Home Reviews Tina Fey Hates Sex Workers: Part One of Infinity

Tina Fey Hates Sex Workers: Part One of Infinity

Location on Long Island where the bodies of four women who worked as prostitutes were found

Y’all catch that joke on 30 Rock a couple of weeks (S05E13) ago? Jack Donaghy is in his office, mourning the change in GE ownership. “This is where we used to hold retirement parties. The balcony below is probably still littered with stripper bones.” HAR.

One of the reasons sex workers become politicized is to make ourselves visible as real people to decrease our chances of being easy victims of violent crimes in a society where we are considered lesser members. Jokes like this (and Tina Fey looooves to write stripper jokes*) are one of the constant small ways sex workers are dehumanized to the public. Cracks about dead ones are less funny in light of the women’s remains that were found on Long Island.

Fey is beloved by a lot of women for modeling success in a male-dominated field, which makes her rage towards other women come off as bitter and unreasonable. You know what’s harder than being a rich white woman in Hollywood who gets called crazy because men don’t want to fuck you (hey, you still get to complain about it in The New Yorker)? Having your humanity denied because you are the woman they do want to fuck.

* “I love to play strippers and to imitate them,” says Fey. “I love using that idea for comedy, but the idea of actually going there? I feel like we all need to be better than that. That industry needs to die, by all of us being a little bit better than that.” Vanity Fair, January 2009


  1. I am vexed by Tina Fey’s clear discomfort with sex, sex workers and single women–all qualities that have defined my existence in one way or another for all of my adult life. On the one hand, I admire Fey’s drive, intelligence and wit; on the other, I wish she’d shut the fuck up and stop trying to make me feel badly about myself.

    I can only imagine how uncomfortable she herself must be with her own sexuality, and frankly that thought warms the titanium shell of my bitchy heart.

  2. Ms. Fey is just like so so many woman I meet and talk to on a regular basis. Completely ignorant about strip clubs and what they are about. Scared that the mere existence is going to provide a path to her man’s debauchery, unfaithfulness, untrustworthyness (word?), and ultimate demise. Secretly happy that such an excuse exists because it frees her from the responsibility for the failure of her own relationship. You’d be amazed how many women think the departure of her man can be traced to that time he went to a bachelor party nine years ago and not to the environment created by someone still harping about how he went to a bachelor party nine years ago.

    But I digress. My point is…The only difference is that there are members of the 4th estate who give a shit what Tina Fey has to say. That’s all.

  3. It’s frustrating when people are self-aware of how oppressive structures are hurting them but fail to recognize that *those same structures and paradigms* are hurting others and then go on to contribute to them.

  4. I’ve always hated Tina Fey! Never thought she was funny! But so many people love her…who knows why..because she’s never done anything funny or even entertaining in her whole life. This just proves she’s a total clueless idiot too.

  5. Thank you so much for all these Tina Fey posts, I think I will go get a second hand bargain copy of Bossy Pants cause now I don’t wanna put money in her pocket! These posts really changed my opinion of her. I not only look like her and was nicknamed “Tina Palin” the entire 2008 election season, but I always just thought she was flawless, an endearing girl next door and example of female success in a male dominated arena. Especially since I once had, and still sorta have, TV writer aspirations. But her use of degrading stripper jokes makes me feel like she’s gained entry to the “boy’s club” by contributing to the problem of misogyny and stereotypes, very thought provoking stuff!

    And btw I second GenWar’s emotions. Women who don’t know the other side of the story love to perpetuate naive opinions on strip clubs and sex work(ers), as if talking shit about all strippers and escorts is validation for some inevitable infidelity in her own marriage down the road.

  6. And ps, sorry to ramble, but with scary serial killing in Long Island, we need to view these victims as PEOPLE, not just victims, not just hookers, but our fellow human beings who met an untimely end at the hand of someone crazy who knows negative stereotypes contribute to sluggish police investigations and “they had it coming” public reactions.

  7. I really loved Tina Fey’s impersonation of Sarah Palin but her comments on strippers casts her in a different light for me now. She’s not unlike many “upstanding” women in society who feel superior to sex workers & who don’t ever check their privilege at the door to really get under the skin of someone who is really different from them. Fey can pretend to be a stripper for the sake of comedy to get a laugh, but won’t dig deeper into what makes us really tick so her characterizations of sex workers will always be stereotypes.

  8. “You know what’s harder than being a rich white woman in Hollywood who gets called crazy because men don’t want to fuck you? Having your humanity denied because you are the woman they do want to fuck.”

    Your case for Fey’s use of disguised misogynist imagery is, for me anyway, marred by your own use of such. Casting the debate in terms of ‘women men want versus women men don’t want’ leaves in place a male judgement, the notion of competing for male attention, and the idea that success is measured, for a woman, by her desirability to men.

    I agree that you’ve great reason to disavow Fey’s dehumanizing depiction of sex workers, I disagree in your use of misogynistic imagery as a means of making your point. I also think its time to rise above the male gaze within this debate. Other commenters made some similar motions, pitting women of different classes against each other, in an attempt to deconstruct the dehumanizing misogyny of oversexualizing the underclass, yet without rethinking the obvious (to me anyway) misogyny of desexualizing the upper class.

