is from author Andi Zeisler on the podcast “What Would a Feminist Do?” from back in October of 2016. This was before Trump became President, before #metoo, and while Harvey Weinstein was still jizzing in front of women and potted plants. This episode discusses “Market Feminism”, and how brands over the past century have used Feminism’s political message to sell their products. Brands from Virginia Slims, to Lean Cuisine, to Nike, to the over a decade old Dove Real Beauty Campaign. It discussed a more recent ad from Secret deodorant, where it used the wage gap in a commercial. Though the idea behind the ad may have given voice to the wage gap in theory, Zeisler and many others believe it came across as “amazingly tone deaf”. The ad's message made it seem as though most women do not ask for raises, when in fact, they do. They just don’t get them. The ad neglects to focus on the issues of sexism in the workplace, and in turn, oddly puts the pressure on the woman asking for the raise, while trying to sell their product.
It’s the issue of Market Feminism, and the ever growing celebrity and self-brandizing of feminism that make me question I Feel Pretty. Did this movie set out to help, and simply miss the mark? Or was it’s actual intention to cash in on feminism because it’s trending? I’m not sold on either idea. And as there are over 16 producers on this film, I’m certain it’s a little bit of both.
But what’s so wrong about a cute, feel good movie with the essential message of “love yourself”? Zeisler argues brands that use feminism but neglect to hit the real issues behind the problems make “this urgent ongoing struggle” seem unnecessary.
“When we see things packaged nicely and are celebratory, it can be easy to forget that they represent a very small slice of the feminist world.”
With the lack of understanding behind Rene’s struggle, other than that it sucks to be ugly, I Feel Pretty neglects to truly help women overcome their lack of self-confidence. In a way, it almost negates it. It’s blows to the head that cause both shifts in Rene’s story – from delusionally believing she’s “Kardashian level pretty” to realizing her power and beauty were within her all along. The fantastical features of the film make it difficult to translate into action for those struggling with their bodies and self-esteem. I could be over-reaching with this one… But seriously, is the answer to all of women (and everyone's) self-esteem issues to simply think you’re worth it? No. Believing that you’re beautiful, and capable, and worth it takes time. It takes therapy! It takes the constant reminder, day in day out, that there are things that you are good at, that you can accomplish, that you are beautiful in your own way. It’s a long and winding road to self-confidence, and we all waiver on it. Understandably, that's difficult to portray in an hour and fifty minute, middlebrow comedy, but again, we were promised that. And the celebratory nature of the film doesn't aid in the fight for equality. More than anything, it pats itself on the back.
And we must not forget that Amy Schumer is considered a feminist celebrity, up there with the likes of Mindy Kaling, Lena Dunham, and Beyonce.. (okay… maybe not the “likes” of Queen Bey. Queen Bey is on her own level #praise). Though many of Schumer’s stances in the name of women’s rights have been questioned (sometimes rightfully so), Oprah gave her this compliment:
“You are the modern day warrior woman in that you have actually changed the way so many women perceive themselves and their lives. You have done that through your work, through your art, through yourself…. And I know you didn’t set out to do that. .. just being yourself was enough to bring the warrior to the world.”
After an understandable moment of emotional pause – Schumer followed:
“Yeah, I didn’t set out to do that at first. I just wanted to perform and make people laugh. And then I realized, people are paying attention. And you have this, not responsibility, but this opportunity to be a voice for women. And I have done my best to rise to that, and I’m trying to catch up and learn in real time . . .”
Though at first, to me it comes across as, well, gross for someone to decide to become “a voice for women”, I understand and respect that she is taking her moment of celebrity-power, and doing something more with it. In today’s climate, celebrity comes hand in hand with philanthropy. We expect more from our chosen Hollywood monarchs than to simply move their faces and bodies in front of a camera for our pleasure. They have to think and do things for our world, too! But I truly don’t think Schumer is out to be “a voice for women” because it’s her celebrity duty. I think she does actually care, and as she stated, she’s still trying to catch up and learn in real time what it means to be on this platform. And though feminism is trending, and a lot of that is due to celebrities standing for it, Schumer is not exactly popular for trying to be this voice. Celebrity in our society also goes hand in hand with the usurping of power. The quicker an individual becomes ‘famous’, the quicker it is for society to eject them from the Fame Thrown (Fame Thrown sounds like a CW version of Game of Thrones…. I just want credit for my idea when this becomes a thing). If Schumer was only in this to keep her celebrity status, she would have chosen the Humane Society as a platform, ya know? She would have switched from this a long time ago, and rebranded herself as more palatable to society.
And as far as Oprah saying she has “changed the way women see themselves and their lives…”, I have to be honest, I’m one of those women. I was 23 and watching her show Inside Amy Schumer. During the stand-up portion of the episode, she told an amazing joke.
“We’ve all been a little raped. Just a hair, just a scooch. Every girl has one night, usually in college, and she’s like, “Huh. I think I was raped.” . . . It’s not all black and white. There’s a grey area of rape. . . What do you want me to say? Grape happens.”
I laughed very loudly, and then gasped. That was me. For over a year, I had been dealing with “my actions” of a night I couldn’t wrap my head around. I had gotten very drunk, and blacked out, and woke up with a dude’s dick in my mouth. It got worse. To summarize, I ended up punching him in the face repeatedly until he stopped having sex with me. But I never called it rape. I told myself it was my fault, that I had gotten too drunk. That I lead him on. That in my black out state, I probably consented. But hearing that joke, the wool ripped away from my eyes, and I realized… rape, man. It happens.
Was I immediately healed after this joke? Fuck no. It took two more years before I even began to make the necessary steps to ‘healing’, (urghhhhh that term is so therapy cheeeeeese). But Amy Schumer is the reason I started thinking. She pushed me in the right direction. She made me laugh at a really fucked up thing that happened to me. She made me realize that maybe I wasn’t the biggest slut to ever walk the planet. And that maybe, just maybe, it wasn’t my fault.
So who am I to judge if this lackluster comedy plants the seed of self-confidence into somebody’s head? What if this ‘cute movie’ rips the wool away from somebody’s eyes for just long enough that they see their true selves – as a beautiful, and powerful human being? Who am I to disagree with Oprah’s statement, when Schumer has been a warrior woman for me? Do I support everything she says and does? Nope, but she is trying, and I’m forever grateful.
In conclusion (ohhh what an 8th grade essay this just became), I don’t think this movie should be branded as a feminist flick. I think that’s giving it too much credit, and missing the point of what feminism can and should be, but I don’t think it is forever damaging the cause. If anything, it’s a stepping stone, a start. It’s a chance for us to all look further into feminism as a political view and active position. And what a better way to start than by looking within ourselves first. Though I don’t think we should stay in the “empower yourself!” movement forever, we all have to get right with ourselves and be the best people we can be before we can come together and truly make changes in our world.
I don’t know everything about feminism. I will never know everything about feminism. It is forever changing and evolving as we are as people, and thank god it is not stagnate in it’s notions. But what I do know, is we can’t have change if we keep knocking out the legs from under us every time a fellow sister missteps. There is a way to question without condemning. There are positive, learning conversations to be had. So let’s keep having them.
And with Schumer, lay off man, she just got married and she’s happy and she’s figuring life out, too, okay? She’s fucking trying. I'm gonna keep trying, too. Now if you’ll excuse me, I gotta read some books.