“Funny Women Aren’t Feminist Symbols”: Postfeminism and Comedy in Liz Meriwether’s New Girl
by Michael Rennett — University of Texas, Austin
May 09, 2013 – 00:00
In a February interview with the New York Times, New Girl creator/showrunner Liz Meriwether states, “Funny women aren’t feminist symbols. Funny women are honest women.” Meriwether’s comment appears to demonstrate her frustration with the show’s critics constantly discussing Jess’s representation of femininity while the male characters’ portrayal of masculinity is rarely discussed. While I could form my piece around Meriwether’s problematic male characters, I am more intrigued by Meriwether’s statement, the changing roles of feminism and postfeminism on New Girl, and how Jess compares to female characters on other television series.
Early episodes reflect Jess’s strength and resiliency against a world that was trying to reform her “adorkable” personality. In the pilot, her three new male roommates attempt to “fix” her image by having her conform to hegemonic attitudes and behaviors of femininity, but by the conclusion, they accept her non-traditional differences. Jess is later positioned more as a postfeminist character, even fighting against Julia, a female lawyer who represents many of the stereotypes surrounding feminism. Even when Jess does appear to believe in feminist views, they seem to be undercut by other characters. In “Parking Spot,” Jess and Schmidt are debating over which of the two of them will use the apartment’s newly-discovered parking spot. Schmidt mentions that “because [he] believes so strongly in women’s equality,” he refuses to just give her the spot. Jess initially appreciates his attitude before realizing that he is only attempting to appeal to her feminism to manipulate the situation and get his way. Essentially, she would prefer the preferential treatment found in chivalry even though she believes in gender equality. The video shows these three clips.
As Jess is becoming a postfeminist character, I wonder about the role of satire in the show. That is, is Jess supposed to be a character with whom audiences should empathize, or is she a critical commentary of contemporary postfeminist sensibilities? How does the character compare to how we interpret other female characters on contemporary TV comedies like Tina Fey’s Liz Lemon, Amy Poehler’s Leslie Knope, or Lena Dunham’s Hannah Horvath? Moreover, how can we read Jess in relation to Meriwether’s authorial agency and other activities such as her satirical article in The Hollywood Reporter that sexualizes the 2012 Presidential election? Finally, is the comedic satire of postfeminist sensibilities a strategy being used by this generation of feminist media producers across different film and TV comedies?