Lost and Found in Post Feminism

Zooey Deschanel’s character in New Girl, Jess, exemplifies several emblematic qualities of post feminism. Sonia Saraiya, in her blog on Persephone Magazine entitled “Is ‘New Girl’ Secretly Feminist,”  makes the claim that the cuteness of Jess serves to feminize her in a problematic way, discount her sexuality, and infantilize her character to make her unthreatening to both the men she lives with and the audience. Saraiya claims that the branding of Deschanel as “adorkable” both in New Girl and other media serves to remind the audience that she is complacent with typecasting and embodying a singular role. For instance, in the episode that we watched, Jess’s image plays with signifiers of bubblegum sweet cuteness and the endearing nerd. For instance, she wears thick glasses and ultrafeminine vintage dresses (upon being fired she sports a bow belt) and carries out a box full of glitter science mobiles. In the blog, her style is described as being full of “nauseatingly cute: polka dots, ribbon hats, florals, lace, knitting, cupcakes, handbells, flats, glitter,” which gives her a fashion sense and attitude “not dissimilar to that of a kindergartener” that wreak of post feminism. In the scene where Jess is fired, post feminism is interwoven in both her image and her actions.

Jess is not framed as an independent woman who is politically active and vying for her rights, rather she “defines herself through glitter and cupcakes” and reverts back to an infantilized cuteness during times of distress. For example, when she is fired her boss tries to make the firing “more fun” by donning a sombrero, which  Jess immediately rejects yet she still take her consolation firing prize of a glittery miniature hat (freshly plucked from a box of elementary schoolers’ missing belongings) which she instantly puts on. Throughout the course of the firing, she pleads for her job and appears distressed and is offered another prize out of the lost and found box, by the vice principle. After exiting the office, she is found by a friend, who she laments to that she panicked and picked the wrong thing out of the box. Her concern over choosing the “wrong” piece of lost and found seems nearly equal with the distress that she feels over losing her job. When her friend tries to comfort her she puts a flashy floral pair of neon green sunglasses on before she can speak; like a game of dress up, as described by Saraiya, she is “an oversized child who refuses to grow up,” who is treated much like a child by those around her. While feminism pushes for being treated like an equal adult, she is content with being treated like one of the children she teaches. Her pleas for her job were centered around her stellar performance as a summer school teacher who “didn’t laugh even once” when she taught a student with a notably “ethnic” name that she finds amusing. In an awkward and problematic “post race/ post feminist moment” she makes her appeal that she didn’t act like a child, thus she was qualified for her job. Throughout the firing she physically transforms into the students she teaches by donning their wayward belongings and making childlike appeals for her job. Saraiya also takes issue to Jess’s hiding behind infantilized cuteness stating that “’Cute’ is a term that girls are supposed to aspire to. “Cute” is delicate, fussy, and pretty… Being a Woman is hard.” By being cute and childlike Jess is able to hide from the struggles of the real world even when they affect her directly; cute is “passive and nonthreatening….outright rejecting ideals of empowerment and blindly accepting the status quo,” which is a trademark of post feminism. Rather than working to receive the respect of an adult, Jess is content being treated like a girl (the term many feminists have struggled so hard to push against as a label for a female identified adult).

Below is another comical example of Jess’s childlike disposition and at times inability to cope with adulthood. She cannot say the word penis, normally.




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