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[personal profile] nymeth posting in [community profile] ladybusiness
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So, recently I took advantage of the iTunes free download offer and watched the pilot of New Girl, Fox’s new sitcom starring Zooey Deschannel. I hated it with a passion, for reasons that have nothing to do with how I feel about her. I hated it because it might as well have been called The Gender Stereotype Parade – because the whole premise of the show is based on the idea that men and women are so different they might as well belong to different species. The humour of the show relies almost entirely on the amazing!miracle! of male-female communication. The three guys Jess moves in with see her as “a gateway into the elusive female mind” — because any self-respecting male will surely need one (at one point one of Jess’ housemates tells her that no, he doesn’t understand what she’s saying, because he “has a penis”). There are also jokes that rely on how boys will be boys, and on the hilarity of silly females being overemotional. This, combined with a view of interpersonal and sexual relationships I just can’t go along with, resulted in all my buttons being pushed, and it left me pretty furious.

Before I go any further, I want to acknowledge that yes, this was the pilot, and it might not be fair to judge a whole series based on the first episode alone. Also, more positive readings of the episode might very well be possible and be every bit as valid as my own. And no, I don’t think anyone who enjoys the series is a Bad Feminist. But what I wanted to address here is how criticism of the show and of Deschannel’s public persona has been framed in some tumblr commentary I’ve seen, as well as in a recent New York Magazine feature article. Page five in particular is worth reading. I’m quoting an excerpt, but you should really read the whole thing:

“My friends and I were joking about what gets retweeted the most and I said, ‘I bet you anything, if I say, “I wish everyone had a kitten face,” it will get retweeted 100 times.’ ” But it’s funny how often Deschanel is at the center of such fraught discussions, and if New Girl is a success, they’re bound to continue. (Already, online commenters are questioning the believability of someone as pretty and appealing as Deschanel playing a character so unlucky in love. Um, welcome to television.) “I think as soon as you try putting women in any sort of category, that’s where it goes wrong, that women should be this and women should be that,” says Meriwether. “If you feel upset with how cute someone is, maybe you should go outside and run around a little. Get some air.” Deschanel agrees. “That people equate being girlie with being nonthreatening … I mean, I can’t think of a more blatant example of playing into exactly the thing that we’re trying to fight against. I can’t be girlie? I think the fact that people are associating being girlie with weakness, that needs to be examined. I don’t think that it undermines my power at all.”

What’s being identified here is certainly a real, valid problem, though obviously I don’t think we should assume that anyone who dislikes the series or Deschannel’s other projects does so because they see “girliness” as despicable or weak (also, there’s an argument to be made about how much the show itself exploits this idea).

However. Going back and reading the Jezebel article mentioned a few paragraphs before left me hugely conflicted. Again, they identify a real problem: “childishness” is fetishised in women in a way it isn’t in men. But I hate, hate, hate, the concept of “age appropriateness” in either gender. The idea that there’s something shameful about men in their late twenties playing videogames makes me roll my eyes every bit as much as the idea of shaming adult women because they bake cupcakes, or wear rompers, or devote an entire week to zombies versus unicorns, or have fairies in their blog headers (which isn’t to say that the way we frame these activities in men and women isn’t entirely different).

lolcat: I are serious adult, this is serious life

But then again, as much as I don’t find “a 30-something woman with a penchant for tweets about kittens” off-putting, Tami Winfrey Harris’ point that this kind of identity is not available to women of colour is very valid and worth bearing in mind (and a similar argument could be made about trans women).

The answers to the question, Will these things be used against women?” is certainly yes. Will people see this kind of “girliness” as a reason not to take women seriously? Absolutely. But that doesn’t mean these articles don’t travel down what is to me a pretty dangerous path. The way the problem is being framed here leaves us with two possibilities: be a girl or be taken seriously. The last thing I want to do is minimise the fact that in the real world, these often are the only two possibilities. But can we assume that women who buy into Cupcake Culture are adopting a harmless, nonthreatening identity because this is far more acceptable for them as women than any of the alternatives? Are they settling for less? And are women who reject these particular social markers of “girliness” only doing so to be taken seriously in a world that despises femininity?

