Blog of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research

It’s Official: At Least One SNL Writer Fears and Disrespects Women’s Bodies

January 19th, 2010 by Elizabeth Kissling

Guest Post by Heather Dillaway, Wayne State University

First, it was Tampax, and then it was Vagisil. But it’s good they didn’t leave out Summer’s Eve. And I expect Midol (for those irritating PMS-y women) and something about menopausal women’s hot flashes (can’t they control themselves with hormone therapies?) to be next. Although probably SNL writers aren’t savvy enough yet to even contemplate what menopause is or how they feel about it, so they’ll probably stick with skits that revolve around women’s body parts and younger women’s reproductive experiences.

I was frustrated with SNL’s skit about ESPN’s coverage of a women’s billiards tournament, “Tampax to the Max Tournament of Champions” (see my blog post about it). I was disgusted and concerned that SNL writers revised this skit for a second airing, to include a spoof about women’s yeast infections during a Women’s bowling tournament, “Vagisil Superstars of Bowling Tournament”. After seeing the second skit, I (along with many other critics) knew that the power of the skits was not in jokes about women’s menstruation alone but, rather, in jokes about the disgusting nature of women’s bodies more generally.

This past weekend, SNL revised the skit once again to be a skit about ESPN coverage of a women’s darts tournament, and the main sponsor was Summer’s Eve, “Summer’s Eve Stars of Darts Competition”. The skit was as dumb as it was the first two times, but the one-line jokes within the skit carried even more jarring phrases in my opinion (e.g., “when your situation down south makes him breathe through his mouth” or “when your man’s in a coma from your panty aroma”). As a trio, these skits point to the fear, dislike, and disrespect for women’s bodies. The three skits also all revolve around talk about women’s vaginas, and the mysteries, misunderstandings, fears, and disgust surrounding this body part. As a trio, the skits produce the message that vaginas are gross, that men do not understand women’s reproductive processes and conditions, and the not-so-subtle message specifically to women is that women should keep their vaginal “conditions” private and not bother men with them. Indeed, the message in the one-liners this time around is that vaginas should be good-smelling, unbloodied, and available for men’s use at all times (and no other situation is acceptable).

After watching all three skits, I think we can safely conclude the following:

  1. Commenters on our previous blog entries about these skits that thought it was “just a spoof on ESPN’s early coverage of women’s sporting events” were wrong. While this may be one of the ideas behind the initial creation of the skits, the skits’ messages move way beyond and mask this. These skits are about making fun of women’s bodies.
  2. Commenters  who suggested that SNL writers were just picking random products, and that these skits “could have very well been about Preparation H” were wrong. These skits will never be about products that everyone could use. The power of these skits is the fact that they are making fun of women’s bodies and products for only women’s bodies.
  3. One commenter on the previous blog entry about these skits also suggested that we have “been taught since childhood that vaginas and penises are serious business. Laughing at them is naughty, so we laugh at them because being naughty is fun.” Sure, this is true, but everyone also knows that when you decide to continually joke about one body part over the other funny ones, there is a reason. (Just like when that one kid was picked on over and over in elementary school – that kid wasn’t picked at random.) At least one SNL writer (and probably several, given how television writing typically works) doesn’t understand and respect women’s body parts. They understand penises and respect them and therefore aren’t joking about them in this particular skit. If they were making fun of everyone’s body parts and everyone’s products, then we wouldn’t be writing about these skits here at re:Cycling.
  4. The fact that the skits seem funny to some people — and that this skit has had enough power/popularity to be revised three times to cement the same message about women’s bodies — confirms to me that most SNL watchers do not understand that gender inequality exists and/or that it is still a problem. If there were three skits in a row that denigrated a particular racial group, people would start to notice and the skit might be taken off the air or changed. But, when we come to gender, it’s okay to trash women’s bodies and perpetuate bad ideas about women’s body parts?
  5. Kristen Wiig (the SNL actress featured in all three of these skits) must not be able to voice her opinion about what skits she participates in, and the guests on the shows (in these three cases, Drew Barrymore, Blake Lively, and Sigourney Weaver) must have no say over what they’ll do as guests on the show. I like Kristen Wiig and I don’t want her to be part of these skits. My assumption has to be that individual actresses don’t get to voice their opinion, and that SNL has a very top-down structure within which individual comedians don’t feel like they can fight back without repercussions.

