As Yvonne Tasker and Diana Negra assert in Interrogating Postfeminism, “postfeminism” is not as cut-and-dry as the words “post” and “feminism” imply. Indeed, “postfeminism suggests a more complex relationship between culture, politics, and feminism than the more familiar framing concept of ‘backlash’ allows.” Unlike feminism, which describes a political stance for equality for women, postfeminism describes a moment in time and celebrates the female’s construction of identity through consumption.
The character of Jess in New Girl, played by Zooey Deschanel, both challenges and adheres to our cultural understanding of postfeminism. Based on her personality alone, Jess is a perfect example of the lively, postfeminist female. As Tasker and Negra explain, “postfeminism frequently imagines femininity as a state of vitality in opposition to the symbolically deathly social and economic fields of contemporary Western cultures.” Though Jess’s quirky and bubbly persona is part of her character, Zooey Deschanel’s image and extra-textual life have a big influence on Jess’s postfeminist aura. In many other roles, including Elf and 500 Days of Summer, Deschanel plays a similarly off-kilter and lovable lady. I found the goldmine of Zooey Deschanel-related postfeminism on a blog called HelloGiggles. The mission statement on the blog reads: “HelloGiggles is a positive online community for women (although men are always welcome!) covering DIY and crafting projects, beauty, friendship, sex & relationships, pop culture, pets, television & movies, nostalgia, fandom, tips on savvy and stylish living meant to inspire a smile. Founded by Zooey Deschanel, Molly McAleer and Sophia Rossi. Reader contributions are welcome and published daily.” HelloGiggles has a simple, feminine layout with a tan, teal, and pink color scheme. It also features articles, images, links, recipes etc. that intend to empower women or promote consumerism (BOTH of which are huge tenants of postfeminism). For example, the featured articles on HelloGiggles today include “Item of the Day: The Period Store,” “This Is Rape Culture,” and “Cat’s Toupee Isn’t Fooling Anyone.” The fact that “reader contributions are welcome and published daily” harkens back to the idea of girl power and group mentality – all women are encouraged to enjoy and actively participate in the fun of HelloGiggles. As a co-creator of this blog, Zooey Deschanel has intentionally linked herself to postfeminist notions of girl power, consumerism, and youthfulness.
In terms of her performance on New Girl, another way in which Zooey Deschanel adheres to postfeminism is through her fashion sense. Jess’s wardrobe includes a variety of skirts and dresses, conjuring images of a 50s era housewife. All of her outfits are fairly conservative: her skirts/dresses fall at knee length (or just slightly above) and she never shows cleavage. Though Jess’s style is conservative, her inclination toward fun prints and bright colors accentuates her goofy personality. Finally, Jess’s long, wavy hairstyle and light makeup serve as the cherry on top to her girlish look. Jess’s cutesy, 50s style reflects the postfeminist ideal of the “vital, youthful, and playful” female. Her style stands in stark contrast to Cece, who shows up to Schmidt’s party in a modern, black dress and sleek hairstyle. In this example, Cece serves as a foil character who is a “repressive, deceptive, and deadly” female professional. Through her fashion choices, Jess seems to embrace her own femininity in a very proudly, postfeminist way. Though the 50s era housewife was confined to domestic duties, Jess defies this stereotype by working as a teacher and constructing her identity through the clothing she wears.
However, Jess’s 50s wardrobe also leads us into murky water. During the party scene, Jess feels a need to step up her postfeminist-game when her fellow “shot girl” shows up in a tight, revealing outfit. Jess challenges her sexualized opponent by jumping up on the table and breaking into dance. However, she fails in her attempted sexiness: her performance is more charming and cutesy than wild and erotic. At the end of the party, a disappointed Jess comes to the conclusion that teaching is her true calling. In my opinion, this moment represents a slight divergence from the postfeminist model.
Jess’s sexy-shot-girl opponent seems to represent an extreme form of postfeminism that Jess will never be able to emulate. When Jess realizes her failure, she is no longer “vital, youthful, and playful” – she lapses into a moment of cold dejection. To go even further, perhaps Jess has lost confidence in her own femininity after being bested by a more sexualized woman. Despite this low point, Jess returns to her former quirky, Deschanel-self when she and Nick are hanging out in the school parking lot. Jess regains confidence in her femininity and vows to find a new teaching job.