There’s an old joke that goes:
Q: Did you hear the one about the feminist?
A: [Pause, stare, and answer angrily] It isn’t funny.
Well, that’s no longer true. Feminists are now funny. Really funny. And they aren’t just getting laughs, they are advancing the cause of feminism with the power of humor.
I argued for the progressive power of humor when I nominated Fasi Zaka for the Al Copeland Humanitarian Award for mocking the Taliban. But the wonderful new Netflix comedy series, The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, goes far beyond mocking its antagonists a la The Daily Show and its groupthink smugness. Unbreakable can preach beyond its choir by mocking its heroes as well as its villains.
The Reverend Richard Wayne Gary Wayne who imprisoned a group of women in his bunker is ripe for ridicule as are the women who preferred the simplicity of remaining there or who exploited their status as “mole women” to get money and attention. You can’t advance the cause of women without at least acknowledging and joking about the common mistakes women make in addition to mocking the troglodytes who oppress them.
But Kimmy is determined to move beyond her mole woman past and make it on her own in New York City. She really is unbreakable. Unlike 1970s songs about women’s power, like “I Will Survive” or “I am Woman,” the assertion that Kimmy is unbreakable is not a wish that stands at odds with current experience. She continues to suffer, make mistakes, and face obstacles, but she moves forward 10 seconds at a time. She is a fully realized feminist heroine.
And because she and by extension other women have finally made it, they are strong enough to be the butt of jokes. The humorlessness of the earlier feminist movement was a sign of its weakness. If you’re too insecure and weak, you can’t afford to be made fun of. I’m glad to report that the women’s movement has matured and strengthened to the point where it can dish it as well as take it.