We need to talk about Amy Schumer, again.
Contrary to what Taylor Swift might think, feminists don’t actually enjoy criticizing other women. But when our faves veer towards problematic, there is a time and a place for confrontational think pieces and Twitter tough love. Schumer has come under fire before, and has been critiqued for both her material and her defensive clap backs. Nobody likes to get dragged on social media. But there’s a lot to be said for real apologies and genuine self-reflection. Schumer’s new bestseller The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo preaches the gospel of making mistakes and falling forwards. Schumer’s own PR strategy could learn a thing or two from her self-help mantras.
Schumer’s latest scandal came only days after her book’s release, when Kurt Metzger, a veteran Inside Amy Schumer writer and dedicated internet troll, came to the social media defense of an accused rapist in the stand-up community named Aaron Glaser. Who says that bro-chivalry is dead?
In an ideal world, Schumer and her unabashedly feminist memoir would not have been overshadowed by a misogynist with an internet connection. Unfortunately, that’s not the world we live in—a fact that Schumer, who mocks misogyny and gendered double standards through comedy, knows better than most. In her book, Schumer writes candidly about losing her virginity non-consensually, as well as her experiences with an abusive partner. And Inside Amy Schumer has an incomparable record when it comes to talking about sexual assault and rape culture.
It would take a lot to cast feminist aspersions on Schumer. Unfortunately, Kurt Metzger brought his A-game. The writer, comedian, and anti-P.C. crusader penned a series of masturbatory Facebook statuses and tweets mocking the women who accused his fellow comic and the internet denizens who came to their defense, in one instance writing “what you want to establish is WORSE than actual rape... I so mean it.” Metzger seemingly thinks himself fearless for calling out the alleged victims and saying things like, “If we ask them to even merely also post a vague account of what happened before asking us to believe that would be like re-raping their rape! These women are as BRAVE as they are sore!” What people like Metzger don’t understand is that their opinions aren’t revolutionary, bold, or under-represented. Men have been calling sexual assault survivors whiny liars long before Twitter let us mute them. But most of those men aren’t on Amy Schumer’s payroll.
This isn’t Metzger’s only foray into personally victimizing women, both online and IRL. In response to a Facebook post on Chris Brown and Rihanna’s relationship, Metzger wrote that Rihanna was a “dumb bitch,” and that “if you’re attracted” to Chris Brown, then “you deserve what you get.” Metzger then went on to recall the time he “had an ex smash all my shit with a hammer because she was insane and I choked her. Not really hard, but definitely criminally… I should have manned up and left this psycho before she got to destroying my things.” Sick story, bro.
Metzger’s laundry list of virtual crimes goes on. A number of women have accused Metzger of verbally harassing them on their Twitter timelines. In 2013, Metzger launched harassment campaigns against writers Lindy West and Sady Doyle after they criticized rape humor in comedy. Doyle took a necessary next step by attempting to contact Amy Schumer, Metzger’s employer, a woman who has been lauded as a bastion of feminist comedy. Doyle Tweeted, “So it’ll be fun to see if @amyschumer or @comedycentral take steps to correct the problem.” Metzger’s response to her? “They gave me a raise. Does that count?”
There’s no good excuse for employing a man like Kurt Metzger. And it’s hard to imagine Schumer’s rationale for professionally supporting a man who enthusiastically represents the societal ills her comedy attempts to counteract. In the wake of Metzger’s most recent rants, Schumer initially opted for silence, blocking Twitter users who criticized Metzger or solicited her opinion on the scandal. She later pivoted, Tweeting, “I am so saddened and disappointed in Kurt Metzger. He is my friend and a great writer and I couldn’t be more against his recent actions.” She continued, “Kurt does not work for me. He is not a writer on my show. Please stop asking me about it. His words are not mine.” Schumer later clarified that her show technically had no current writers, as it was on hiatus. She has not addressed the possibility of Metzger one day returning to her writers’ room.
In a subsequent interview with Charlie Rose, Schumer elaborated on the incident. “Kurt’s my friend. I love him,” Schumer told Rose. “I’m not on Facebook so I don’t read his crazy rants. He gets something from going after people, making them mad. That is not representative of me at all.” Schumer added, “It’s been really upsetting to me seeing someone that I care about hurt themselves like this.”
Schumer went on to say that she would like to divert the attention away from Metzger and on to the larger issues of sexual assault and rape culture. “He baits people, he’s the problem, no question,” she said of Metzger, “but the focus is on him rather that what the real, main problem is.”
Schumer extended this problematic argument in a Lenny Letter interview with Lena Dunham published on Friday. While the Dunham-Schumer back and forth is well worth a read, Schumer’s comments on Metzger continue to raise a red flag. Schumer candidly walked Dunham through her side of the story, saying, “First I was like, fuck Kurt. It's been years that he's been doing this. He's one of those guys, like a lot of the guys that I'm friends with, who are degenerates. Kurt was saying this awful stuff, and in previous years, I would be like, ‘You've got to shut up.’ He'd be like, ‘All right.’ Then it would kind of go away. This time, it was just so bad. But also, why are these women treating him like he raped someone? He's not Bill Cosby; Kurt has never raped.”