Green haired girl holding cupcake

The answer to both of these questions is probably yes, in some cases, some of the time, but certainly not universally. The dichotomy between cupcake culture and serious, adult endeavours that cause women to be perceived as threatening probably doesn’t even stand very close scrutiny. However, the Jezebel article boldly tells us that “it’s all to the same end — women are trying to broadcast to men that we won't bite their dicks off”, which to me is the sort of generalisation that is more harmful than helpful.

Of course that fetichising childishness is women is a problem. Of course there’s an issue with expecting women to be harmless and bubbly and domestic. But I’d much rather give other women the benefit of the doubt than constantly scrutinise their behaviour, question their motives, and assume that The Patriarchy made them do it. I want to be aware of why certain things are problematic, but I also want to keep the motto “there’s no wrong way of being a girl” firmly in mind, and I always want to remember not to hate the women, but rather the culture that forces us to ask all these questions in the first place.

If anyone has any thoughts on the notion of cupcake culture, on female infantilisation, on the race and gender dimensions of this kind of identity, or even on episodes of New Girl, I’d absolutely love to hear them.

Date: 2011-10-10 10:39 pm (UTC)
bookgazing: (Default)
From: [personal profile] bookgazing
I sometimes think this kind of debate can be summed up as 'the leg shaving debate'. I don't often shave my legs for myself, because it makes me happy. I shave them to fit in with those around me, which makes it a performative act of conforming to feminine gender norms. I do however enjoy painting my nails, putting on jewellery, crafts etc. I do all those things because I like doing them, which means that although they're still traditionally feminine I'm doing them for me.

Over time we all craft our own levels of identity. We learn what we feel are performances that aren't worth giving (like in Caitlin Moran's book she says she's giving up on high heels because they were for the dudes not for her, her mistake is in assuming that high heels are a performance rather than an aesthetic choice for all women). We make compromises and keep up some performances despite the fact that they're not really giving us any kind of heart skip, because being realistic they do win us things (social acceptance, safety, authority). We give performances specifically because they subvert something (although maybe we then come to love these performances and they become a real part of who we are). And we embrace things that we genuinely love no matter what they make us look like to the wider world (this is the really good stuff).

Whether the things we take to our hearts conform to gender norms, or subvert them the very fact that we do them because we like them, not because there is any kind of influence upon us is what makes our actions revolutionary. It's when we start extending that second kind of performance, the one we keep up for social safety or some other kind of gain, until it's all we have that we're really being oppressed by social norms. And then again like you say we need to hate the culture for making this so, not ourselves or other people for taking an attractive, safe option.

'But can we assume that women who buy into Cupcake Culture are adopting a harmless, nonthreatening identity because this is far more acceptable for them as women than any of the alternatives? Are they settling for less? And are women who reject these particular social markers of “girliness” only doing so to be taken seriously in a world that despises femininity?'

I do think we all make choices to present in a certain way at certain times. Our identities aren't all subconcious, or natural, but many parts of them are. Do those of us who want to present as traditionally feminine have it easier...I don't know. I feel that being traditionaly feminine can have very frustrating results at times, but I also know that I feel I'm a lot safer than I would feel if I were more non-traditionally feminine (I mostly mean if I looked less traditionally feminine here). Personally I feel I'm more able to handle any kind of hassle I might get from being traditionally feminine than the different kind of hassle I might receive if I did not look traditionally feminine. So, do I sometimes feel I'm passing, making use of femininity rather than being feminine because I want to be - yes, I guess I do at times. And the world does to an extent let me do that and 'reward' me for it. But at the same time it demands a lot in return for that 'reward'. And so I go back to negotiating with myself when I think the benefits are worth it and when they're absolutely not. That's kind of how it works on a day to day basis for me (oh look all about me again, WHAT A SURPRISE).

Date: 2011-10-12 08:23 am (UTC)
bookgazing: (Default)
From: [personal profile] bookgazing
Re Moran I've read quite a bit about this book of hers now and she seems to have set out her own set of feminist beauty rebellions (she's against waxing and high heels especially), but is fine with other mainstream beauty standards (bras, under arm shaving). Yet she seems to not really understand that these are her own personal standards, not the definitive word on which standards are feminist and which aren't. I really need to get around to reading this book, so I can check if what I'm reading in excerpts is correct. Oh btw how did you like the column I posted? Isn't she good sometimes!


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