Amy Schumer and The Art of Taking Up Space

One of the many facets that I appreciate about comedian Amy Schumer’s work is that she shines a light not only on the cultural conditioning that keeps women in restricted place, but also she exposes the misogyny that many of us have internalized from living in a patriarchal society. As some of her sketches intimate—women and girls have been known to do as good a job as anyone of objectifying, suppressing, or disempowering themselves.

Schumer’s sketch “I’m Sorry” from this latest season is one example. In it, a group of female experts at a conference spend an entire panel discussion apologizing for pretty much anything and everything. (Video could not be embedded, so please click on the New York Magazine link):

It’s the expert, the one who sustains burns after someone accidentally spills hot coffee on her, who really got to me. She is writhing on the floor, blood and guts spurting out of her now severed legs. Yet none of that stops her from apologizing for the disruption. Meantime, the other female experts are uttering their own apologies for no reason, over and over.

The sketch made me think of the summer I interned at CBS News in Washington DC. As I stood with a camera crew outside the US Supreme Court in record temperatures and severe humidity, I started to faint.

My lips went clammy, I felt like I was being pulled into a wind tunnel, and it was all I could do not to lose consciousness. I dropped to my knees. “Sorry!” I exclaimed to the crew.

I’d been assigned the job of standing in front of the camera until the CBS reporter arrived. From the ground I raised my arms over my head so that at least my hands were still visible in the shot. “I’m so so so sorry!” I kept saying to anyone who would listen.

But it’s not just that one incident. I can think of hundreds of times in my life when I’ve apologized, either overtly or covertly—not even aware that was what I was doing—for doing nothing more than taking up time and space in this world.

Yet isn’t that what so many women have been taught? As feminist critic Soraya L. Chemaly wrote in an article for Role Reboot in 2013, girls are trained starting at a young age to “be as small as possible and we will love you more.” The title of her piece: Our Society Urges Girls To Take Up Less Space And Boys To Take Up More, And It Needs To Stop.

Be skinnier, weigh less, speak softer, don’t toot your own horn, the list of ways to minimize the self goes on—all acts of mea culpa for taking up space. (Full disclosure: I’ve tried many of those tactics and I’ve never found the “we will love you more” part to be the case. The only people who’ve appreciated my efforts are those who’ve also been taught to keep small—and assholes. )

Which is another reason I’ve officially become a Schumer fan. She allows herself to take up space. She would have to be willing. Otherwise, there is no way she could create a show named after her and star in it or write a screenplay for a movie, Trainwreck, and star in it.

Every time Schumer performs her feminist, owning-her-sexuality stand-up act, she is taking up space and permitting herself and her work to take center stage. As she said, when accepting the Trailblazer Award from Glamour magazine earlier this month, “I’m not going to apologize for who I am.” Allowing others to honor you for what you do also requires a willingness to take up space.

Watching Schumer’s show reminds me that eradicating misogyny from the world is as much an inside job as it is a fight to be won out there. And when we slowly but surely identify and kick out the sexist that lives within, we are freeing not just ourselves but also giving others permission to do the same.

With no more apologies, we take up space in the world—that is, until the next time we run into someone who pays us a compliment:


73 Comments on “Amy Schumer and The Art of Taking Up Space”

  1. awellthoughoutchoice says:

    Reblogged this on Artificial sounds so clinical and commented:
    I want this for the child I hope to have one day. Take up space and toot your horn.

  2. This killed me: “Full disclosure: I’ve tried many of those tactics and I’ve never found the “we will love you more” part to be the case. The only people who’ve appreciated my efforts are those who’ve also been taught to keep small—and assholes.” So, true, and I don’t think I ever noticed that until you pointed it out just now. Taking up space has been a theme for my self growth over the last year. I’m 38, and it’s taken me this long to actively notice how much I limit myself by always trying to be as small as possible. So glad you are talking about this.

    • diahannreyes says:

      Jenn! I love that Taking Up Space has been one of your mantras for the year. You’re definitely doing that with your wonderful writing appearing in so many places. And yeah- I don’t know that I realized that either until I wrote this piece- about the a-holes being among those appreciating my years of self-smalling and suppression. 😉

    • Alice says:

      These were the lines that jumped out at me too. Ditto to what Diahann said in her response!

  3. sundaylarson says:

    Alarming how few women/girls want to be center stage, even when they claim otherwise. Vintage charm schools should be revived, focusing on a new type of female presence, center stage not merely ornamental.

