Consider…”Is New Girl Secretly Feminist?”

From Persephone Magainze, a daily blog “focused on topics of interest for modern, intelligent, clever women,” Sonia Saraiya discusses whether Zooey Deschanel’s show New Girl might have some subtle elements of feminism. Acknowledging that she wrote off when the show premiered, Saraiya cites the premise a story of an “offbeat and adorkable” girl (with a serious eye roll I can imagine-Liz Lemon style) and later firmly establishes that we are not as a society living in a post-feminist, post-racist, or post-gender world. Even more disturbing to Saraiya is not Deschanel’s continual portrayal of her niche character (the whimsical/mysterious girl), but that audiences actually finds Jess’s “forced naivete…blithe innocene” appealing.


However, Saraiya, much to her surprise, sees a challenge, small, but nevertheless a critique to Deschanel’s character. In an episode during season 1, Jess meets Nick’s girlfriend (Julia) a dedicated lawyer who represents the opposite of Jess’s happy-go-lucky personality. Their interaction seems to be an example of the interactions discussed in class between the “fun girl” and the “unhappy feminist”. When Jess asks for Julia’s help in getting out of a traffic ticket, Julia suggests Jess’s thing will help soften up the judge. As perplexed as Jess may be, Julia’s mention of Jess’s thing or personality is immediately recognized by the audience. By the end of the episode, both Jess and Julia admit to their perceived faults and their awareness of the fact: Jess “affrims that even though she likes cute things, she’s still tough and strong” and “Julia allows that she needs some cuteness in her life”. Saraiya sees this acknowledgement of what she calls “Jess’s schtick” as a revolutionary or at least progressive element of New Girl. Although Deschanel’s character certainly embodies certain girl power characteristics, Jess knowingly realizes her interests and feels no shame in embracing these traditional, stereotypical unpowerful likes. Jess could be seen as another character in postfeminist TV culture, but that does not prevent Jess from articulating feminist ambitions.


In the episode we watched for the screening, Jess after loosing her only tangible position of power (as a teacher), she tries to replace that lost status with her attempt at being a shot girl at Schmidt’s coming out party so to speak. Parker Posey’s character represents the full embracement of the shot girl mentality of getting guys to buy for shots to be poured directly in their mouth. Jess tries to follow (starts dancing on the table), but ultimately realizes she is not a shot girl, but will always be a teacher. Normally, Jess presents little of explicit sexual behavior, but during the party she tries to showcase her sexuality, even though Nick and the audience sees this is not her “schtick”. So does Jess realization of her less than rowdy sexuality and embracement of her “cuteness as perfectly fine” reflect evidence of a postfeminism reality or the action of a feminist?

On one hand I recognize feminist’s concern, such as Saraiya’s, for Jess’s cuteness as being problematic. I wholeheartedly agree that while women can be cute and pretty, “being a woman is not easy. It’s blood and pain and harassment as well as joy and beauty and love. But is by no means delicate or uncomplicated”. The last election cycle and the absurd statements stated about women’s bodies certainly took me over the edge. But do portrayals of whimsical, content women such as Jess prevent real progress in the right’s of women because it prolongs the image of a stereotypically bashful and weak female? For me I suppose I side more with the feminist’s critique, being the liberal that I am, but I also recognize the argument for both sides. Just as I think its okay for men to showcase less macho behavior (they are still men), so should women be able to appear strong and cute. More discussions about ideal female portrayals in media should be encouraged, but the bottom line is that this is not an equal society, it’s much, much better than say 1913, but certainly feminism is still needed.

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One thought on “Consider…”Is New Girl Secretly Feminist?”

  1. Really nuanced points, Nathan — and I think that most of the class would agree that feminism should include all sorts of manifestations of femininity, with the caveat that those manifestations are okay so long as they don’t blatantly undermine the feminist project, if that makes sense….

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