Ugh, Gross: Amy Schumer’s Period Jokes are Tired and Unreasonable

Comedy Features Amy Schumer
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Ugh, Gross: Amy Schumer’s Period Jokes are Tired and Unreasonable

There are actually people who believe that a woman can’t be president because of hormones. Not only that but in the current election cycle, orange-faced sexist Donald Trump has called Hillary Clinton’s use of the bathroom was “disgusting” and seemingly implied that Fox News host Megyn Kelly was on the rag when moderating a GOP debate. The political discourse around women’s bodily functions has never been more disturbingly robust. So maybe now wouldn’t be the best time for a sketch about the first female president being incapacitated by her period the day after her inauguration. I guess no one told Amy Schumer.

In “Madame President,” Schumer plays President Amily Schinton—sound familiar?—as she navigates a tense international crisis with Iran, hosts a foreign diplomat, and tries to manage an aerial strike in the situation room. There’s just one problem: she’s menstruating the entire time! For anyone who wants this sketch to have a point, it apparently has none other than to cram all of the played-out jokes about periods into five minutes. Does President Schinton freak out when the diplomat takes her last piece of chocolate? Yup. Does she fail to perform basic functions of her job because she’s too focused on her leaking tampon? You bet. Does she eventually crack under the pressure and ask the men around for validation? Congratulations, you’ve won 90s period joke bingo! This isn’t just a throwaway sketch, either, it’s the centerpiece of an entire episode of Inside Amy Schumer.

It’s not easy for Amy Schumer to offend me on feminist grounds. I have always defended Schumer from the expectation that she be perfectly supportive of women at all times. Some of her best sketches revolve around her making fun of women, herself included. In fact, my favorite Inside Amy Schumer bit of all time might be “I’m So Bad,” in which she mocks the way women reassure each other when they confess moments of selfishness and indulgence, like that time Greta Lee’s character “knelt on [her] gerbil to hear what sound it would make.”

Schumer has proved that women can make fun of women without reeking of internalized misogyny. The woman-on-woman comedy always feels winking, like a nudge in the ribs that leaves you a little sore but not doubled over in pain.

I’m also totally OK with period jokes and, like Chelsea Peretti pointed out in her Netflix special, I believe we would be inundated with them if all men bled from their genitals once a month. Schumer should be good at menstrual humor. Throughout her tenure at Inside Amy, she has excelled at joking about women’s bodies, whether it’s the generous poop references in “Milk, Milk, Lemonade” or the many florid descriptions of vaginal odor (e.g. “hot summer Chinatown garbage”) in this season’s “Yo-Puss” commercial. A period sketch is right up Amy Schumer’s alley.

But Schumer making fun of the idea of a Hillary Clinton-esque figure bleeding through her presidential pajamas isn’t clever. There’s nothing winky or insidery about it. There’s no clever turn of the screw at the end to point out how men in politics are impaired by bodily demands, too; instead the male advisors in the sketch are calm, uniformly reasonable figures who are frustrated by her temperamentality. And sure, Schumer’s performance has some terrific moments as it always does, but the so-called “jokes” about periods are basically age-old anti-woman myths brought to life. As a Rutgers political science professor once told CNN in response to a dubious study about hormones and women’s voting patterns, “It was long thought that a woman shouldn’t be president of the U.S. because, God forbid, an international crisis might happen during her period!” That is the entire premise of “Madame President”—nothing more, nothing less. At one point, President Schinton literally screams, “You guys, I can’t be president because I got my period!”

Schumer could have subverted the notion that menstruators can’t be heads of state. The past four seasons of Inside Amy Schumer are proof that she and her writers have that skill. The show has already pointed out the ridiculousness of believing that women can’t make decisions about contraception, that women over 45 can’t be sexy, or that male lawmakers should be allowed to legislate women’s bodies. I don’t know exactly how Schumer could have pulled this one off—my first thought would be a fake ad for a tampon specifically designed for female presidents—but I’m confident in her creative ability. It may just be a miss—most Inside Amy episodes have one—but this is one of those moments where my confidence wavers.

As it stands, “Madame President” tries and mostly fails to find the humor in a woman president having her period. It feels slightly mean, mostly stale, and worst of all, it’s not even funny.

May Saunders is a professional dog walker living in Minneapolis and an occasional freelance writer. In her spare time, she enjoys hanging out with her cat, who does not need to be walked. Follow her on Twitter.