    • diahannreyes says:

      Sunday, so agree! I can think of one charm school especially ;). I was actually going to put that into the post- about how being center stage out of owning one’s worthiness is different from allowing oneself to be the center of attention because of objectification– another way of “small-ing” oneself to less than-ness. I think I just made up a couple of words right there.

  4. insertwittyusernamerighthere says:

    Reblogged this on AnotherVeryMuchClichedBlogAboutATeenageGirl.

    • diahannreyes says:

      Thank you for reblogging!

      • insertwittyusernamerighthere says:

        This post is definitely something I can relate to! I couldn’t stop myself from hitting that reblog button. I’ve always admired Amy Schumer and when I saw that video, I admired her even more for recognizing how much women have been conditioned into thinking that it isn’t acceptable to accept compliments. At the same time, I’m a very apologetic person. A lot of the time people like to joke around and say that it’s in my Canadian nature, but even I know that that isn’t it. That behaviour is taught. Growing up, all I can remember is being told to apologize, even when it isn’t necessarily necessary. I realize that my younger brother didn’t grow up the same way. I’m really glad that you hit these major points because it’s really important to understand how our culture has shaped women into thinking that they should apologize, even for their mere existence. It’s ridiculous to think about.

        • diahannreyes says:

          Someone else mentioned that apologizing in some cultures is totally considered innocuous. Interesting though that your brother was taught differently. I love that these days, people are becoming aware of how boys and girls are being conditioned differently and that this is detrimental for all.

          • insertwittyusernamerighthere says:

            I find that apologizing isn’t necessarily the issue. It’s the over apologizing, isn’t it? It’s where we say that we are so so so sorry for even the slightest thing. It’s not surprising when I hear people to stereotype Canadians as kind and apologetic because I’ve heard it my whole life. I think people are failing to realize that the vast majority that are being accounted for apologizing are, in fact women. I’ve yet to hear men apologize repeatedly for something so.. Trivial. Definitely a part of conditioning.

  5. BroadBlogs says:

    I was reading about how women often feel like they need to put themselves down, in terms of their body image, to fit in. It’s pretty sad because when you tell those things to yourself you can start to sink in.

    First week of class spring quarter my students were talking about this apology thing, how women constantly apologize. I’m going to have to pay more attention to whether I do that.

    Thanks for an insightful post, as usual!

    • diahannreyes says:

      Interesting- that putting the self down related to body image is also a thing. Then again, I definitely can see that as it relates to some girls who are pretty and popular dumbing themselves down. or dumbing themselves down cuz they think boys don’t like smart girls.

      I love that your students are aware of such things. I certainly wasn’t at that age! Although if there were the same conversations that are happening now, maybe I would have been.

  6. Lorien says:

    Really great post Diahann. The “I’m sorry” sketch jogged a decades old memory in which a fellow girl scout praised me for being so polite because I was so apologetic. “You’re so nice,” she said, and I bowed my head humbly and waited for the next opportunity to apologize. I was nine or ten years old. In high school a forward-thinking young woman encouraged me to simply say “Thank you” when someone paid me a compliment–she had already noticed the tendency of women to minimize their accomplishments and believed we could turn this around one by one. Although I have tried since then to accept compliments graciously, there have been plenty of times when I unconsciously brushed praise aside because I didn’t think I was good enough to merit such positivity directed my way. I appreciated both of the sketches you shared and your insight into this unfortunate cultural phenomenon. Have you studied this cross-culturally? And how about cross-racially in the United States? I remember back in Sociology 101 learning that on average African American females display more self-confidence and are apt to hold themselves in a greater positive regard than any other group while Latinas seemed to possess the least self-confidence and were among the more self-denigrating. I don’t know if these same averages hold true today, but I can surely see the tendency of females to shrink, hide, and downplay themselves. How can you accurately measure self regard? Is a measurement needed? I somehow inherited the belief that something is inherently wrong with me and that being a female is a liability–I don’t need a precise calculation to know that this kind of thinking is older than I am and has been passed down through the generations. Even after experiencing the power of giving birth at home two times, creating two beautiful children with my own body and birthing them with no assistance–even the most empowering experience of my life cannot erase the core belief that something about me needs fixing. So what is the solution? Thanks for writing posts with the power to provoke thought and raise consciousness.

    • diahannreyes says:

      Thanks for sharing, Lorien. I have a similar memory where someone said the same thing to me- and I remember thinking- oh, so that’s the key to being liked! And I’m with you about the compliments- here’s to a simple “thank you” feeling like enough moving forward. (Someone once told me that when someone pays you a compliment and u don’t you receive it, you are throwing it back at them, which doesn’t feel great on their end.)

