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Not hating Zooey Deschanel (and other feminist concerns) – Clacking with Julia

When did it become okay to hold up Zooey Deschanel and 'New Girl' as examples of affronts to feminism? And can we please make it stop?

Most of the time I do not believe that the world is full of fundamentally stupid people. But every so often an issue comes along that makes me want to pull my hair and scream over because I cannot understand how people are so mind-bogglingly idiotic as to simply fail to understand what seems to me to be a very simple thing. I think the greatest issue of our time that causes me to regularly go into a state of rubbing my face in exhaustion and yelling “ARRRRRGH” at my ceiling is the universe’s consistent inability to understand Zooey Deschanel and anything even remotely related to her. (This also forms the basis of my tangential massive grudge against the universe: any and all analysis of the movie (500) Days of Summer. Tom is a presumptuous dick who doesn’t listen to a word Summer says, and no, you don’t want to marry him, and no, he is not “the perfect guy.” And this is the entire point of the movie, writer of the bazillionth blog article that acts like this is brand new information that they are the very first to discover. Congratulations, you watched the trailer past the part where it said “this is not a love story” and weren’t distracted by Joseph Gordon-Levitt‘s dimples. What do you want, a prize? A cookie? End rant.)

Can someone please explain to me what, exactly, Zooey Deschanel has done to make her so hated? She seems to me like a pretty mild, run-of-the-mill celebrity. Her aesthetic is slightly twee, but I don’t really get the problem with that. Does a kitten die every time someone takes a picture with instagram? Is that it? Plus, honestly, she doesn’t seem that twee to me, from what I have gathered from her twitter and other various internet presences. Sure, she favors things that are cute and happy, but, if YouTube is any indication, so does 99% of humanity. No, what people seem to object to is the way she has been packaged as some sort of quirky hipster goddess. And, I agree, it’s annoying, but I don’t see what the point of getting mad at her is when most of that work is done by the Hollywood publicity machine. Think of them as a dubious meat packaging plant. They see a person and decide to slap a label on them to make them easier to sell to the average consumer. Getting mad at Zooey Deschanel — or any celebrity, for that matter — for that is roughly the equivalent of finding a rat paw in your hotdog and thinking it’s the hotdog’s fault, or being angry that hotdogs exist because you’re a vegetarian. It’s fine to not like the metaphorical hotdog. But for the love of god, can we not blame the hotdog?

The Zooey Deschanel Hotdog Conundrum is one that’s been bugging me on and off (mostly on) since New Girl started, because everyone and their mother seems to think it’s the awesomest new thing to write about how terrible the show is, how terrible Zooey’s character Jess is, how being cutesy is a problem or anti-feminist, blah blah blah. (See example article here.) And I have one thing to say to every single one of these critics: fuck you.

I am 23 years old, and I, on the surface, look like a normal, average sort of pretty-cute type girl who perhaps likes scarves more than others in her peer group. I like adorable things more than is probably appropriate, I have a distinct uncomfortableness with my own sexuality (other people’s, fine, but mine, I will change the subject), I’m socially awkward and blurt out inappropriate things at too-loud volumes all the time, I get enthusiastic about weird things no one else gets enthusiastic about. I like wearing dresses. My ideal man is Mr. Rogers (but not in looks, in personality). All my favorite underwear has polka dots on it, and you know what, I like it that way. I like seeing people like Jess on television because that’s what I’m like. And is Jess a caricature? Yes. But is practically every sitcom character to ever exist also a caricature? Yes. So is all this whining just  a poorly concealed hateboner for Zooey Deschanel for not being “their kind of weird” or perfectly representing them in every way? Yes, yes, a million times yes, and oh my god, if I see one more woman complaining about this show under the guise of feminist rage, I will be forced to introduce them to Susan B. Anthony and Mary Wollstonecroft, which is what I have named my fists.

I could take time to once again go through explaining, in very small words so that everyone can understand me, that the only way to be a “bad feminist” or “anti-feminist” is to judge other women for the choices they make and who they choose to be, but you know what, I felt like this week’s episode of New Girl did it so much better than I ever could. It was what I call an “Oh Snap! Episode,” which is basically when a show takes something everyone’s been bugging them about and uses it as a central episodic conflict to both acknowledge the criticism and give critics a not-so-subtle middle finger. (Parks and Recreation and 30 Rock have both perfected this down to an art form.)