The worst part of all of this is that the commentary between Pete Twinkle and Greg Stink, the two ESPN announcers featured in every skit, IS funny in its ridiculousness and if the skit’s purpose was not to denigrate women’s bodies then I would actually enjoy watching the silly banter. But the minute that the banter falls into one-liners about the denigration of women’s bodies then it becomes offensive. I would venture that, if she is willing to be honest, ANY woman watching these skits (particularly this last one) might feel offended by some of the jokes about their bodies. AND skits about Preparation H, Viagra, acne cream, anti-balding creams, anti-farting or anti-burping drugs, etc., would be just as funny!  Even though they now have three strikes against them and have confirmed their disrespect and fear of women’s bodies, SNL still has a chance to turn this skit around and let it become a more general commentary on all of the normal bodily functions and conditions we have, regardless of sex or gender. There is actually so much potential to this skit if SNL writers actually step back and take off their “let’s trash women’s bodies” hat.

I, for one, am tired of this skit, but if it continues to air I have to continue to speak out against it. I’m also tired of trying to explain why I am angry about this skit. Why don’t people get that the message across these skits is dangerous for women? I want to like SNL, but I want to think my body is normal and that the fear and disgust surrounding women’s bodies is decreasing. I know that there are many other pressing issues in our world right now, for instance, the devastation in Haiti. But, even though SNL is not causing massive destruction like an earthquake can, continual disrespect of women’s bodies has ripple effects too. Maybe it won’t kill most of us, but it can definitely lessen our quality of life and self-confidence. And if enough people keep thinking these things about our bodies, then these ideas translate into mistreatment of women in the long run.

17 responses to “It’s Official: At Least One SNL Writer Fears and Disrespects Women’s Bodies”

  1. Laura Wershler says:

    Is it time for SMCR to put out a press release about these SNL skits? Time to air the issue in the national news and/or entertainment media? I’ve had enough and I haven’t even seen them. (NBC does not let anyone outside the U.S. view their online TV clips.)As Heather points out, if they’d done something similar with a racial group, an advocacy group would be speaking out. I know only the first skit was about tampons and menstruation but’s it’s all related. And I would absolutely love to know what the four women who acted in these skits have to say about them.

  2. Laura Wershler says:

    I can’t help wondering what a bunch of women with Jane Lynch’s wit and wisdom might come up with when it comes to creating comedy and humour about menstruation.

  3. Daniel says:

    “the skits produce the message that vaginas are gross”

    ive seen these skits and especially the Summers Eve ones made me rewind and watch a second time because i laughed so hard, my penis almost fell off. And i STILL like the vag.

    They had no deterring effect on me.

  4. Heather Dillaway says:

    That’s great, Daniel. Sounds like the skit confirmed your perspective on the world and on women. Make sure the next time you laugh about a joke about a Black person, an old person, or an immigrant that you turn around tell them that you “STILL like them” too.

  5. Elizabeth says:

    Co-signed, Heather.

    In my experience, men who go around saying they “like the vag” usually don’t like women very much.

  6. Daniel says:

    I laugh about everything but not anyone. I dont laugh at Black people for the sake of them being black. That would be racist and im not.I dont laugh about women for the sake of them being women. That would be sexist and im not. I laugh at the joke. Nothing more and nothing less. Do you really not see the joke? Are you that insecure? You do know that these jokes arent aimed specifically towards you, right?
    Is it because you use these products and feel ashamed? Theres no reason to be. I mean, we have no control over our own body and the nature of things, so you cant be at fault. You Can however, if you dont take Care of the problems.

