Arn't I A Woman?: A Feminist Examination of Mental Illness, Gender, and Relationships in Amy Schumer’s Trainwreck



Aug 8, 2015

A Feminist Examination of Mental Illness, Gender, and Relationships in Amy Schumer’s Trainwreck

The last year of my life has been one of the most challenging and hardest. The last year of your twenties must be terrifying for most though, right? Even if only subconsciously, as your mind starts to prepare you for the symbolic death of your youth. 
I don’t think being in your thirties is old- “old” is a construct, anyways. And there are also numerous studies that show that our age has little to do with our happiness, so the idea of getting older as "scary" is mired more in our beliefs than in an actual relationship to reality.
I think what is scariest for people as we age into adulthood is the goals we have set for ourselves to reach by certain ages; often these approaching milestones are cruel reminders of our failure to reach what we were “supposed” to, as if life exists on the same linear trajectory for each person. In America, at least, there seems to be more emphasis on the relationship between women and age; the pressure on men to get married and have children by a certain age pales in comparison to that experienced by women. I remember my ex telling me during a discussion on having children that “he could wait as long as he wanted, but I had a certain time period where I needed to have children.” On a recent dinner with an old male schoolmate, the discussion of children came up: “Maybe when I’m 50.”


Have you EVER heard a woman nonchalantly say she would maybe think about having children when she was 50? Let me answer for you: no way in HELL have you EVER heard that. No, because everyone knows the links between age and fertility in women. And if you want to have kids, those facts are stressful as hell! It’s partly why I left my Masters program to try and salvage a broken relationship so I could have children and get married.
I’m not remotely ashamed to admit that’s one of the most important things I want in my life. Almost every study on happiness indicates love is literally one of the only things that will foster a happy life, and while love exists in different realms, there must be nothing quite like the love you have for your husband and children.
So this year, as I am readily creeping into a new number decade where my body, society, and science expects me to have my shit together at the same time when most people don’t even know what the word compassion means, my life has been, well- a trainwreck.
So I was pretty excited to see Amy Schumer’s movie of the same name which was supposed to be about a character loosely based on her around the same age as me, struggling with low self-esteem, deep seeded self-hate, binge drinking, and an insidious inability to connect with the opposite sex in a meaningful, loving relationship. Plus, she is funny as hell and shatters so many taboos society says women shouldn’t talk about:

 “I will speak and share and fuck and love and I will never apologize to the frightened millions who resent that they never had it in them to do it. I stand here and I am amazing, for you. Not because of you. I am not who I sleep with. I am not my weight. I am not my mother. I am myself. And I am all of you, and I thank you.”

Back to my hell of a year though because this is all about me. I started grad school last August. I dated one guy who disappeared and then came back to pull some really immature shitty shit, which led me to another relationship with the guy I thought I was gonna marry. At the same time I started grad school I moved in with an old best friend from middle school. We used to go on family vacations together, and when she reconnected with me to move in together, I thought it was perfect. Rent in Atlanta, as it expands thanks mostly to the movie industry moving here bringing in more money, is now like $15,000 a month for a one bedroom, so a roommate was my only option after my beautiful PERFECT one bedroom in VA highlands/Morningside was sold. (I know, it’s the classic sob story of a gentrifying white becoming gentrified by even richer whites, boo hoo.)