    There are loads and loads of things going on here; but the main thrust of an argument which centers around a hateful and more than implied, “you’re a frigid bitch b/c you think I wanna steal your man because your man wants me” is some horrific competetive bullshit and is centered around misogynistic definitions of women. If we want to call someone to account for internalized misogyny, we need to deconstruct our own and disavow that too. I hope that makes sense.

    • Rachel, that was Fey’s phrasing in referring to women considered “crazy” in Hollywood, as taken from her piece in the New Yorker that is linked in that sentence, not my own. At no point do I attack her for her appearance or sexual behavior. So no, that doesn’t make sense. With closer reading you will see that we take issue with what Fey writes and says and avoid ad hominem attacks.

  9. The whole line is not in quotes, thus I thought it a part of this post. I don’t think I’m attacking anyone, but ending on that line, ‘having your humanity denied b/c you are the woman they do want to fuck’ which, if I’m correct is not a quotation, but in fact the final line of this post, was precisely what bothered me. It made the whole debate about how men feel about women, not about how women percieve each other…Its a line that is consistently echoed in many of the comments; and I feel, it delegitimizes your position.

    If I’ve misunderstood what is being said, my apologies. I happen to enjoy TF’s comedy, and I think it attacks nearly everyone in turn, and find it difficult to determine how she, as a person feels about, well…anything, just about. The line that clearly *is* quoted from Fey– ‘we all need to be better than that’ does give some idea of her feelings, and it is an absurd thing to say, and proves your point far better than the final line of the post.

    • Rachel: I really appreciated both of your comments here. I thought the point you made in the first held, regardless of where your quotation marks should have been.

      That said, I completely understand the anger that bubbles feels at Fey’s comments. As a sex worker, the comments Fey has made do dehumanize her, and assume that she couldn’t possibly be a sex worker because she’s chosen to-or have made that choice from a strong place as opposed to being exploited.

      I also find Fey’s humor about strippers funny. The use of the word “whore” in the linked piece about Hefner’s girlfriends doesn’t bother me. I feel that routine is playing more on the societal view of golddiggers/trophy wives-and in particular Hefner’s playboy lifestyle-for laughs. I like the contrast between “waiting for the viagra to wear off” and getting to a dental appointment. I actually like the drawing of attention to the very real fact that many people get into professions that exploit them (and this includes non-sex work professions) as the result of abuse. I do think that often comedy can use satire to highlight important issues too often forgotten in our culture, and as such can serve an important function.

      It’s sort of like the Dave Chappelle question: at what point does your satire cross the line? How do you cope with people laughing at your jokes because they’re racist, not because they understand how your sketch of a blind black racist who thinks he is white highlights the absurdity of racism itself? I don’t know the answer.

      I do find it disappointing that Tina is so enraged at the existence of strip clubs. She should be a better feminist than that. Sadly, many who I think should be better feminists can’t even wrap their heads around the empowerment of burlesque performers-so it doesn’t surprise me.

      To get back to my original point (there’s just too many interesting debates brought up by this post! kudos!) I really believe that bubbles should try to take another look at what Rachel means. In debates on sexism and women’s rights, the conversation on both sides can so easily descend (I think often unintentionally on both sides) into the very types of stereotyping it intends to put and end to. A stripper can be a feminist. A feminist can stand up for the rights of strippers to be counted as people worthy of respect. I, myself, struggle with my own prejudices with regard to the current state of sex workers in America. I worry about the unexplored trauma’s that lead some women into sex work. I worry about the unresolved trauma inside of myself that sometimes colors my view of sex workers. As long as I keep worrying on both sides, I can only hope I arrive at a fair appraisal of the issue at hand. I’d never generalize that all sex workers are molestation victims and whores.

      I’d hope that sex workers wouldn’t generalize that all women who are ideologically opposed to sex workers are sexually unfulfilled or sexually insecure. Perhaps we should instead direct our attention to the frigidity of their worldview.

  10. Perhaps I’m missing it, but I’m not seeing hate.. I’m seeing a character making some wry comments, but I don’t think that equals hate by any means.

    The quote about needing the industry to die shows she doesn’t like it, but it doesn’t show why. Many women and men still perceive sex workers as being victims of past or present abuse.. if I were to say the child sweatshops need to die, you wouldn’t assume I hate children.. even if I were making jokes about child labor to emphasis how soulless a company was as she highlights the soullessness of her industry while referencing the stripper bones.

  11. You know what’s kinda lame? Excusing Fey’s rancid biblical prudery as just part of comedy and then saying that, because it’s comedy, it’s off limits for attack. That’s just a way of affirming that side of the argument’s right to speak and delegitimizing any other voice.

    It’s like saying Zero Dark Thirty is a movie, all movies are art, therefore we can’t talk about any other aspect except the sound editing and the pacing.


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