    The show isent sexist, its funny, edgy and provocative. As it should be. Its one of the last shows that are.
    They make just as much fun of men as they do women, they just dont use hygiene products to do it. If youve ever seen the shows youd know.
    See it for what it is or turn it off. Its as simple as that, in my opinion.

    And saying that i dont like women based on a comment is just wrong. I adore all the women in my life and i make sure to show Them everyday. That being in form of flowers, hugs, kisses, gifts or sweet words. Im far from sexist.. I just like a good joke.
    Would they laugh at the same jokes, i Can almost imagine you asking.
    The answer is yes. Cause thats All it is. A joke that wasent meant to offend but entertain.

    Fyi, english isent my first language, so i apologize about the grammar and spelling.

  7. Elizabeth Kissling says:

    Daniel, I give you props for coming back to re:Cycling and reading the responses to your thoughtless first comment. But you’re wrong. This series of ESPN skits is sexist: it is mocking women for being women. It has nothing to do with Vagisil, Tampax, or Summer’s Eve, except that those are all products sold exclusively to women, based on the principle that female genitalia need to be tidied up. Why do you think they call it “feminine hygiene”?

    Because I do have a full-time job and a fully formed family life in addition to writing and editing this blog, I’m not going to write lengthy responses to each of your points, but refer to you to some excellent resources. First, I suggest you send spend some time at this excellent Feminism 101 blog. This post about humor as tool for shaming and silencing women is especially relevant.

    As for “see it for what it is, or turn it off”, let me refer to you what is known on the internet as “Moff’s Law”.

    First of all, when we analyze art, when we look for deeper meaning in it, we are enjoying it for what it is. Because that is one of the things about art, be it highbrow, lowbrow, mainstream, or avant-garde: Some sort of thought went into its making — even if the thought was, “I’m going to do this as thoughtlessly as possible”! — and as a result, some sort of thought can be gotten from its reception. That is why, among other things, artists (including, for instance, James Cameron) really like to talk about their work.

    When we analyze SNL and other forms of entertainment, we are seeing it for what it is. Writing about the sexism of this show is seeing it for what it is. (P.S. I have seen the show, by the way, although not recently. I’m old enough to remember the hey-days of the Not Ready for Prime Time Players, back when SNL really was funny, edgy, and provocative. With a few moments of exception, it hasn’t deserved those adjectives since they fired Charles Rocket.)

    I’ll look forward to hearing the response you get when you play these skits for your mom and grandmothers. Do let us know how much they laugh.

  8. Heather Dillaway says:

    What I find so interesting is that the ultimate retort to complaints about things is that “you should just not pay attention” or “turn the TV off” or “why do you care so much?” It is crazy that the normal way of dealing with things is to NOT care, and to turn a blind eye to everything that might be wrong. If I take this argument to its logical next step then I’ll do the following: Next time I hear a kid crying I’ll just tune out. Next time a student is crying in my office I’ll just say get out and deal with your own problems. Next time I see domestic violence I’ll just say take it behind closed doors. Next time I hear about a hate crime I’ll just say oh, well, too bad for that person and glad it’s not happening to me. Next time I hear about Haiti I’ll just say, well, that’s another country, who cares? I would never do any of this stuff because I actually care about people around me and I also care about myself. Perhaps that’s a burden but so be it. Jokes/comedy can be really edgy and risky and sometimes really good for that reason. But in those cases they are carefully written and thought about beforehand. In most cases, in my opinion, jokes about particular kinds of people are not well thought-out and are damaging. Most jokes are not just jokes and we all know that deep down. And if I am a caring person and actually want the world to be a bit better for everyone in it, then I’ll have to speak out about things I see or hear that are damaging, at least in some small way when I get up the courage. Just like you’re taking the time to come back to this site when you really don’t have to but because you care for some reason, we are also commenting because we care.

  9. Trent says:

    What a strange thing to say. If a woman said “I just love dick”, would you think the same thing about her?

