So I was watching Glee this week (mostly out of habit and partly because who doesn’t love a hot mess), and I tuned into New Girl afterward because, as viewers of the show are aware, Schmidt is hilarious and says the darnedest things plus it promised me the oh-so-sarcastic Lizzie Caplan. I enjoyed myself, and I enjoyed the episode and the central theme—how women relate to one another.
But then I made a mistake. I read a review of the most recent show, and I went ballistic. Why? Because people were dissing Zooey Deschanel and her character, saying she was infantilizing womanhood. It’s an argument I’ve heard before, particularly around the time Hello Giggles launched. And after hearing about all the hate being heaped on Lana Del Rey (which is it’s own hot mess of issues, one of which is femininity and constructed femininity), I just couldn’t really handle more hate for another woman. And maybe I’m a hypocrite for jumping into the fray or for even commenting on the issue when I know I’m guilty of more than one of the party fouls being committed, but here goes.
The central issue of the most recent episode of New Girl is that Lizzie Caplan’s character doesn’t like Zooey Deschanel’s character, Jess. And girl fighting ensues. If you want a recap of the episode and some of the issues addressed, you can read about it here (http://nymag.com/daily/entertainment/2012/02/new-girl-recap-season-1-episode-11.html) although I don’t endorse all the author’s points.
The entire controversy surrounding Deschanel, and covered in the episode, is that she is über girly, childlike and encapsulates the manic pixie dream girl persona. As a result, some people see her as dippy and helpless—a step back on the feminism front. At least that’s part of the argument Caplan’s character makes. And what does Jess do in response? She gets with her girlfriends and bags on Caplan’s character. Like girls do. Fighting without really fighting. And it just becomes an endless cycle of women dissing other women.
But my argument is: Why must one brand of femininity be better than the other? What makes being girly so wrong? As Jess proves in the episode, she isn’t completely clueless. She isn’t helpless. Girlfriend can stand up for herself when she needs to. So why do others look down on glitter and ribbons and braking for birds? Hey, I like sparkly things, occasionally make up cutesy words and think young adult and children’s lit is some of the most creative in the market (I’m eagerly awaiting the Hunger Games flick). Does that make me dippy? Hell no. I like to think of myself as multi-faceted and that’s one side of my personality.
I identified myself as a feminist when I was in college. I had heard the term thrown around before and had only jokingly said, “Well, maybe then I’m a feminist.” But I knew in a moment when I had helped bake rolls for dinner and my grandma thanked me and said, “You’ll make a great wife someday,” that I was a feminist. I chose to label myself at that point. Because I wished I had burned the rolls. I liked baking in and of itself—wasn’t that enough? It wasn’t meant to be some sort of man-trapping bait. What if I didn’t want to be a wife? I wanted the power to choose to be whoever I wanted to be. And that’s how I define feminism—having the power to choose and act on that choice.
So after that tangent, I return to my central point: why is one definition of femininity better than another? Isn’t the point to embrace your individuality? Is there only one way to advance things for women? Wouldn’t actually embracing all forms of womanhood be a step forward more so than infighting about what is an accepted form of womanhood?
If you don’t like Deschanel and her doe eyes, then fine, you don’t like her. Everybody doesn’t have to like everybody else and hold hands and braid friendship bracelets. But don’t bag on her brand of womanhood just because it doesn’t line up with your ideals.
–By Lindsay Ray