      You ask a lot of great questions. I agree with you, even though the “small-ing oneself” behavioral pattern seems to cross cultures and races, it seems that in certain cultures this is definitely more pronounced–valued even. And thanks for bringing up the point that it seems that females are often born thinking that that they have this flaw of being born not male. I’d say we have all the drama in the Garden of Eden to thank for that. And I love that you describe giving birth as the most empowering experience of your life. I’m going to take that in.

      • Lorien says:

        Yes, my friend, hands down the births of my children were the most empowering experiences of my life. I actually refer to my kids’ births when I hesitate, or feel nervous or doubtful about something…I’ll say to myself, “Okay, I gave birth two times at home without meds or anesthesia or anything–I got this.” And I remember that feeling of being a powerful creator and life-giver, and I deal with whatever challenge I’m going through at the time. I never knew that those birth experiences would continue giving so much to me as I continue to journey through life, but somehow the act of conscious birthing put me in touch with this deep, primal power that is mine as Womb-one–and all I need to do is remember the rush of energy, the exhilaration, and I’m back in that power again, still mine.

  7. Ok, that closing vid was exasperating. =) The self-degradation sounded a lot like the rules of Asian etiquette, which is also a subtle fishing for persistent compliment.

    • diahannreyes says:

      Diana, such a good point about the cultural nuances that can exist behind such things as apologies and rejected compliments and how for some to do otherwise would be very rude.

  8. Love it. Battling misogyny is an inside out endeavor. We can not be truly empowered until women shed how we disempower ourselves. This is is crucial and often overlooked in the discussion of oppression and the various “isms”. It is too easy to play a blame game and overlook our own obstacles. I’m not implying that external forces don’t exist, but if we don’t do our own work we won’t be prepared to take up the opportunity when it arrives. We won’t even be able to see it, we’ll be too busy trying to be invisible. Great post.

    • diahannreyes says:

      Thanks for so beautifully articulating all that, Marika. I especially love this “but if we don’t do our own work we won’t be prepared to take up the opportunity when it arrives. We won’t even be able to see it, we’ll be too busy trying to be invisible. ” The next time I give myself grief on the inside because my inner sexist is having its way, I’m going to remember that.

  9. pjsarecomfyn says:

    I love Amy! We should all take those sketches to heart. I feel like somehow in a quest to getting everything we want we somehow felt like we couldn’t act like we actually deserve any of it.

  10. katherinejlegry says:

    Hi Diahann, such a great post! It’s always a better day after reading your blog.

    And I was just reading on another blog that I admire about feminist satire not being understood and instead taken literally… so, I placed a link to the author below who earlier had posted this other article and twitter campaign about women taking up more space so I thought you have some things in common for sure and might be interested in her blog:

    Jeanne de Montbason’s blog:

    Her more current June post is regarding the satire if you want to go to her home page.

    She’s located in the UK and teaches medieval studies. I just love her feminist history lessons in religious art and her latin translations. She’s a very gifted writer and with a powerful feminist voice.

    Your work and her work online has been some of the most important to my own, so… that’s why I went on at length about her!

    Thanks for doing what you do. 🙂

    • diahannreyes says:

      hi Kate 🙂 Thank you. I just subscribed to Jeanne’s blog and can’t wait to read more about what she has to say. Definitely discovering how powerful satire can be- where one can be laughing or not laughing while this potent point is being made.

      • Jeanne de Montbaston says:

        I just saw this! And I’m blushing madly, but, you know, in a feminist, taking-up-space way 😉

        Thanks very much, and for such an interesting piece.

  11. Diane Lansing says:

    As always a provocative and moving post Diahann!
    Later in the day after reading your post I received a text from an Editor I’m working with on a short film I Directed. He had to change a phone meeting time and asked if I could do it two hours later. The first letters I typed were “So sorry I can’t” Then I went, wait a minute, why am I sorry? The timing was so funny to me. I do this, I apologize for what I must somewhere see as my weaknesses. Or my lack of knowledge on a subject. But this does not behoove a Director. So I erased the I’m sorry and just took charge in a way that worked just as well and kept me from not standing strong. Whew! This life is such a journey of little adjustments. Yet these adjustments exponentially grow and help us become the solid women we need to be.