  10. Elizabeth Kissling says:

    Well, Trent, if a woman made that comment in the context of a discussion about a patently offensive comedy routine that mocked men AS men, for BEING men, I’d probably draw a similar conclusion.

  11. Trent says:

    >I give you props for coming back to re:Cycling and reading the responses to your thoughtless first comment.

    I give you props for how well you insult your readers. (And their intelligence.)

  12. Trent says:

    Wow. I don’t what’s funnier – the idea itself or the fact that you don’t realize how insanely funny that would be.

  13. Laura Wershler says:

    Thanks to all of you for a great discussion. I want to note that the longest and most “conversational” posts on re:cycling to date have involved male commmenters. They have also involved the most disagreement and sharing of opposing or contrary views. And the topics have been about how MEN approach the subject of menstruation and other supposedly embarrassing female bodily funtions through humour and advertising.

    Note to the men who have taken the time (and care as Heather notes) to comment on this blog: WOMEN are challenging your approach and your take on things menstrual. You can continue ONLY to defend your approach (which includes telling us we can’t take a joke, to turn it off if we don’t like it, or desist from blaming the guys ( ie. the ad guys and that probably goes for the SNL writers/producers, too)for just reflecting what they perceive to be the public’s embarrassment and discomfort with female bodily functions like menstruation. (see Liz’s link to the use of humour as tool to shame and silence women) OR you can acknowledge at the very least that the posts and comments on this blog provide thoughtful and legitimate counterpoint to your own ideas, experience and attitudes.

    Whatever, I hope to see more men commenting on this blog. It makes for a lively environment.

  14. Heather Dillaway says:

    Trent, I don’t think she was insulting his intelligence. In fact, Daniel could be the most intelligent person on earth (we can’t judge that from a blog comment). She was critiquing the fact that he hadn’t tried to see things from a different perspective from his own yet, and the language he had used to indicate his perspective. That’s all. But, the fact that both you and he are coming to our blog is at least indication that you’re surfing the web and interested in reading different ideas. That’s the first step.

  15. Darin Koutney says:

    It is to bad a lot of you aren’t smart enough to see comedy for comedy and try to turn it into something else. It is people like you that have screwed up this world with political correctness. It is way to late for the human race, hopefully the Sun will explode soon.

  16. Boris says:

    Why watch a comedy show if you don’t have a sense of humor? Really. You can choose to take offense to anything these days and make a grand ol’ hoo ha about it. Do you really think that the aim of the SNL writers was to undermine women and denigrate their bodies? I highly doubt it.
    @Laura, I am a woman (despite my “name” being Boris), and I find the sketch hilarious and in no way offensive. @Heather, that was just too dramatic…you are comparing a sketch on a TV show to real life (serious) incidents which are totally unrelated!
    Anyway, unlike Darin, i don’t hope that the sun explodes, i just hope people find the sense of humor they’ve replaced with self important political correctness.

  17. Heather Dillaway says:

    As always, it is great to have so many commenters on these blogs. While I disagree that this is just political correctness and nothing else, that is a debate for another time. Calling out someone as politically correct these days is sort of like calling some “Liberal” with a big L a few decades ago or “Red” a few decades before that or a “feminist” at the wrong times or whatever. It’s meant to be an insult but it isn’t always as much of an insult as you think. Remember that this is a blog run by the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research and so it will never offer a “mainstream” perspective on things and it will probably offer a perspective that many (if not most) think is ridiculous. So, also take this blog entry for what it is. And as far as whether comedy is just comedy and it’s too late for the human race, Darin, I’d actually argue the opposite. A lot of really important changes have been made and I think I will remain hopeful that there are still more things that can change before the sun explodes. We wouldn’t be writing blogs like this if we thought there wasn’t a chance for change. I’ve seen lots of small changes that have made lots of people’s lives much better. And if you think back over the decades, there have been a lot of changes to comedy as well as real life. Thanks as always, though, for commenting.

Readers should note that statements published in Menstruation Matters are those of individual authors and do not necessarily reflect the positions of the Society as a whole.