It turns out, the little girl I was best friends with turned into a pill popping alcoholic pathological liar who allowed people to steal from me, sleep in my room, violate me in almost every possible way, not pay bills, almost get us evicted on a consistent basis, and resulted in me having to move out while still paying rent. The police have been called, report and complaints have been filled, but as long as the checks are coming, the renting office really could care less. I have one more check to pay but I just recently found out on Friday currently the apartment is being inhabited by random junkies and the power is cut off in the apartment. I have no idea what is going to happen in the last month.
My boyfriend who I was living with my dumped me because I was “too depressed” even though I was willing to quit school and get a job to help support us and start a family. He told me I didn’t have “real” problems and I was ungrateful for “all he had done for me.” He also didn’t like for me to go out with my friends, and when I tried to leave him he freaked out and told me we could work through it so I believed him. Then when things got rough for me, and I was trying to finish my first year of my master’s program, do video interviews in the middle of my power being cut off to get a “real” job, quit smoking as a coping mechanism, eat right, regularly exercise, perform my actual job as a teaching assistant and part time saleswoman, I was “too depressed” so he left. Then he spent the next two months saying he wanted to get back together but needed time, so he drug me along as I quit school and tried to hope for the best. The best did not happen.
I left school partly because I was so sick of consistently being belittled for my field of study. I’m a smart girl and I wasn’t wasting my time in school. I could have done some cool work. I’m still not sure how I feel about leaving. It was very hard to always be broke though, and that was something I was sick of. My ex said I was in most of my shitty situations because I didn’t have any money. It is true that money can help, so now here I am, selling uniforms. I make decent money but the stress for someone who has had a life long struggle with anxiety is overwhelming. I have to sell a certain amount in the next month or I am out of a job. I do NOT respond well to pressure by the way. My boyfriend pressured me to be someone he needed and I crumbled. My job is pressuring me to be a certain employee and I am crumbling. I made my first sale on Friday and finally, things were looking up. “Look” I told myself. “All you practice in positive thinking, Buddhist conversion, refusal to give in has lead you to this success.” I was ecstatic. Finally, I had achieved something meaningful through perseverance. I received a call this morning from that sale, telling me they needed to cancel their order.
So when I saw Trainwreck last night and didn't encounter any actual train wreck,  it kinda upset me. Amy says of her character: “There’s a lot of me in this movie. I’m not embarrassed to say that. It’s me like ten years ago when I was a sophomore in college. I was in a lot of pain and I was spreading myself too thin, I was drinking a lot…and then I just realized how destructive it was.”  
  She has a great job (OK, a shallow magazine editorial job, but I’m sorry at 24 I was not working at a huge magazine which when they fired me allowed me to WALK INTO VANITY FUCKING FAIR AND SUBMIT MY WRITING, I was working at a place called GOOGIE BURGER where I had to wear Orange, sell burgers in a park, and ask customers how I could ‘googie up their day’), and she parties, sleeps with guys, drinks, and smokes pot. Wow, trainwreck. (Side eye). So, having intimacy issues does not make you a trainwreck; it makes you human. Ok, problems are relative and I am the biggest advocate of this, but to me there was little depth into Amy’s character being destructive aside from watching her drink and sleep around, which inherently are actually not bad things, if we’re going to come at this from a feminist perspective which I went into it thinking that was Schumer’s angle.
We slowly start to learn all this is to cover up the shame she feels about herself, and that her “destructive” behavior is her being scared to open up for fear of rejection. She finally meets a guy who really likes her, has a good job, is cute and nice and they begin to date after her dealing with some major reservations. He immediately wants to get in a relationship after ONE night which by the way, IS A HUGE RED FLAG.(Shout out to myself from a year ago: if he is ready to be in a relationship after one date, it's not a good sign because you just REPRESENT something he wants, you aren't what he wants.) (Love does not come first, like this commercial keeps repeating.) 
As real life sets in post honey moon period, Bill Hader’s character realizes that Amy has major issues with self-esteem and anytime they fight Amy immediately wants to leave and assumes their relationship is over. This is exactly what I did. Anytime my boyfriend and I got into a fight, it scared me and I thought he would leave me, so I would start to leave before he could.
This reminds me of the most authentic scene in Trainwreck. It was gut-wrenching and I almost couldn’t watch it because it resonated so deeply.  Bill Hader’s character is fed up with Amy’s neuroses after not being able to complete an important surgery because he was up all night listening to Amy open up to him after a fight. This level of vulnerability was of course very difficult for her, so when he came home and showed his apparent weariness at the relationship immediately after her opening up, it triggered her exact fear of abandonment and her defenses shot up assuming things would end, and ultimately Hader left.
This scene dug into me like an eagle’s talons sticking themselves deeply into my heart, ripping it from my chest and tearing it into little shreds, scattering them across the sticky floor of an Atlanta movie theater. I wasn’t ready to see that. It’s been three months since my break up and 2 months since we talked, but I texted him a few days ago because I miss him, because I believe in deep connections lasting for life even if they aren’t romantic anymore, and he wouldn’t even respond. Everything is still fresh. Even though maybe there were problems and he wasn’t right for me, I opened up to him. He told me things no one has ever told me before and made me feel things were possible I never thought were, especially with my previous boyfriends. He did make me feel loved in ways no one else has. And when we had problems I got scared and my defenses arose, we fought, and eventually we broke up.
This is the main part where I have a problem with the movie. I expected more from Amy than a cliché at the end and I acknowledge I am coming at this from my own heartbroken perspective. My ex and I experienced something very similar to Amy and Bill’s fight in the movie; I thought about it and I was determined to show him I could acknowledge the issues I had, show more appreciation for others and him, and try and solve my problems and be happier. I was willing to work on myself. He was not. He emphatically told me in fact, there was nothing about him he was going to change. 
In real life, there is no Lebron James to sit the misguided self-righteous guy down for an “intervention” and explain to the guy that YOU HAVE ISSUES, TOO; that maybe YOU aren’t the easiest person to be in a relationship with either, and to stop pinning all your issues on someone else. That scene pissed me off because it was absurd. No guys’s friends would ever do that, ever.

