SNL’s Surprise Guest Challenges Gender

Melissa McCarthy delighted audiences last Saturday when she made a surprise guest appearance on Saturday Night Live as Press Secretary Sean Spicer. However, looking past the hilarious comedic sketch, we see McCarthy breaking gender roles and proving cross-gender casting is a lot more than making a man put on lipstick for cheap laughs. Using Keywords Girlhood and the poem A Girl Named Jack, we see how traditional definitions of gender and femininity are challenged today to make statements about politics and gender, specifically on Saturday Night Live.

In Jacqueline Woodson’s poem, “A Girl Named Jack”, we are privy to the story of how the author got her name. The poem suggests that a girl cannot be named Jack due to its gendered connotations, with the father arguing that it will make her strong, and the mother arguing that she will want something more feminine as her name. With these arguments, both parents are assuming that a name has the power to define how their daughter will perceive herself, a definition of gender which is outdated. In Keywords essay Girlhood we see girlhood traditionally defined as synonymous with wearing dresses, playing with dolls, and being educated in domestic activities. Melissa McCarthy’s definition of girlhood is far from these definitions. She is known for playing strong women with grit and their own brand of femininity like her characters in The Heat, Bridesmaids, and even Gilmore Girls. These characters’ strength, and their fondness for pants and not dresses, do not make them any less feminine. In a New York Times opinions article titled “Why Melissa McCarthy Had to Play Sean Spicer”, Anna North makes the point that for McCarthy, these roles under her belt make her the reason why the sketch is so funny, not the fact that she is involved in cross-gendered casting. Cross-dressing has been done time and time again by men who put on dresses and falsettos to mock women for cheap laughter. Not only are these instances usually offensive to women and the transgender community, but they often make no point or statement about anything. This is not the case for McCarthy. For a woman to dress up as a key member of an administration whose leader has publicly sexually harassed women, used crude language about women and has been accused on multiple occasions of sexual assault against women, makes a bold statement, and is a form of retribution against this administration, and everyone involved with it. Additionally, it will inspire young girls and women around the world to not be afraid to use their loud voices for fear of being “masculine” or seen as “too aggressive”, and to not be afraid to step out of their strict gender box for fear of being chastised. This is, at face value, a comedic sketch, but upon further review we see that the cross-gendered McCarthy brings more to the table than just laughs, delivering a hilarious, yet politically charged performance that brings to the forefront her own definition of girlhood and gender which will inspire young girls and women to fight for the long four years ahead, and more. 


Link to New York Times article:


5 thoughts on “SNL’s Surprise Guest Challenges Gender”

  1. I thought this sketch was hilarious and selecting Melissa McCarthy for this role was important for allowing the sketch to make an inherently political statement, while keeping it light and comedic. I enjoyed reading your interpretation involving challenges of gender and femininity. Thinking critically of the ways that media portrays gender is incredibly interesting. Good work!

  2. Can I just say Melissa McCarthy is MY QUEEN. You mentioned above how this will inspires young girls and that is so true. I’m inspired from this. I think Melissa has always done an excellent job on playing the female characters. You also said that she can play strong, yet still feminine characters and I could not agree more. She makes me want to go become a cop every time I watch The Heat. I hope that other girls can feel the way I do (empowered) whenever I see Melissa. Also, your reference to the poem is well suited for complimenting the sketch and the point you are trying to make. Just because someone has a “boy” name does not mean he or she is a boy. For example my name is Samantha, but I have liked to be called Sam since I was four years old. This in no way made me feel like I am a boy. A name is just a name and does not define the person it is given to.

  3. Thanks for posting this! I agree with what you said about retribution. I feel this move was a very clever and strategic way to make multiple hard hitting points regarding politics and more subliminally, gender. For a man to perform what Melissa McCarthy did would not have been as effective.

  4. When I first watched this sketch last week I didn’t even think about the implications it had toward gender and girlhood…all I could think about was how funny Melissa McCarthy was. I think that really shows that her talent isn’t defined a “funny for a woman,” but just as “funny.” I love how you made this point.

  5. This is hilarious and I agree that this would have not had the same impact with a different actor, particularly a male comedian. Another part that stood out to me was “I think that there should probably be a school, probably a Jesus school and I think that it should have walls and roof and gun for potential grizzly.” The conversation about education and who controls the access of education was not lost in this sketch and its impressive how much could be said in an 8 minute long satire.

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