In her article, “Is ‘New Girl’ Secretly Feminist?” Sonya Saraiya discusses the character of Jess as well as the media persona of Zooey Deschanel. Saraiya talks about how the roles that Deschanel plays are usually just exaggerations of her “adorkable” personality which hardly changes, project to project. Sayaiya notes that Deschanel “almost exclusively takes roles that require her to be an ethereal, quirky, wide-eyed innocent, in which she is largely a plot device for the stories of the men around her.”
Following the themes of feminism and post feminism, Deschanel has found a marketable persona that works with her own real life personality and she is sticking to it. She has chosen to become this persona, both on and off screen, while still maintaining other projects, such as her musical project, She & Him which require her to change from this naïve, ditzy personality.
Saraiya’s article questions the appeal of this passive, uncomplicated persona and she challenges the “calculated cuteness” which she sees as being “insidious, for women and for men.” Saraiya asks, “Can you imagine Jess having sex, menstruating, or growing out her bangs? Leading a board meeting? Running for office? Negotiating a cab fare? Giving birth to a child? It’s weird that women would be expected champion this character, who defines herself through glitter and cupcakes, and it’s equally weird that men would be expected find her attractive, given that she is the least sexually empowered character conceivable.”
The “sterilized” view of femininity that Jess portrays, is dangerous not only because it creates an impossible and unrealistic idea of femininity, but it paints women as being passive, not active. It creates a situation where femininity is equated with girlishness and innocence. Deschanel’s character is so nonthreatening, that anytime Jess stands up for herself, it is a major plot point. Hardly an empowering situation.
However, throughout the show, Jess does have experiences and crises in which she learns and, theoretically, matures. Saraiya gives the example of an interaction that Jess has with Nick, one of her roommates, in which it is revealed that Jess cannot say the word ‘penis.’ Much hilarity ensues, a she tried to avoid saying the dreaded word, but the episode concludes with her finally being able to spit it out.
By the first half of the second season, Jess has become more sexualized, but still manages to retain her innocent “Twee” persona. Instead of de-sterilizing Jess and making her more real and capable, this character development just succeeds in incorporating sex into her world of unrealistic femininity.
New Girl does offer a valid, or so it is presented, type of femininity. Jess and the guys often defend her quirkiness to non-believers. However, it defends it in a way that does not recognize feminism as valid or relevant. In this way, it is strongly post feminist. Jess is the fun, playful girl who contrasts the unappealing killjoy feminist. Another way in which New Girl, and Zooey Deschanel are post feminist, is the strong implicit emphasis on clothing. Deschanel’s persona, which transfers into her New Girl Character, is strongly reliant on her fashion choices. Her intense femininity, as girlish as it may be, is expressed through her appearance which harkens back to a 50’s housewife combined with a school girl.