 Against the advice of all the breakups blogs and self-help articles, I thought I should make the “huge romantic gesture” to show my ex how I loved him because I believe things you love are worth fighting for. It was in the form of a letter, but needless to say, we didn’t get back together.
Because in real life, the guy doesn’t have an intervention with Lebron James encouraging him to examine his own neuroses and open up to such a romantic gesture. And in real life, the girl doesn’t dress up and dance to make a fool of herself to “get the guy” and then they both decide they “wanna work it out” and live happily ever after.  


            In the above interview, Amy gives the male interviewer shit for calling her character's choice of short skirts skanky, which shout out to her for that!! But he actually (*gulps*) brings up a good point about the movie (which is hard to admit cause of what a bonehead he appears to be). Everyone applauded Amy here as an OH NO SHE DIDN’T feminist who shot down the evil male interviewer (who had some really dumb shit to say, YES) but I think she also avoided some points that were prevalent too.

Interviewer: “Being with a guy eclipses everything else. The reason you’re a trainwreck is that drinking and cheap sex is pretty much what drives you until you realize the importance of life, isn’t that a fair summation?”
Amy: “The point is she realizes she’s hurting herself and the people around her.”
Ok….kind of. I would support this more if the ending of the movie wasn’t Amy’s character writing an Vanity Fair article about how WONDERFUL Bill Hader’s character is, then planning and choreographing an entire cheerleading routine to symbolize her coming to meet him halfway and work on herself and admit she isn’t perfect and makes mistakes but can change. Yes, she has a brief heart to heart with her sister too, but it feels very secondary to the overall theme that Amy’s character wins by getting the guy. Yes, she gets the guy through self-enlightenment, but the self-enlightenment isn't complete until she "GETS THE GUY." Bill Hader, even with his “intervention” doesn’t have to change at all. Even though he admits that he lied to her; that while he claimed to accept Amy for who she was at their relationship’s beginning admitted he pretty much didn’t like a lot of things about her. Basically, Amy has to make these grand changes to be acceptable; Bill Hader’s character literally has to do NOTHING.
That’s not how true relationships work and I still think at the end of the day a real feminist ending could have been different. I think everyone wants a relationship because it is a basic part of our human needs, so I don’t fault anyone for wanting that. But this movie’ s ending really translated for me that the girl has to make all the efforts to change her ways to be with a guy and then she will stop hurting.The guy is straight though, he's good. No change necessary. I guess my ex really was perfect. 
In real life, this relationship probably doesn’t work out. I have learned a lot from my breakup, a lot that is similar to Amy’s character. I have hurt myself and the people around me and I want to change that. That came through constant working on myself over the years with and without relationships. It definitely didn’t end with my current relationship (in which I finally opened myself up) working out. The guy doesn’t stick around for the grand gesture. And I’m just kind of pissed because this could have been a movie where Amy could have had the relationship and the realization, but it felt like all that was important was the relationship.
After my ex and I broke up I was determined to change. I went back to therapy, I got a new job, I sought out a spiritual advisor, and I began attending and later converting to Nichiren Buddhism. It’s only been three months and I’m still trying to become a whole person on my own. You don’t recover from being a trainwreck in three months, let alone two weeks after throwing on a cheerleading costume and then getting back with your boyfriend after making some vague apologies.
Did her character quit drinking and pot? Did she go to therapy? How did she stop hurting? What did she do to help others? Literally none of that was relevant as the camera slowly panned out from Amy's character lying underneath Bill Hader kissing her. Really? How fucking boring. Look, I have two close friends that have had relationships where they have had periods of separation and then gotten back w/ their significant other and they are both now happily in love. But major shit happened for both of them to come back together and have a healthy relationship. That wasn't encompassed in this movie. Where is the hard work, commitment to change, and pain that accompanies that on BOTH sides? 