Later on in the interview, Dunham opines, “The other thing that I get really crazy about is this new world in which women aren't just supposed to be protected from actions, they're supposed to be protected from language. Women are so strong… You think I can't listen to some short comedy loser say something dumb about rape?” She continued, “I don't think anyone should be a troll on the internet, but I also get crazy about the idea of trigger warnings because a book isn't what I have a problem with. What I have a problem with is actions in the world.” Schumer jumps on this exonerating line of reasoning, adding, “Right, I was like, can we focus on the rapists? What about the guy actually raping? How about that guy?”
When it comes to Kurt Metzger, Schumer has a point. The amount of attention that was diverted to Metzger as an Inside Amy Schumer writer with bad opinions probably would have been better spent on substantive issues, like the state of rape culture in comedy or the accused stand-up himself. If Schumer had stopped at the important observation that celebrity buzz can detract from substantive reporting or real action, we all would have been on the same page. However, the comic’s attempts at self-preservation pushed her to take a stronger defensive stance towards Metzger, and that’s where things get dicey.
Schumer is arguing that Metzger is not a rapist, and that those are the people we really should be worrying about. Schumer feels the need to stress this point—she wasn’t supporting a rapist, so everyone should get off her back. Now, we can all get on board with this sexual assault priority list: rapists are a more pressing problem than non-rapists. But Schumer is doing a selfish disservice to her feminist fans by trying to downplay Metzger’s vile actions through relativity. Rape apologists might not commit crimes, but they contribute to an environment where survivors feel unsupported and unsafe.
We would all rather rid the world of rapists than rehabilitate misogynists, rape apologists, and internet trolls—but why can’t we have both? Schumer makes comedy by mocking the ridiculously high standards that women are held to—the basic rights and crucial indulgences that they are denied, or even deny themselves. Amy Schumer of all people should understand the injustice of implying that wanting to live in a world where women are neither raped nor mocked by their rapists’ defenders on Facebook is just dreaming too big. A full disavowal of both sexual assault and the bro-pologists who condone it doesn’t sound like too much to ask for from two of comedy’s most beloved feminists. Lena Dunham and Amy Schumer are supposed to be the ones taking rape culture to task—not teaming up to downplay an internet troll’s latest anti-woman crimes. Pop culture feminism just lost Pamela Anderson to the anti-porn movement and Kim Kardashian to not-feminism; we can’t handle another disappointment.
Schumer also touches on how she couldn’t help but take the Metzger backlash personally. “I do understand that [Kurt's actions] would come back to me. I can see myself thinking that if I heard somebody on someone's staff was doing that. I'd be like, ‘I wonder how they are going to handle that.’ I get it. I get it, and I wasn't even resentful of the connection. I was resentful of the lack of trust. Like, ‘Have I earned any good will with you guys? Do you believe that I feel that rape victims should be shamed on the internet?’ Have I built up any sort of good will?’”
When it comes to Amy Schumer’s frustration, and her deep desire not to get dragged for Kurt Metzger’s mistakes, we get it. We really do. Compared to men, women attract criticism and internet trolling at an approximate rate of 1,000,000 to one. And that doesn’t even account for women of color, who face an unquantifiable level of abuse. But when it comes to her feminist fandom, Amy Schumer should understand that the criticism that she erroneously diagnoses as a lack of good will is actually a rare compliment. People are disappointed in Amy Schumer because of the great work that she’s already done, bringing conversations from the feminist blogosphere to the mainstream. Schumer’s fans feel her mistakes more acutely because of her strong track record, not in spite of it.
For decades, women have had to weigh their love of stand-up against their discomfort with rape jokes, lest they be verbally threatened for not liking rape jokes. And while misogyny is still a comedy world staple, Schumer’s brand of unapologetically feminist comedy was a huge step in the right direction. That’s why it hurts to see Schumer and Dunham actually argue that women are strong enough to survive both their assault and subsequent bashings on social media. As if they should have to be.
Women’s strength doesn’t justify Amy Schumer’s decision to employ a man who abuses them for sport. It’s a lame excuse, and a disappointing one. We often recast our favorite celebrities as personal champions or imaginary friends. This is a high standard to hold a stranger to, and it can be a punishing one. Amy Schumer isn’t defending a rapist, but she is minimizing the pain of being doubted and personally attacked, a tragically common trajectory that many sexual assault survivors face when speaking out. It’s a level of insensitivity, a lack of understanding, that feels like a betrayal. Maybe we did expect too much from Amy Schumer. On second thought, a real apology that acknowledges impact instead of deflecting doesn’t feel like too much to ask.