The episode storyline we are concerned with goes roughly like this: Jess’ roommate (and probable eventual love interest) Nick has a new girlfriend named Julia, played by Lizzy Caplan. (And can I take a second to say how weird it is to me that a TV character has my name? I’ve been having trouble making peace with this.) Julia is a tough, straight-shooting, in-your-face, tomboy-type lawyer, and she does not like Jess. She agrees to help Jess get out of a parking ticket, but refuses all of Jess’s attempts to make friends with her. They get in a fight because Julia was pumping Jess for information on if Nick was seeing anyone else, and Jess tells Nick, and Julia yells at Jess and assumes that a) she was trying to steal Nick by making her look crazy and clingy and b) that she thinks Jess is absolutely ridiculous and needs to grow up. Jess, in response, tells Julia that that’s just who she is, and maybe Julia should, instead of criticizing her, learn that you don’t have to be mean or pretend not to care about things all the time. And Julia apologizes. And makes efforts to bond with Jess and her girlier friends. And comes out the better for it. Hooray, a sensible and relatively well-handled meta discussion on why both responsibility and frivolity are things that all people, including women, need to find a balance between!

I don’t know why I was shocked, then, that critics completely missed the point. So look, you guys, I know Julia is the voice on the show for all your frustrations and you want her to be right and vindicated because you want to be right and vindicated, but I’m sorry, you’re both wrong. There was a very clear message to the story here, and it wasn’t “Julia secretly longed to be girly like Jess because that’s the right way to be.” The message to this story, and to every column I have ever written about feminism (and frankly, I’m starting to get a little bored with writing the same thing), is that there are precisely two things women can do that isn’t “the right way to be a woman”:

1. Be or identify as a man, in which case you’re not a woman, so why are you reading this;
2. Attempt to belittle, insult, or berate other women because they’re not fitting whatever standard you have of what being female should look like.

It’s fine to have women in your life you don’t like — lord knows I do. And it’s fine to not like Zooey Deschanel or New Girl. It’s fine for it to just not be your cup of tea. But I do not ever again want to hear someone try to justify their perfectly rational dislike of Zooey Deschanel, New Girl, or basically anything to do with any woman, ever, by trying to pass it off as them being some sort of affront to feminism and/or vagina-having individuals everywhere.  I don’t want to hear any more arguments on what the right and idealized type of woman is and what the wrong type is. It is just as toxic and hateful to hear that you have to be a strong woman who doesn’t need relationships or traditionally feminine anything and who must be tough and fearless as it is to hear that women must be weak, vulnerable, delicate flowers. I am tired — I am so goddamn tired — of being told that there is no right way to be as a woman, because no matter what I or any other women does, we will be too something, and that will be anti-feminist, and we will be wrong and should be ashamed of ourselves. I yearn for the day with every fiber of my being where that never happens again. And when that day comes, I’m going to throw a party. Come however you like, but you should know, I’ll be making hotdogs.

Photo Credit: FOX

13 Responses to “Not hating Zooey Deschanel (and other feminist concerns) – Clacking with Julia”

February 3, 2012 at 4:57 PM

I can understand in many ways. While I don’t consider myself a hipster, I do lean towards hipster-y things and enjoy days where I get to embrace that quirky, fun side to myself in a genuine way. But I’ve gotten told by online friends in particular that anything “hip” is shallow and fake. And it frustrates me because I’m just enjoying things that I enjoy.

February 3, 2012 at 7:37 PM

Julia, this is really great. I feel like I spend most of the time I spend talking about New Girl defending it against either general Zooey haters or people who decry it as something akin to the end of feminism. This last episode was an excellent way of actually taking a look at that without being overly preachy.

February 3, 2012 at 10:38 PM

I’m the diametrical opposite of twee, but I love Zooey and New Girl.

I hate the labels being applied to her though. Adorkable? Whoever invented this word, show yourself so I can punch you in the face.

February 4, 2012 at 5:47 AM

This is exactly what I would love to be able to put into words but can’t.

I could not agree more, so called feminists bashing The New Girl for being Anti-Feminist is exactly the bad publicity Feminism doesn’t need. For years we’ve been told that Feminists are Man Hating, Dressed as Men, Talk like Men & Act like Men. But that isn’t Feminism, it’s simply wanting to be treated equal to men but still able to be Women. Not all Women like cute things, wearing dresses and crying at Dirty Dancing but some of do and that doesn’t make us any less of a Feminist.

