Sexism at Sausage Party?

frank-and-brendaBy Claire Hotaling

Sausage Party has been repeatedly criticized for its racism, sexism, and somewhat disgusting plot, with some arguing that the filmmakers are actually critiquing the racism and sexism that exists in the real world. Along these lines, by analyzing the plot through a third wave feminist lens, the sexualization of Brenda Bunson, voiced by Kristen Wiig, could be considered a critique of society’s sexist treatment of women and their sexuality. In the beginning of the movie, Brenda and Frank want to have sex, but are afraid that the “Gods” (humans) will judge them harshly if they do. In food speak, Frank and Brenda will lose their “freshness.” As an attempt to satisfy themselves, Frank and Brenda touch, but “just the tips.” Throughout the rest of the movie, Brenda is faced with the guilt of allowing Frank to touch her. When bad things start happening to her and Frank, she attributes this to her sins. When viewed as satirical, however, Brenda’s experience is a critique of sexism. The audience is supposed to laugh at how Brenda thinks Frank doesn’t want her anymore after they’ve “touched tips.” In this way, the film is touching on the third wave feminist idea that women should be able to decide when and how they explore their sexuality, as Judith Lorber points out in Gender Inequality (305). By making Brenda afraid of the judgments of Frank, the film reveals to the audience that these judgments are absurd. The audience is invited to laugh at the idea that women can’t make their own decisions sexually, rather than judge women for their sexual decisions.

Rogen also comments on the guilt women feel after engaging in sexual activities. Throughout the movie, Brenda is faced with the guilt of her sexual encounter with Frank and becomes convinced that the negative things happening in her life are because of her sinful acts. However, watching this occur from the outside, it is obvious to the audience that this concept is laughable. It is simply societies expectations that are making her feel this guilt. However, by the end of the movie, Brenda has embraced her sexuality as she realized the only thing holding her back from sex are the social constructs arranged by the gods. If we consider Joshua Gamson’s arguments in “Popular Culture Constructs Sexuality,” Brenda can be seen as a sexual subject rather than a sexual subject (323). Sausage Party has received harsh backlash for its racism and sexism. However, when the humor is viewed as satirical, it is a clear criticism of racism and sexism in our culture, as displayed by the sexism facing Brenda Bunson. This may not be what Rogen was going for; perhaps he genuinely is a racist and a sexist. However, it is possible to see the movie in a positive light, but only when it’s seen as a satire.

NOTE: This essay was written by a First-Year Experience (FYE) student in FG110 Introduction to Feminist & Gender Studies taught by Professor Heidi R. Lewis. FG110 teaches students how to examine power, inequality, and privilege along the lines of gender, sexuality, race, socioeconomic status, age, physicality, and other social, cultural, and political markers using multi-, inter-, and transdisciplinary approaches. Near the end of the block, the students visited a local theater to screen Sausage Party, and this essay was written in response.