I was scared to write this. “We have so few female led movies, Jessie, we need to celebrate all of them.” “You aren’t writing editorials about male led movies.” I guess I’m not because male led movies are not solely about relationships. That's the patriarchal luxury. (It feels so good to right patriarchy!!! My ex accused me of being divisive whenever I talked about sexism. Lemme soak this in.) When they are about some fucked up dude they are nuanced and dark and introspective and their relatonships are SECONDARY. 
At one point in the movie, Bll Hader claims Amy’s character got “really dark really quickly.” She was literally just venting to him and that was “really dark.” That pissed me off too. There are a lot of people, young women, young trans men and women, young gay men, young lesbians, young men and women who suffer from clinical illness, who have some dark shit they deal with. I have suicidal ideation and my boyfriend  broke up with me because of it. It’s literally just a symptom of an illness I have no control over, but it’s real and it’s there. And I was left because of it. That’s fucking dark. Or all the women who struggle with body image issues and starve themselves and shit, that shit’s dark. Amy’s character got into none of that dark shit. It was maybe very subtly implied, but that’s it. It was an insult to use the word dark. She was spoiled. I’m writing that as another upper middle class spoiled white female.
Also, there have been other recent female led mediums that have been able to involve a coming of age story with a relationship without the relationship eclipsing everything else, which I’m sorry, it TOTALLY did in this movie. Bridesmaids, Bachelorette, The Mindy Show, Melancholia, any Melissa McCarthy led movie, probably a shit ton more. I want us to teach girls that self love is not contingent on who we are dating. We don’t wake up, fall in love with ourselves, and then go out and find a boyfriend. That should be the beginning of the movie quite frankly to see how to navigate a relationship after that. 
I knowingly write this as someone who feels a bit of a train wreck right now. I left school, got dumped, am not succeeding at my new job, and am trying very hard to cultivate self-love before I attempt to love another again. The power is cut off in my apartment with random junkies living there, the first sale I made which made everyone proud of me just canceled on me this morning and I am feeling embarrassed, I texted my ex this week and he didn’t respond, I can’t seem to find self-love no matter how much I try, not matter how much I try to turn my suffering into success I fail. I feel at war with my depression. I self harmed today for the first time in years. I am scared but I am honest and that is the only freedom I have ever had. Someone told me tonite “I put all my eggs in one basket.” I guess that’s what I do when I am being really honest but it's all I know. I hope I can resonate with someone to know I am not alone, without alienating most other people. 
What can I say. I’m a trainwreck.

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Sojourner Truth

Well, children, where there is so much racket there must be something out of kilter. I think that 'twixt the negroes of the South and the women at the North, all talking about rights, the white men will be in a fix pretty soon. But what's all this here talking about?

That man over there says that women need to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches, and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or over mud-puddles, or gives me any best place! And ain't I a woman? Look at me! Look at my arm! I have ploughed and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And ain't I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man - when I could get it - and bear the lash as well! And ain't I a woman? I have borne thirteen children, and seen most all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother's grief, none but Jesus heard me! And ain't I a woman?

Then they talk about this thing in the head; what's this they call it? [member of audience whispers, "intellect"] That's it, honey. What's that got to do with women's rights or negroes' rights? If my cup won't hold but a pint, and yours holds a quart, wouldn't you be mean not to let me have my little half measure full?

Then that little man in black there, he says women can't have as much rights as men, 'cause Christ wasn't a woman! Where did your Christ come from? Where did your Christ come from? From God and a woman! Man had nothing to do with Him.

If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women together ought to be able to turn it back , and get it right side up again! And now they is asking to do it, the men better let them.

Obliged to you for hearing me, and now old Sojourner ain't got nothing more to say.

Sojourner Truth

Delivered 1851 at the Women's Convention

Akron, Ohio