Friday 27 January 2012

Girls on TV

I've been meaning to write for a while about my love for two new programmes, New Girl and 2 Broke Girls (as well as sharing my premature excitement for the upcoming HBO show, Girls) and while I am still going to do that (I'll be damned if anyone's going to stop me!) I also need to address some criticisms that have come up. New Girl, which you probably know about unless you've been living under a rock, debuted in the UK a few weeks ago, and reviews of it were... less than positive. And this lack of positivity is all focused on the way that women are presented in TV programmes, namely that Zooey Deschanel's Jess is the scourge of all womankind, signalling our imminent demise and taking a bazillion steps back in the feminist movement. To hear these critics speak, you'd think that she wore corsets, did all the housework, and was a sex slave for the three men that she ends up living with (the entire premise of the programme).

These people, mostly women, I'm sorry to say, are misguided at best, and idiots at worst. Here's the thing- Jess is lovely. She's a good person, she has the warmest heart, and she tries to generally be nice to people and is always, above all, true to herself, and follows what she wants to do. There are SO many criticisms of her character out there, from the suggestion that she's just a bundle of quirks and not a lot else (which I get, and see what they're saying, but hey, quirky is fun!) and Laurie Penny (who, by the way, I used to admire but now sort of hate because she seems utterly joyless) in this article seems to suggest that, because Jess is the kind of character who likes adorable things and, you know, bakes, that she is an affront to feminism and inclined to use her sexuality and cuteness to make men feel more comfortable around her strength. I honestly have NO IDEA where she's got this from- for a start, Jess in no way 'uses' her adorableness to make the men she lives with feel better about themselves; but in a broader sense, who the hell does she think she is to say that a woman can't like things that are pretty or enjoy baking, but also to be able to express themselves and their ideas with strength and forcefulness?

The problem is, for Penny and so many other critics, that in their minds there is only ONE way to be a woman, and everyone else is doing it wrong. So Jess, because she watches Dirty Dancing when she's sad and, I don't know, wears skirts sometimes and is generally adorable, is somehow doing womanness wrong, whereas they, and only they are the ones doing it right. You know what I think about that? I think it's bullshit. There's not only one way to be a woman, or a feminist, or, I don't know, a dog; and women characters on TV shouldn't always be expected to be the epitome of woman. Jess has a job, she supports herself, but just because she also makes her own breakfast and dresses nicely, all of a sudden she's an affront to womanhood? I don't buy that, and I refuse to accept it.

In the comments of Penny's article, someone has said: "Nothing is worse for gender equality than someone who is unable to see past gender roles and insists on bringing them into every part of life, then loudly insisting that they be removed." and this is just so true- Penny is creating problems where there are none, and complaining because Jess isn't a good enough role model. Well guess what? There are hardly any great role models for women on TV, but is Penny complaining about the fact, oh, I don't know, that in Breaking Bad, say, the only women are the main character's wife and sister who know nothing about anything, or that in The Sopranos, the women just sit around enjoying the luxury that comes from the brutality of what their husbands do? Nope- she just sits and complains that a caring, self-confident and kind woman isn't a good enough role model for others. Give me a break.

Anyway! Enough with my Laurie Penny disagreements! Let's move on to 2 Broke Girls, which mercifully hasn't aired in the UK yet and so I haven't had to get all angry at various unfair criticisms of it. Because the aforementioned girls of the title? Are not at all the 'perfect embodiment of women' but I still love them and I just want them to be happy! The two main characters, Max and Caroline, are kind of like an odd couple, only instead of being messy and neat (that's The Odd Couple, right? I've never actually seen it...) they're poor and rich, respectively, only Caroline isn't rich anymore because her father was running this whole ponzi scheme which now means that she also has no money, hence the 2 Broke Girls of the title. There's a mini-premise running throughout that they're trying to raise money to open a cupcake bakery (major loss of feminist points, for some strange reason...) but that's clearly not something that's going to happen because, you know, it's a sitcom and they have to have drama to keep it going.

By far the best thing about 2 Broke Girls is Max. She's so so awesome- she has a hard, world weary exterior, but inside she's the softest softie that ever softed- she loves babies, animals, and this awesome old guy who works at the diner that she and Caroline work at and, above all else, she takes in Caroline when she has nowhere to live, and teaches her how to live on basically no money. AND she bakes! I can only imagine what all the nasty nasties will say about Max, but in my eyes she's sort of wonderful- she supports herself, helps her fellow (wo)man and can so take care of herself, mainly because she's had to, but still she does it. I love her so much, that any indication of her inner sadness genuinely makes me cry- there's this scene where she's talking to Caroline's pet horse (don't even ask, sitcom!) about how he was a really good thing in her life, which hasn't had a lot of good things in it, and I just started involuntarily crying because I just want Max to be happy! Yeah, I might be too emotionally invested in this programme. But still, it's really good, but again, not perfect. And do you hear me complaining about that? No you do not. Oh yeah, and not to objectify men or anything, but check out Max's sometimes love interest, and please agree that you think he looks like a younger Brad Pitt:
Also, yum...

