The Confusing Contradictions of Zooey Deschanel

I think looking at  Zooey Deschanel is a particularly interesting when discussing the role of postfeminism. She clearly straddles the line between post feminism and feminism by both playing in to post feminist manifestations of femininity and consumerism while also stating she is a “fucking feminist” in New York Magazine. What I find to be the more interesting discussion is the amount of criticism leveled against Zooey for the brand of feminism she portrays.


I watch New Girl  and I often find myself confused about the message it is intending to send. Sometimes I’m convinced that it portrays a progressive view of feminism while other times it falls back into the same problematic gender stereotypes that plagues the majority of popular media. I think the episode we watched last night is a perfect example of this. Jess attempts to offer a different view of femininity in role as the “shot girl” by dressing in an outfit that doesn’t fit the traditional “slutty” image. When Nick gives her a pump up talk, telling her to act differently in order to gain more male attention, she gets on stage with her hat and does a weird dance. In a way this can be read as Jess’s attempt to disregard Nick’s advice to follow traditional views of femininity and instead acting like “herself”. Yet at the same time, Jess is still wearing an outfit that clearly invites the male gaze and is fixated on gaining the attention of the male participants of the bar.

This same critique can be situated at Zooey Deschanel’s celebrity image. Zooey clearly represents a particular brand of femininity, one that involves cute dresses, red lips, doe eyes and playful mannerisms. This image has opened her up to endless critiques. A quick google search of Zooey Deschanel + Feminism brings up pages of results of women critiquing Zooey for perpetuating a version of femininity that is influenced by patriarchal views of what a women should look and act like. At times, I completely agree with these claims. Zooey’s image does not challenge traditional gender stereotypes and therefore can be read as problematic. As well, Zooey can be read as perpetuating post feminist understandings of femininity. But, I do feel hesitant in directly critiquing her for not acting in a better more acceptable feminist manner, as many of her critics do.


This article better discusses the issue I’m grappling with.

In the article, Irin Carmon discusses Zooey’s image and reactions to it. While she states she doesn’t “hate” Zooey, she also believes its ok to critique her, stating “What does tend to grate, though, is the idea that any criticism of a woman in public life is automatically anti-feminist.” She goes on to say that just because Zooey is a women doesn’t mean criticism of her work is off limits. Here, I agree with Carmon. Clearly, if we become so entranced by the ideas of feminism that we tiptoe around someone’s image just because they are a woman, we won’t get anywhere.

Carmon goes on to quote Liz Meriweather responding to critiques of Zooey’s brand of femininity. “I think as soon as you try putting women in any sort of category, that’s where it goes wrong, that women should be this and women should be that.”Here I agreed with Meriweather. I find it problematic to so heavily critique Zooey Deschanel for the brand of femininity she offers. No women fits the perfect feminist image of what it means to be female. If we hold women to these standards we risk perpetuating the same problems of patriarchal society. As Meriweather states “That people equate being girlie with being non threatening…I mean, I can’t think of a more blatant example of playing into exactly the thing that we’re trying to fight against. I can’t be girlie? I think the fact that people are associating being girlie with weakness, that needs to be examined.” Here Meriweather makes a key point. Critique Zooey for her image isn’t necessarily getting us anywhere and I think can be used as a crutch when in reality we need to be critiquing the larger systemic issues that perpetuate these ideas in the first place.

To sum up, I feel this post accurately represents the fact that I am pretty baffled about Zooey Deschannel’s intersections with feminism and postfeminism.



2 thoughts on “The Confusing Contradictions of Zooey Deschanel

  1. We might also think about how all the energy devoted to criticizing Deschanel’s clothing might be more progressively directed into things like agitating for structural change, etc. — ultimately, it seems somewhat divisive, rather than constructive.

  2. I think the “girly being non threatening” sums up her character so well. Does her character come off as forceful, ever? even her “forceful” episodes come off as cute and a bit tentative. How does that lack of threatening personality reflect itself in her loosing her job, she doesn’t get angry, she just gets mopey (with a healthy dollop of cute sparkle hat)

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