Pop Culture Rewind: Not Happy Jan


Words || Katelyn Free

Everyone loves a good female comedy character. Leslie Knope and Jess Day are the type of pure I wish I could be, and I can intensely relate to how Annie Walker’s life went up in flames in Bridesmaids. All bloody legends, able to poke fun and create humour, while still being multifaceted female representations. But there continues to be a problematic trope of female representations in many comedies. Women classified as funny, simply because they are women. This idea extends all throughout our mediascape, from TV to movies to idiotic Instagram videos, and is starting to feel like a razor scooter to the funny bone.


A big issue that occurs, particularly in male dominated comedies, is the use of female characters essentially as props. Representations of female stereotypes as oppose to fully realised characters. An idea for the male characters to play off, whose whole comedic appeal resides solely in their presence on screen as a person of a different gender to the other characters. A big offender here is THE BIG BANG THEORY. I almost feel bad writing this, because my dad has a certain pension for switching over to the sitcom anytime there’s not a new episode of Grand Designs for him to ponder. But seriously, the portrayal of Penny should go tits up.

The sole reason for her comedic value is that she is a pretty woman, with nice boobs, and a standard romantic disinterest in the other male characters. Ground-breaking *Miranda Priestly voice*. She’s held on a pedestal and half the show revolves around whether Leonard will finally convince her his bumbling self is worth her time. While she does improve in later seasons, for a significant portion of the show to date, she is essentially a pin up doll, for the male characters to fawn over, a backdrop against which the rest of the comedy happens. She’s simply a prop in the humour created by the male characters, not an active participant. And while she does have really nice boobs, there’s much more to Penny than that. But the audience never sees it.


I’ll admit I do have a soft spot for Amy Schumer, but there are significant problems with the premise of her latest movie, I FEEL PRETTY. The whole notion of the movie is based on the idea that is would be preposterous for a woman to consider herself beautiful if she was ‘fat’ or ‘ugly’. The notion of a woman having a strong sense of self-confidence if she is not the standardised depiction of beauty should not be comedic. Creating comedy wherein the audience is encouraged to laugh at a ‘fat’ or ‘ugly’ woman celebrating herself and living out self-confidence (no matter how overblown or ridiculous), is intensely demeaning. The idea of the movie is to perpetuate self-love and diversion from societal aesthetic standards, however it’s very premise is that it would be preposterous for women to do so. It feels like a nice, strong, backhanded compliment. And stings like one too.


I truly believe that Satan’s surest presence on this earth is in the Instagram comedy section. ‘Comedy’ videos that try to fill the hole that Vine left but have become an open opportunity for truly worrying representations of women. Sexual exploitation and harassment of women is prolifically used as a comedy ploy in these 59 second videos from hell. Videos such as one from PIQUES (who as 2 million followers), where a woman asks her boyfriend for money to buy shoes, and after he refuses, persuades him by offering to let him play with her breasts. He then proceeds to rain cash down on her. And that’s a mild example.

Many of these videos limit female characters’ comedic value to their bodies. It goes down to the heart of objectification of women and is perpetuated in under-a-minute videos on one of the most popular social media platforms. It is the definition of low standards of female representation, and yet this particular brand of comedy is still growing.

Maybe all comedy to an extent is superficial, and even male characters are not awarded complexity or full realisation from time to time. But when the notion of objectifying women has garnered such intense discourse and been realised as a significant problem in recent years, the perpetuation of those stereotypes is increasingly problematic. I love a sex joke just as much as the next giggly middle-class mum two chardys in, but I can’t find the sexual objectification of women funny. Not even a little. Not even a bit. Because allowing that kind of discourse into our entertainment values, allowing it to be played off as a joke, only perpetuates a larger issue.

Women are beautiful, multidimensional creatures, yet there is a tendency in comedy to reduce them to props, damaging stereotypes and sexual objects. And I for one am not up for that particular brand of BS. Everyone loves a good female comedy character. So, let’s give the people what they want.