(AP/Gero Breloer)

"Saturday Night Live" and the good-feminist wars: What "SNL" alum Nora Dunn gets wrong about Amy Schumer's raunchy humor

Dunn blasts Schumer's "sickening" and "soulless" sexuality—but Schumer's feminism is just as valid as Dunn's

Rachel Kramer Bussel
October 22, 2015 2:59AM (UTC)

Former "Saturday Night Live" cast member and Huffington Post writer Nora Dunn is not happy with Amy Schumer’s recent "SNLmonologue. No, she’s not upset about the "Trainwreck" star’s digs at the Kardashians, which prompted a Twitter apology of sorts, in which Schumer wrote, in part, “Nothing but love for that family.”

No, what’s so galling to Dunn is that Schumer, who’s been widely lauded for her feminist brand of comedy, had the nerve to say that when faced with the presence of Bradley Cooper, “He’s the kind of hot where, trust me, if he was in front of you, you would just grab your ankles…You would say things you didn’t mean, like ‘any hole is fine.’ That’s the kind of hot that Bradley is.” Completely ignoring the fact that Schumer delivered these lines in an over-the-top manner (on the heels of the phrase “golden vagina”), Dunn immediately zeroed in on the “any hole is fine” line to conclude:


"The image Schumer conjured up on national television was not a funny one. In fact, it's an image of such pornographic subservience that it's sickening. It brought to my mind the sadness of the sex trade, which is real and lurid, and into which female captives have been forced in numbers we haven't bothered to count. There in captivity they strike that pose on command. As presented by Ms. Schumer, it's every bit as soulless."

First of all, I’m 99 percent sure Schumer did not mean the line as literally as Dunn is reading it. But secondly, and most importantly, Schumer is perfectly entitled to talk about sex and lust and desire in any way she sees fit. Her way of thinking about her body and what she wants to do with it doesn’t belong to Dunn—or anyone else.

Now, that’s not to say that Dunn has to approve of Schumer’s every move, or that Schumer shouldn’t be criticized and called out just as any other celebrity would. I’m not arguing Schumer should get a free pass simply because she’s a self-proclaimed feminist. I am saying that it’s hard for me to differentiate Dunn’s shaming of Schumer for expressing herself in a way Dunn finds vulgar from conservatives who’d take Schumer to task for simply talking about sex in an open way.

In her Vogue sex column, Karley Sciortino wrote that she “literally praised the slut gods” for Schumer’s rise to fame, because “In her comedy, Amy (and her characters alike) are proudly promiscuous. She doesn’t subscribe to the idea that wearing a micro-dress and being taken seriously are mutually exclusive. In a way, Amy is to millennials what Madonna was to women in the eighties—proof that you can be smart, political, funny, and aggressively sexual, all at the same time.”


Dunn seems to take the straight up flaunting of their sexcapades by women like Schumer and Sciortino’s as somehow an attack on women who don’t want to engage in one-nights stands or grab their ankles, literally or figuratively. But that’s a false dichotomy. Schumer isn’t pressuring women like Dunn to be more like them. Instead, she’s being true to herself and, clearly, finding success by doing so, which to me signals that both men and women appreciate that she doesn’t shy away from the ins and outs, if you will, of sex.

Yet Dunn can’t seem to grasp that we can move beyond a virgin/whore dichotomy—and in fact, that we must, if sexuality and feminism are ever going to peacefully coexist. Instead, Dunn turns back the clock on both feminism and the sexual revolution by insisting that women either follow Schumer’s every raunchy suggestion or be left in the dust. Dunn goes on to hammer home her point that Schumer’s outspokenness is somehow a threat to women who aren’t as sexually forward:

"Why must we abandon a feminine notion of attraction to be set free? Why must we take on the personage of the quintessential bad-boy, the misogynist frat house prig who mocks women who attach emotionality to sex and don't know how to pole dance? Schumer's women are girls who masturbate at the movies the way men once did in porn houses. I don't seek that kind of equality. I'm not ashamed of the fact that I have more estrogen than testosterone. My energy is feminine, and that doesn't make me a weakling."

Except that nobody said she was a weakling, or that casual sex is the only way women can showcase their desire. Yes, it’s how Schumer talks and thinks, and presumably how some other women do too, but not all. I agree with Dunn that Schumer has a major platform, and that plenty of impressionable tween and teen girls probably saw her "SNL" monologue. But there’s huge leap from stating, as Dunn does, “‘Any hole is fine’ doesn't do it for me,” to concluding “Girls are watching 'Saturday Night Live' and in the instance that there's a female host as hot as Schumer now is, they will be looking up to her…Some of the viewers still have teddy bears in bed with them. There are better female role models out there for girls.”


I can’t stress enough how tired I am of female entertainers constantly being held up to “role model” status. That’s a polite way of saying that rather than be true to themselves, they should conform to some societally approved way of being and acting, which is as paternalistic as it gets.

As Kate Hakala wrote in June at Mic about Schumer’s infamous “I'm like 160 pounds right now, and I can catch a dick whenever I want” line at the Glamour UK’s Women of the Year Awards:


By using "catch a dick" (which, let's just note, is an excellent phrase) to note her weight doesn't make her less sexually desirable, Schumer is co-opting the language of objectification and giving herself sexual agency. In a culture where women still refrain from boldly talking about their sexuality in and out of the bedroom, and where women are hesitant to use typically male words (see: "jerk off"), Schumer's frankness is not only hilarious — it's empowering.

“Empowering” is probably as overused as “role model,” and Schumer doesn’t need to be “empowering” to women in order to succeed in what’s traditionally been largely a man’s world. But if we subscribe to Dunn’s false choice that we can either have casual sex or sex for love, we’ve already lost the sexual freedom battle, because we’re playing by patriarchal rules that pit one against the other. Dunn fails to see that she’s judging Schumer just as much as she feels judged. We have room in the world, especially in 2015, for women to not have to “pick a side” when it comes to who, how and why we are sexual. I want no part of shaming other women for how they talk about or experience sex in the name of feminism, and I would hope that anyone who truly cares about girls and women doesn’t either.

Watch Amy Schumer tackle rape in a high school football town, sexual assault in the military and yes — the numerous rape and drugging accusations against Bill Cosby — in two minutes of sketch and stand-up comedy.

[jwplayer file="http://media.salon.com/2015/07/Amy-Schumer-Rape1.mp4" image="http://media.salon.com/2015/05/amy_schumer5.jpg"][/jwplayer]

Rachel Kramer Bussel

Rachel Kramer Bussel is the author of "Sex & Cupcakes: A Juicy Collection of Essays" and the editor of more than 50 anthologies, including "The Big Book of Orgasms," "Serving Him" and "Irresistible: Erotic Romance for Couples." She writes widely about sex, dating and pop culture, and is a blogger at Lusty Lady and Cupcakes Take the Cake.

MORE FROM Rachel Kramer Bussel

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Amy Schumer Comedy Feminism Nora Dunn Saturday Night Live Sex Tv Video

Fearless journalism
in your inbox every day

Sign up for our free newsletter

• • •