In the February issue of Cosmopolitan, Zooey Deschanel adorns the cover in a cleavage maximizing dress with the blurb next to her reading: “Zooey Deschanel and the trait men can’t resist about her”. Although such a heading is a typical feature on Cosmo covers, the blurb preemptively negotiates the “empowering” story line in the Deschanel article with male desire. The article plays to Deschanel’s multifaceted image; her femininity represented through her girly style, physical attractiveness, and playfully quirky personality. Whereas her strong, empowering image represented by her success as “multimedia mogul”, her headstrong beliefs, and her proclaimed mission to help women through her website Hellogiggles.com. Consistent with post-feminist culture, the article emphasizes Deschanel’s success in the work place, her ability to proudly choose to be feminine, and her sexual independence. The article quells any threat of the “f” word by devoting a third of the article to discussing Deschanel’s belief in love, her past relationships, and her attractiveness to men. Although Deschanel identifies as a feminist, the discourse in the article instead frames Deschanel as an image of girl power, a strong female who wants women to do well but seemingly excercises her empowerment through an image of femininity. Deschanel is intelligent, she aligns herself with feminism, and she makes quirky cool; yet she negotiates her feminist image in post-feminist culture by bringing her femininity to the forefront of that image as a key to success in such a monolithic culture.
Deschanel utilizes the post-feminist moment in culture to profit off of her femininity through huge brand endorsements like Pantene and Cotton. In these endorsements, Deschanel sells products by way of her feminine appeal. Her empowering image becomes yoked to physical displays of femininity and thus product consumption. Zooey’s wide eyed look of surprise and pursed kissy lips in the Pantene ad on the back of every Cosmo detract from the article’s empowering depiction of Zooey and instead makes her appear young, ditzy and girlish.
Zooey’s cotton commercials epitomize the post-feminist ideals of returning to traditional femininity by choice, as she sings whimsically and rides a bike in heels and a flowing skirt. While Deschanel promotes her feminist stance as a part of her feminine image, mass-produced ad campaigns such as these only further sustain the “moment” of post-feminist culture. I cannot argue that Deschanel is not a feminist, or the right kind of feminist, but her feminine image in these ads overrides the clarity and weight of her feminist stance. In post-feminist culture, Deschanel’s feminine image promotes the ideology of women exercising the choice to be feminine, further ingraining the idea that this is the right choice, the desirable choice, and an attainable choice that can be achieved through product consumption. Young women growing up in this culture are not taught to acknowledge and model the nuanced feminist stance Deschanel takes; instead women are conditioned by the media and social institutions to aspire to the feminine standards promoted as ideals of society.
Unlike the purpose of our class, the majority of viewers watching New Girl are not looking for the ways in which Jess encompasses both femininity and feminism to challenge post-feminist ideology. Jess’s feminine appearance alone allows for a surface level reading of her character on the show and is consistent with her style outside of the show, further inviting a quick read of her representation of post-feminist culture. Even taking a closer look, Jess’s quirkiness overshadows a clear feminist reading of the show. For example, when Jess’s guy friend tells her to get over her problems and go dance as the shot girl, Jess goes up in a pin-up girl outfit but does a funky little dance and eventually leaves the stage as the crowd cheers her on. The funny dance can merely be seen as a manifestation of her personality rather than a defiant action to resist self-objectification. In another instance, Jess gets extremely upset about losing her job, requesting that her male friends not pity her and asserting she does not need their help, yet the episode concludes with her guy friend finding her and having a talk that resolves her issue. Her guy friend may not have influenced jess’s resolve, but the episode shows her inability to deal with her issue independently like she insisted upon. New Girl lends itself to a variety of interpretations, but in a post-feminist moment those interpretations are dominated by hegemonic ideals of femininity that Jess and Deschanel outwardly present.