And then, there's Girls, which I believe premieres in April, but which I am obsessed with seeing because I've been obsessed with Lena Dunham ever since she was profiled in The New Yorker. I'm obsessed in spite of not having seen her film, Tiny Furniture, but hey, I need to see that film (it's about a woman who leaves University and then has no idea what the hell she's doing- hello my life!) and in spite of having no idea what Girls is actually going to be about. Regardless, I am excited, only guess what? I'm pretty sure these women aren't going to be good enough either, and hence we're going to have to complain about them some more. Really looking forward to that. Not.

Because here's the thing- all three of these programmes are mainly written/directed/produced by women, all star women, and all tell women's stories. And hey, sorry if these stories aren't good enough for you, or are in some way lacking, but automatically tearing them down because they don't go far enough according to one view of how women should be is NOT OK. Because, you know what? Women's stories need to be told, and they need to have the freedom to do so without having other women tearing them down for not telling their own personal story. If you want that TV programme made, well then you write it, and tell me how well that goes. Women in TV already have to face monumental obstacles, and criticising TV shows that employ women in the highest jobs for not creating female characters that are to the exact specifications of one kind of woman? Again I say, that's not ok.

And, at the end of the day, while I'm not saying that TV isn't important in forming people's ideas and attitudes to some extent, at the same time, it is only TV. Not everything has to be taken completely seriously, and not everything has to be about gender roles- these are SITCOMS for fucks sake! They're created to be funny, and New Girl and 2 Broke Girls both create comedy that isn't at the expense of women (or, I would say, at the expense of men-in-general, either) and so I see no reason to take such a hard line on them. They're supposed to be funny, and they are- now can we all just lighten up a bit please?


  1. OK so I do watch New Girl sometimes and while I don't think she's a knife in the back of feminism, I do think she's an idiot. Very nice, sweet, etc, but kind of stupid. Or maybe so naive as to be unbelievable.

    And she's def a Manic Pixie Dream Girl. Essentially just a pile of quirks with no real personality beyond the quirks. I love the quirks and she is adorable, but I don't think she's really a fully realized character. Now I don't agree with the people who are like "OMG she wears a dress and likes romantic comedies??? Stop setting feminism back!!" cos that's ridiculous. That said I do enjoy the show when I see it.

    1. Jess is definitely over-naive, and maaaybe a MPDG, but I just generally love Zooey Deschanel, and I think Jess is so sweet! The thing is, it's a sitcom, so I'm not reaally expecting massive amounts of character realism, you know? I just think it's fun, and way not unfeminist. Basically!

  2. I have to agree with Red here, I could handle the New Girl for one or two eps but then I just pulled out my hair and screamed "get a god-damn personality" at the TV. Because while she's got pretty hair, and wears vintage clothes and occasionally makes a reference to LOTR she doesn't really have a lot going for her, and I can't see how she's possibly going to grow as a character. The boys are just as bad in my eyes, they all have their cemented place complete with stereotypes and I could tell you what the primary plot points for the next 6 eps will likely be based on the history of characters like them.

    That said, I completely agree that the crap about it "damaging feminism" is a load of crap. It's like girls who wear saccharine dresses are somehow promoting the idea that men should treat women like little girls/dolls. Can't we all get to the point where we understand that there are different types of feminism, and just because you aren't burning your bra or hating on all men doesn't mean you're damaging the sisterhood.

    //end rant.

    I think that guy looks like a cross between young Brad Pitt and Johnny Depp. Which is very, very good. I might have to watch the show now, just for him.

    1. ugh, redundant re-use of crap in first sentence is par 2 is redundant.

    2. Duude! Did you really just watch like 2 epsiodes? Because there's a fair amount of character development, not really with Jess but definitely with Schmidt- the dude's got layers! But anyway, my point isn't really to make everyone like New Girl (we can't all like the same things etc) but just to make the point that it isn't unfeminist, which you agree with, so that's cool!

      Also, 2 Broke Girls is SO much fun, and also made me cry LOADS! Max is definitely a more defined/kick ass character than Jess, so I think you might like it. Maybe... Just don't tell me if you don't and we'll be all good! Hehe

    3. No, I've seen a few more, but I haven't been watching them consecutively.

      I just came down pretty hard on the show, but I don't really hate it. It's a fun enough show, and I understand the attraction, just blame my film and television studies!

    4. So I just watched the latest episode of New Girl and they actually discuss this issue in the show - so I have to give them props for that!

    5. Yeah, my friend told me that yesterday! I'm relatively sure they stole the idea from my blog post, but whatevs, at least they're talking about it! Toddling off to watch it now :)

  3. *Waves hands*

    Yeah..I'm the girl licing under a rock!

    I haven't started seeing this show, but i LOVE Zooey. She reminds me a younger Debra Winger, whom I absolutely revere.

    This sounds like some interesting issues this show is raising. I'd love to see it.