    • diahannreyes says:

      You just finished another short? Congrats! So in need of a catch up. I love that you got back to the editor without that extra sorry. That the exchange went off just as well while u stood strong affirms that this extraneous apologies serve no useful purpose at all. Truly love this : life as a “journey of little adjustments.” Let’s try to meet in the middle in the next couple of weeks-after that for sure I won’t be able to until after the wedding.

  12. Jay says:

    I do aplogize, probably excessively, but I won’t apologize for doing it, or seek to quit it. I don’t worry about taking up space, I’m very comfortable with who I am and my right to be here, and I guess that includes my little quirks like saying I’m sorry even when that’s not exactly what I mean (often what I mean is: I’m embarrassed!)

  13. SirenaTales says:

    Well, I wish that the “shoe” you offer here didn’t fit so perfectly, Diahann :). Thank you so much for the important reminder. I realize I have reverted to old patterns and been apologizing for everything lately. STOP.IT.NOW.

    I appreciate so much your insightful discussion about taking up space. As I have been musing over it within the context of my dancing, I notice more clearly how I have been drawn to, and blessed to work with, a number of choreographers and teachers who emphasize spacious movement and “eating up the space,” i.e. moving big. I see now how my dance experience has pervaded my world view, helping me (albeit verrrrrrry slowly) to take up space more. Sure, it is self-empowering, but it is also energizing to the people and world around us.

    It reminds me of that Marianne Williamson quote: “…Your playing small does not serve the world. There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you…And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people
    permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others….”

    Thank you as always for shining your light so fiercely and generously, my friend. xoxo

    • diahannreyes says:

      Chloe, I love that “eating up the space” is an actual thing and that you are able to track how it reverberates and is of service. I’ve really found, from exploring movement modalities, that if you want your life to change find new movement- and what you shared makes me think about that. Williamson’s essay that ends on the sentences you quoted is one of my favorite. (She ministers regularly several miles away and she is definitely someone who practices what she preaches.)

      • SirenaTales says:

        Wanted you to know that you provided key inspiration for a class I taught on Saturday to some teenaged dancers, Diahann. I had them visualize being in a place where they have felt/would feel enormously expansive. After took some time to experience this expansiveness inside their skins, I invited them to radiate that and reminded them periodically through class to revive and project those sensations. Also used the image of their legs being mouths, eating up the space. What I saw was more voluminous and textured movement–no surprise there :). I’ve used similar cues in the past, but was able to flesh out my approach thanks to this post of yours. Thanks so much for the continued inspiration that you are….xoxo

        • diahannreyes says:

          Wow. I love that- and am honored. Thank you, Chloe. I love that image of the legs being mouths eating up the space… what an anchoring grounding fiercely powerful act- as I’m sitting here trying to play with that now. 🙂 xo

  14. […] I reblogged a post from a fellow blogger here on WordPress. It was originally posted on Stories from the Belly:  I thought it was one of the most thought provoking posts that I have read in a while. I thought I […]

  15. vnp1210 says:

    Very interesting perspective as always! I’ve not seen Schumer’s work but will check it out.

  16. livelytwist says:

    I like how the video is exaggerated to drive home the point. Sometimes we just need to bask in a sincere maybe unexpected compliment with a thank you.

    In business, I’ve noticed women apologize a lot and diminish their accomplishments. It’s something I’m unlearning. Quiet confidence without apology is a good place for me.

    Diahann, I think this post is timely. We need these reminders to jolt us out of complacency now and again.

  17. Jean says:

    It’s a lifetime of standing firm.

  18. reocochran says:

    Oh oh! First of all, Diahann, I wish to tell you that I wrote a comment a couple days ago on my phone. This cell is not always good at following through in its operations. Then it is hyper-sensitive and will change my words. …
    Saying I’m sorry is disconcerting to some people and I have had friends who ask me not to do it so much. I agree with Amy Schumer and the movement which encourages women particularly to not lose our power by making this mistake. I was the oldest so my tendency was to take the blame so my little brothers did not get spanked. (Not hard.) The habit is hard to break but I continue to work on this! I try to make a difference and take my space up in this world 🙂

    • diahannreyes says:

      How moving how you took care of you siblings by putting the onus on you, Robin. Makes me think about how sometimes what seems like a small act can have reverberations. I love your deliberate intent to shift that dynamic yourself. I definitely sense that energy, of you taking up space, on your blog 🙂

      • reocochran says:

        Thank you, Diahann, for how you show enthusiasm and respond so positively to everyone who comments. I appreciate the value you give here in openness to sexuality expression and acceptance of all variations of people. Thanks for saying this special message for ME! You are so special, Diahann.

