The popular dismantling of entrenched feminist stereotypes began, perhaps, not with the feminist movement itself, but in comedy. Performers such as Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Wanda Sykes, Samantha Bee and Kristen Schaal have happily made gender politics part of their acts. In March, Schaal even performed Republican policy as stand-up on “The Daily Show”: “What’s the difference between a fertilized egg, a corporation and a woman? One of them isn’t considered a person in Oklahoma.”
Some of this season’s most furious feminist comedy didn’t come from women at all, but from Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, whose steady coverage of misogynist policy highlighted a reassessment of another stale presumption — that feminism is an all-girl ghetto into which no self-respecting man would venture. In Pennsylvania, state Sen. Larry Farnese (D) proposed Viagra restrictions intended to make antiabortion measures look “ridiculous,” joining other lawmakers, such as Oklahoma’s Constance Johnson (D), who proposed banning the deposit of sperm anywhere but a woman’s vagina, in battling Republican misogyny with satire. Meanwhile, two young men launched “Texts from Hillary,” a site that showcased Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s efflorescent cool and stood in bracing contrast to the images of guys holding “Iron My Shirt” signs during her 2008 presidential campaign.
In March, online denizens “sarcasm-bombed” the Facebook pages of conservative officials. Virginia state Sen. Ryan McDougle, who backed a bill that would require women to have an ultrasound before an abortion, received a message about “a possible yeast infection . . . since you’re so tuned [in to women’s] bodies I thought you might have some natural remedies.” Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback got requests to schedule pap smears and Texas Gov. Rick Perry, whose anti-Planned Parenthood policy cost the women of his state $35 million in health-care services, was asked for his opinion on methods to detect cervical mucus for fertility. So it wasn’t exactly a march on Washington, but it made right-wingers look slow and out of step.
Fighting funny may not be inherently more effective than fighting mad, but it does help correct abiding misapprehensions about feminism as a cheerless vortex: anti-male, anti-sex, anti-porn, anti-fun. In 2012, the anti-everything platform was occupied not by feminist agitators but the GOP politicians they were battling.
It was presidential candidate Santorum and not, say, feminist legal scholar Catharine MacKinnon, who complained in March that pornography “contributes to misogyny and violence against women.” Santorum also could be seen, in a widely disseminated interview, barely able to bring himself to say S-E-X, opining instead about how contraception encouraged people to do things “in the sexual realm” that are not “how things are supposed to be.” Virginia Del. David Albo (R), who sponsored the mandatory-ultrasound bill, was too Victorian to utter the word “vaginal,” and spoke instead of “trans-V this” and “trans-V that” in a tale he told on the Virginia House floor . . . about his wife’s decision not to have sex with him after the ultrasound story became news.