February 4, 2012 at 10:23 PM

I love you. You said everything I wanted to. P.s I love hot dogs

February 6, 2012 at 6:30 AM

This is the first article I read on so I’ll just assume the rest of the site is crap too. This should never have been published. Don’t you have any editors there? Your immature self-centered take on everything actually typifies what men and women don’t like about Zooey. You write something and halfway through ask me not to read it? I wish you had told me sooner. That snot-nosed attitude is what’s wrong with her and you. I wanted to read something to help me get perspective as to the things I don’t like about her. How I can get perspective reading an article by someone who has no perspective on herself?
If you and your readers spend so much time defending her you are obsessed and a little nutty. I actually doubt that you are asked about her 24-7. That’s just the voices in your head. You aren’t changing anything simply by objecting and bristling. It must seem like such an injustice to live in a world where not everyone agrees with you.
You make a lot of assumptions in her favor without even noticing all of the negative publicity she has generated through statements and demands. She is the Katherine Heigl of TV seeing as how TV won’t hire her anymore on account of her negativity.
I tried to like New Girl but quickly gave up when I saw she was playing the same character she always does – some idealized version herself. No wonder her characters are so thinly developed and ham-handedly obvious. She is a role model for self-centered losers who always think they are too good to be where they are. Real feminists aren’t icons. They are actually busy doing things.

February 7, 2012 at 12:37 AM

Wait…you’re complaining because Julia waited until “halfway” to tell you not to read something as if you couldn’t just stop when you decided this article wasn’t for you?

And you think Julia has problems? Bwahahaha (Sorry, that laughter was mean, but it was honest and spontaneous so I’m leaving it right there.)

February 7, 2012 at 11:54 AM

The article you link to is actually pretty good, and you’re missing something crucial – it passes no judgement on Zooey Deschanel, but critiques the 2-dimensional fictional character Jess Day.

Feminism is absolutely not about embracing everything ‘girlie’ – ‘girlie’ itself is a construction of a patriarchal society. Infantilising and cute-ifying (which itself is a sub-species of sexual objectification) women is offensive and disempowering, and Jess Day is just one of many fictional creations that perpetuates this. Does Jess have goals, dreams, fears, opinions, any hint of an inner life? It seems that she exists solely for others (mostly men) to find her cute.

New Girl certainly isn’t unique for having a poorly developed, male-fantasy-esque female character in it; such creations are everywhere! But it’s reassuring and right that a popular new show that plays on gender stereotypes (that ‘boys will be boys’ tagline really pisses me off!) receive some feminist critique.

Incidentally, I agree with you about 500 Days of Summer – I thought that the intention of that film was to subvert the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope and show it to be a narcissistic male fantasy.

February 7, 2012 at 12:16 PM

“the only way to be a “bad feminist” or “anti-feminist” is to judge other women for the choices they make and who they choose to be”

– But it’s possible to question the supposed ‘choices’ without hating on the individual. Choices are not made in a vacuum; they are hugely influenced by the society we live in. As a simple example, do you freely choose whether or not to wear make-up, shave your legs, shave your underarms etc? Everyone wants to feel that they have autonomy, that they are choosing and are not coerced to do the things they do, but how true is this really? I know that personally I’ve found the desire to make myself a sexual object is a hard one to resist; the positive reinforcement you get by conforming to gender expectations is very alluring, whereas going out with no make-up and hairy underarms becomes surprisingly difficult when all the women around you are smooth and painted.

Feminism has been bastardised very successfully by this deceptive idea of ‘choice’ – that women do the housework, raise the kids, mutilate their bodies in the name of ‘beauty’ etc. because that is their ‘choice’, and so to criticize any of these things is actually anti-feminist. Yes, we shouldn’t demonize individuals for the way they live their lives, but we should absolutely be challenging the social conditions that effectively coerce people into who they ‘choose’ to be.

February 15, 2012 at 11:47 PM

Please please pleeeeeeeaase let me put this on Tumblr and show it to all my friends with anti Zooey Deschanel fever. I have so many friends who think New Girl is terrible just because Zooey Deschanel is the star. I hate that they think that way because I identify with her so much.
In fact, the episode with Lizzy Caplan reminded me so much of my relationship with my mom (she’s the one who belittles me for my not so normal interests), and to see Zooey not only stand up for herself but also make a friend out of the process was comforting and inspiring. It showed that you can be yourself and if people have an issue with it, they can go screw themselves for being so close minded. Hopefully we see more Lizzy Caplan, I’d love to see a real friendship blossom with her and Zooey.

February 15, 2012 at 11:48 PM

As long as you include a link back and credit, feel free to post this wherever you like!

May 8, 2012 at 10:44 PM

i really did enjoy the article on logo girls! though what i liked about it was that it did not target zooey but the way she is too often marketed (and dehumanized by marketers). the way they market women to women tends to be oh-so-gross, which is what that article was getting at.

i loved this, because when you get right down to it, feminism means not tearing down other women! i don’t understand the sort of mindless, weirdly ferocious hate of zooey.

hate the marketers, not the subject. especially if the subject is talented and smart and a whole impressive person. who is pretty delightful, i can’t lie.

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