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“If we want our icons perfect, we could be in for a long wait” Lucy Mangan on accepting the flaws of our heroes

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I don’t know about you, but if I get to bed at night knowing that the cats are fed, the rent is paid and I have clean knickers for the next day, I pretty much feel my job is done. I think that’s reasonable.

I don’t know what I’d do if I had a lot of other people loading their expectations on to me. I’d probably buckle quite quickly, to be honest. I am but one woman. With two cats. And quite a high rent. And a single washing machine.

Fortunately I’m insured against such disaster by a) having very few friends and making the poverty of my daily ambition very clear to them all, and b) never becoming a feminist icon. The latter, it seems increasingly, is particularly key. Just look at Amy Schumer’s recent experiences.

Over the last five years, 35-year-old Schumer has gone from stand-up comedian to massively successful author (of a memoir that netted her an $8m advance), film and TV writer, and is responsible, via the TV show she created and co-writes, Inside Amy Schumer for some of the most hilarious and overtly feminist sketches ever broadcast. If you haven’t already seen ‘Last F***able Day’ on YouTube (where a group of older actresses gather to toast their final moments of Hollywood employability), or the Friday Night Lights and 12 Angry Men parodies (in which, respectively, the football coach introduces a “no raping” rule for his players, and the jury have to decide whether Amy is attractive enough to be allowed on TV) then go, go, go now – I’ll wait.

Good, aren’t they? But it’s not enough. One of her (male) writers posted a series of – truly vile – pro-rape, anti-women, you-name-it diatribes online, entirely unconnected to the show (which was on hiatus) and Schumer was deemed to have failed to condemn him thoroughly enough. Some jokes from early in her career (when she relied more heavily on a ‘dumb hick’ persona) resurfaced and were judged offensive. So the cry goes up: “She can’t be a (proper) feminist!” Another idol has feet of clay and must be thrown aside. How very handy, for some. 

You can see this pattern playing out many times and in many places. Once a woman holds a certain amount of sway, garners a certain level of admiration, the hunt is on to bring her down – usually by finding some oversight or by magnifying some minor flaw, such as Tina Fey’s apparent impatience with internet critics when she mocked them in the second series of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, or... um... Hillary Clinton’s crackling lungs – that is then used to try and invalidate the whole of their achievement.

My argument is not that we should ignore our icons’ flaws. It is that we should acknowledge them but acknowledge the limits of those flaws, too. A counsel of perfection helps no-one – and no cause. It’s understandable that, when there are still so few female role models and inspiring figures out there, we load them up so heavily. But this just means they are too quickly hobbled by the kind of stones that bedevil any human’s path (and which a man, less heavily encumbered, would be able to nip neatly over).

The flawed hero is a mainstay of our culture and always lives to fight another day. We need to accept flawed heroines too. Our days of fighting are, after all, far from over.


Photography: Rex Features

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