New Girl, Same Crap

Sorry Lesley, I think this show could do far better.
Publish date:
September 23, 2011
feminism, TV, new girl, M

Why, five minutes into "New Girl," do I want to shove my own plastic-rimmed glasses down the garbage disposal, buy a J.Crew pantsuit and never look back?

As established, "New Girl" is about a girl named Jess who finds her boyfriend cheating on her and is forced to move to a new place with three dudes who agree to live with her after she mentions her friends are models. (Cliché alert!)

Jess has bangs, wears thick-rimmed glasses and is very pretty. We also learn that Jess likes to sing funny little songs about herself. (It becomes clear from the start that the character of Jess was built solely to showcase the manifold talents and cutenesses possessed by Zooey Deschanel.)

Soon, all of the roommates are comfortable being naked together and are going out on the town to find Jess a new man. (Because we are meant to believe that’s what a bunch of guys usually like to do -- find their supposedly annoying roommate a man to have sex with in their shared living space).

While the show purports to be about a woman struggling to make it after a devastating break up, we don’t get to sympathize much as she is so busy cultivating and honing her eccentricities that there is little time left over for making the character genuinely relatable. Instead, we watch her bounce from one shticky moment to another without ever really appearing vulnerable or, lets be honest, even the slightest bit unattractive.

I normally like Zooey Deschanel and I love it when television portrays women in ways that make them more relatable and multi-dimensional. But don’t think Jess is an example of that. To me, she is just a caricature of a real woman manufactured in some hipster guy’s placid sexual fantasy where women have bangs and no strong opinions.

She might have glasses, but Jess certainly isn't played as a smart girl. Rather she stumbles around all funny and confused until her guy roommates come to her rescue. She is certainly not groundbreaking, as the critics would have you believe. Watching 80s movies on repeat and working as a teacher do not a progressive woman make.

But maybe it wasn't meant to be a show for feminists. Maybe it is supposed to just be ditzy fun for those of you out there who can stomach it. In which case, the thing that most bothers me most about "New Girl" is that many people are touting it as more than it is, as a sign of these great times we women live in.

If a sitcom with a quirky lady lead were truly representative of women’s equality, then we wouldn’t have to bring this subject up every time it happened. Because it has. Many times. Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Lucille Ball, Sarah Silverman, Courtney Cox to name but a few. There was a Newsweek cover in 1989 that featured Candace Bergen and proclaimed that the arrival of Murphy Brown (Now that was a leading lady!) meant that women's equality had finally arrived as well.

Bergen may have portrayed a new kind of woman who acheives back then, but in 2011 America, despite making up 50 percent of the work force, women hold only 6 percent of executive roles, funding for women’s health has been slashed and there is the very real possibility of my country being helmed by yet another raving madman from Texas who hates my sexuality but wants me to make babies. Things are not so fantastic in Ladyville right now.

I'm not saying every female television character has to acknowledge those things, but lets not pretend then that every female lead is a step forward for women in general. And definitely don’t tell me that Zooey Deschanel bobbing around forcing those cutesy songs and drinking rosé until she “gets slutty” is somehow empowering or new.

Until there is a new TV show with a woman I can get behind, I'll be tuning in for the last season of "30 Rock" where at least Liz Lemon is legitimately a nerd, isn’t afraid to look like crap now and then and actually has a few things to say for herself.