A Case of Imperfect Feminism: Tina Fey, The Golden Globes, and Rape Jokes


As a woman who juggles many jobs, from head writer to lead actress, Tina Fey is often hailed as a feminist icon.

And why shouldn’t she be? She epitomizes the modern woman: powerful, successful, and intelligent.

Yet, Fey is by no means a perfect portrait of feminism.

Recently, her jokes about Bill Cosby spun heads at the Golden Globes. Despite poking fun at the perpetrator, her comedy about sexual assault diminished the gravity of such a topic.

This is not the first time Fey has made light of rape. Over Christmas vacation, I took the liberty of re-watching “30 Rock” on Netflix, where Fey stars as head writer of the sketch comedy TV show  “TGS With Tracy Jordan.”

In an episode entitled “Generalissmo,” 30 Rock uses roofieing as a joke within the first five minutes. One of the characters, Tracy Jordan, goes partying with some of the interns and tells Fey’s character Liz that they gave him rohypnol for his headache. Moments later, he falls down on the ground and says, “you can do whatever you want to me.” Here, 30 Rock ignores harmful uses of rohypnol and plays on its uses in rape culture for a laugh. The result is uncomfortable, cheap comedy that reminds many sexual assault survivors of their traumatic experience.

Another point where 30 Rock used a rape joke was in the season 5 premiere, “The Fabian Strategy.” A producer on the show now has more free time with another person helping with his job. He tells Liz how in the morning, he was able to “make love” to his wife while she was asleep. The next frame flashes to the snoring producer’s wife, bobbing up and down as he has sex with her. Here, 30 Rock violates the “yes means yes” rule of consent. “Yes means yes” outlines that to engage in sexual activity, there must be mutual, conscious, and voluntary permission given. None of this is present in the producer’s rape, as his wife is unaware of the intercourse. Also, the scene contains the absence of consent between spouses, and therefore blatantly shows marital rape. While the producer’s tale is supposed to be a shot at the busy lives of adults, it misses the point completely. Instead, it demeans the permission essential for intercourse and moreover frames women as sex objects. Though Liz expresses disgust at the producer’s actions, the joke still remains in the episode as an example of the defiance of consent.

To top it off, 30 Rock used rape in jokes about Bill Cosby back in the 2009 episode “The Bubble,” where Tracy Jordan yells at the actor over the phone for “what he did to his Aunt Paulette.”

At first glance, Fey is hardly the criminal. After all, she isn’t directly part of most jokes. However, although it seems like Fey has no control over these jokes, it requires only the scroll through the credit to see her name appear again as creator, producer, and writer. She is not only part of these crude jokes, but the origin of them.

I’m not saying we should cast Tina Fey out completely. As a standout, bossypants woman in the entertainment industry, she is a role model for girls everywhere. However, even as a feminist figure, she is imperfect. There are discrepancies between her words and her actions. Like any feminist, she is not without her flaws. And maybe, just maybe, this is a good thing. As feminists, we should not look to one person for a quintessential representation, but many, so we can learn from different perspectives and gain knowledge of imperfections within each of us.


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