  19. This really hit home. I cringe when I think of how many times I’ve said, ‘I’m sorry,’ when I’ve done absolutely nothing wrong. This is what a good comedian does (and a good blogger) – open our eyes.

  20. Great post – I come from a background of being ‘seen and not heard’ and of not getting too big for your boots – all ways of drilling into me that I shouldn’t take up space in the world.

  21. Yes to all of this Diahann! I just finished a major rebrand of my business to shift focus to helping women, in part, take up more space in their own lives. Part of that came from what I was seeing with clients but also in my personal life, with my own mom who as you know passed away in May. As women we own it to ourselves to take up more space. Our story is needed loud and clear. Hugs to you.

    • diahannreyes says:

      Sounds like a wonderful expansion of your business. Look forward to reading more about all of it! Hope you are continuing to have a wonderful time in Germany.

  22. SirenaTales says:

    Hey, Diahann. Was just thinking about you and wondering how things are going with the process of your book? Hope life is going swimmingly for you….xox

    • diahannreyes says:

      Hi Chloe! Life is good. I am getting married really soon so everything is a bit crazy right now. Hoping to finish a third draft before the big day but it’s been hard to ground in. Hope you are doing great and settling in nicely xo

  23. LAMarcom says:

    Ya know? I guess I am sorry. I am a huge fan of Amy S. And I love good comics, and she had me, until the coffee thing and the legs severed, and, yes, I get the whole “I’m sorry bit”, but honestly: for me ‘it don’t ring true.” I post a lot (too much) Lenny Bruce on my blog. Now, in my humble opinion, he was funny, and one could broach the idea that he was a sick comedian (back in his day), but once again: I am sorry. This is just not funny to me. Well, it was funny until the end. Then I suppose (for me) it was just so much ‘Jurassic Park’ over the top.

    And just to prove I am not a prude…

    • diahannreyes says:

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Lance. I personally resonated with the over the topness because metaphorically the problem is really that extreme. Will have to check out the link you sent over.

  24. tabbyrenelle says:

    I learned of your blog through Katherine and also from Chloe’s (Sirena Tales) blog. I love this post!

    Coincidentally, friend of mine was told by one of the most sexist online trolls that he was a fan of Amy Schumer (and I didn’t know who she was at the time) but he said this to her as if it would forgive him all of his sexual harassment and abuses… and even allow him to perpetuate them. So I don’t know who she ends up speaking to the most… or how… as the eternal chauvinist will only ever glean for spin and for his(or her) own advantage(s) using everything he learns against us. Sometimes comedy seems too “forgiving” of those being “punished” or “critiqued” to me, as it allows the discussion but triggers no real action to follow. But maybe it’s the only way anyone will listen. Our anger tends to get us shut up and labelled as unattractive or hysterical, so maybe humor is the only bite we can put on a brother in the modern day.

    Nevertheless, I agree with your take on her arrival on the scene and importance, and hope women will challenge their notions of sexuality/freedom within the status quo and stop apologizing for simply existing.

    Let’s take up more room girrrrrls! 🙂

    • diahannreyes says:

      hi Tabby! I love Kate and Chloe and look forward to getting to know your work. It’s interesting how people will say things and think that somehow erases all the actions that came before and after. I agree that comedy sometimes thinks humor is excuse enough but hopefully that is changing as more of us speak out when funny just doesn’t cut it. Schumer, Poelher, none of them are perfect by far- but then who among us are- I do like that Schumer recently took responsibility by saying her comedy is evolving as is she and she won’t make certain jokes that she used to. And yes, to taking up more space!!

  25. I have so much admiration for Amy Schumer. I love that she takes up so much space. She’s truly a fresh voice in comedy. 🙂
    Very interesting post and comments.

  26. […] Diahann Reyes writes in her post, Amy Schumer and The Art of Taking Up Space: […]

  27. I am such a huge freaking Schumer fan- also I know what you mean about being overly apologetic. I apologize pretty much constantly throughout the day for the most ridiculous things. I always try to stop myself, but I can’t- ahhh!! Sorry for this weird comment! (See there I go again!)

    • diahannreyes says:

      LOl- your last sentence made me smile, Sarah. I recently discovered that I say “you know” a gzllion times in a conversation. That’s my next word weed I’m wacking.

  28. What an eye opener and should be shared many times over. Thank you for the insight and truly accept the compliment.

  29. This is a very interesting topic, one I’ve never heard brought up before. Thank you for the read!

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