I’m the daughter of a professional clown. She’s retired now, but my mother spent most of my childhood clowning around town. It’s a funny story I tell as an adult, but it definitely didn’t make me cool in high school.
My mom’s career taught me that true, genuine humour can disarm people. It eases pain. It helps us process tough stuff. It’s my family’s way and I’m grateful for it.
When I picked up Amy Schumer’s The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo, I was reminded of comedy’s ability to break down barriers. Schumer is known for her blunt comedy. She’s crafted an image of herself as bold and loud. Most of the book perpetuates this image of Confident Amy Schumer. Cruise through it and you’ll have more than your fair share of LOLs. Her journal excerpts from when she was a teenager, peppered with present-day end notes, are comedic gold. The woman is bloody hilarious. But the chapter entitled “The Worst Night of My Life” is dead serious.
The chapter is an explicit description of her relationship with an ex she calls Dan. Here, Schumer lays raw the fact that the funny, self-assured woman that you laughed along with for the first 19 chapters of this book is also the same person who was abused and continued to date and love her abuser, even when she knew he was dangerous.
Their relationship had all the classic red flags. Dan was controlling, moody and jealous. But he also seemed absolutely devoted. “He was obsessed with me in a way that made me feel high”, she writes. “We had sex several times a day. I thought it was because I turned him on so much, but I now believe that it was because it was a way for him to have my undivided attention.”
She details one particularly frightening night when Dan slammed her into a parked car, and then later started waving a butcher knife in her face.
“I thought, This is how I die? I can’t believe it. I thought about my sister and my mom finding out that this was how I’d checked out. This thought awoke the beast in me. This was my moment of clarity. I had to get away from him. Fast.”
Schumer leaves her abuser after that night and readers are left thinking the story has a neat and clean ending. But she admits, even though it “pains” her to acknowledge, that she later got back together with Dan.
In revealing not only her experience of violence, but the complexity of still loving someone who hurts you, Schumer is using her platform as a famous comic to shed light on the myth of the “perfect victim.”
She was raised in a loving home. She’s smart, formally educated and a feminist. She “knew better” and yet, still found herself in the gripes of a relationship she couldn’t shake.
Her story is one that needs to be told, because it’s the reality of too many women. But we also need to hear it them from people like her. Funny, loud, and messy women who, as she writes, “allowed [her abuser] to hurt me in ways that I still don’t understand.”
That’s the ugly truth about intimate partner violence. We want to believe that only some women can be targeted; that we’re immune if we’re feminist; mouthy; strong. We want to believe that we’d never stay with a man who hurt us.
But her book makes it known to her millions of fans that Amy Schumer, like all of us, can be both badass and vulnerable. She shows that our inability to see perpetrators as bad news does not make us responsible for the abuse we suffer. The trauma bond is real and healing is not linear.
These are things that researchers and fellow survivors have known for decades. But most of us aren’t reading or thinking about these issues until they happen to us or someone we love. We aren’t cruising academic journals for kicks. But we are listening to comics, actors and artists.
So, when comedy’s current it-girl uses her new memoir to talk about intimate partner violence, she is declaring the powerful truth: if it can happen to Amy Schumer, it can happen to any of us.