Inside Amy Schumer sends up Hollywood magnificently. Photo: YouTube screengrab
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This Inside Amy Schumer sketch about the media's treatment of "older" women is perfect

Passing the age of "believable fuckability".

If Julia Louis-Dreyfus chugging a pint of melted ice cream, then letting rip a sizeable, rasping fart doesn’t fill you with the kind of warmth usually stimulated by, say, a basket of puppies, I don’t think we can be friends.

And this is just a snippet of a sketch from this week’s season premiere of Inside Amy Schumer, which beautifully, caustically and, in a way quite seriously, rips it out of Hollywood’s treatment of older women. And by “older”, I mean forty to fifty-somethings, which, in an age where people regularly make it past 100, hardly seems old. We see Tina Fey and Patricia Arquette (both “older women” by Hollywood standards) join Louis-Dreyfus in celebrating her last day of “being fuckable”.

Louis-Dreyfus explains that this is the point at which the media decides that, as an actress, you’ve surpassed the age of believable fuckability. So, where you were once cast as a sexpot, you’re now cast as a long sweater-wearing frump. It’s when you start getting offered sexless and dowdy roles like Mrs Claus. An apt example of this being Sally Field’s stealthy transformation from Tom Hanks’ love interest in Punchline to his mother in Forrest Gump. And no, the same rules do not apply to men.

Aged 65, Harrison Ford was still Indiana Jones. Aged 58, Bruce Willis was still vesting it up and refusing to die hard as John McClane. Meanwhile, Michelle Pfeiffer, in her fifties, is hardly still playing Catwoman. Can you imagine? Well actually I totally can imagine, but I’m not Christopher Nolan, so tough tits.

But Louis-Dreyfus, the extremely fuckable Seinfeld and Veep star, is sanguine about her transition to unfuckableness, hence the ice cream-chugging and farting. She can let it all hang out now. “I can grow my pubes out,” she says, shortly before being cast off in a ceremonial “no longer fuckable” rowing boat in the style of a funeral barge, with “Sally Field wuz here” carved into it.

Not only does this sketch throw ample shade at that toxic combination of sexism and ageism, ever present in show business, it’s also a giant “fuck you” to everyone still banging on about women not being funny. What’s more, it’s a true sign of women in comedy having reached a critical mass, where they can safely criticise the double standards that plague their own professional lives. They can also fart, talk about pubes and generally be extremely toiletty. And by “toiletty”, I mean (in short) unashamed of their bodily functions.

The more that gender politics are prodded and poked at in mainstream comedy, the closer we get to anything resembling equality on our screens. And if that prodding and poking also happens to involve farts, all the better. Because, I’m sorry, farts are funny. And toiletty, irreverent and pubic women are the future.

I’ve always been suspicious of comedy with a message. Generally speaking, moralising of any kind is about as funny as a replacement bus service. But this absolutely perfect Amy Schumer sketch manages to make a very serious point, without compromising a single LOL. This is what so many funny women do best.

Eleanor Margolis is a freelance journalist, whose "Lez Miserable" column appears weekly on the New Statesman website.

Davide Restivo at Wikimedia Commons
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Scientists have finally said it: alcohol causes cancer

Enough of "linked" and "attributable": a new paper concludes that alcohol directly causes seven types of cancer.

I don't blame you if you switch off completely at the words "causes cancer". If you pay attention to certain publications, everything from sunbeds, to fish, to not getting enough sun, can all cause cancer. But this time, it's worth listening.

The journal Addiction has published a paper that makes a simple, yet startling, claim: 

"Evidence can support the judgement that alcohol causes cancer of the oropharynx [part of the throat], larynx, oesophagus, liver, colon, rectum and [female] breast"

So what's especially significant about this? 

First, scientists, unlike journalists, are very wary of the word "causes". It's hard to ever prove that one action directly led to another, rather than that both happened to occur within the same scenario. And yet Jennie Connor, author of the paper and professor in the Preventive and Social Medicine department at the University of Otago, New Zealand, has taken the leap.

Second, alcohol not only causes cancer of one kind – the evidence supports the claim that it causes cancer at seven different sites in our bodies. There was weaker evidence that it may also cause skin, prostate and pancreatic cancer, while the link between mouth cancers and alcohol consumption was the strongest. 

What did we know about alcohol and cancer before?

Many, many studies have "linked" cancer to alcohol, or argued that some cases may be "attributable" to alcohol consumption. 

This paper loooks back over a decade's worth of research into alcohol and cancer, and Connor concludes that all this evidence, taken together, proves that alcohol "increases the incidence of [cancer] in the population".

However, as Connor notes in her paper, "alcohol’s causal role is perceived to be more complex than tobacco's", partly because we still don't know exactly how alcohol causes cancer at these sites. Yet she argues that the evidence alone is enough to prove the cause, even if we don't know exactly how the "biologial mechanisms" work. 

Does this mean that drinking = cancer, then?

No. A causal link doesn't mean one thing always leads to the other. Also, cancer in these seven sites was shown to have what's called a "dose-response" relationship, which means the more you drink, the more you increase your chances of cancer.

On the bright side, scientists have also found that if you stop drinking altogether, you can reduce your chances back down again.

Are moderate drinkers off the hook?

Nope. Rather devastatingly, Connor notes that moderate drinkers bear a "considerable" portion of the cancer risk, and that targeting only heavy drinkers with alcohol risk reduction campaigns would have "limited" impact. 

What does this mean for public health? 

This is the tricky bit. In the paper, Connor points out that, given what we know about lung cancer and tobacco, the general advice is simply not to smoke. Now, a strong link proven over years of research may suggest the same about drinking, an activity society views as a bit risky but generally harmless.

Yet in 2012, it's estimated that alcohol-attributable cancers killed half a million people, which made up 5.8 per cent of cancer deaths worldwide. As we better understand the links between the two, it's possible that this proportion may turn out to be a lot higher. 

As she was doing the research, Connor commented:

"We've grown up with thinking cancer is very mysterious, we don't know what causes it and it's frightening, so to think that something as ordinary as drinking is associated with cancer I think is quite difficult."

What do we do now?

Drink less. The one semi-silver lining in the study is that the quantity of alcohol you consume has a real bearing on your risk of developing these cancers. 

On a wider scale, it looks like we need to recalibrate society's perspective on drinking. Drug campaigners have long pointed out that alcohol, while legal, is one of the most toxic and harmful drugs available  an argument that this study will bolster.

In January, England's chief medical officer Sally Davies introduced some of the strictest guidelines on alcohol consumption in the world, and later shocked a parliamentary hearing by saying that drinking could cause breast cancer.

"I would like people to take their choice knowing the issues," she told the hearing, "And do as I do when I reach for my glass of wine and think... do I want to raise my risk of breast cancer?"

Now, it's beginning to look like she was ahead of the curve. 

Barbara Speed is a technology and digital culture writer at the New Statesman and a staff writer at CityMetric.