“Funny Women Aren’t Feminist Symbols”: Postfeminism and Comedy in Liz Meriwether’s New Girl

Curator's Note

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?

Comments

Stefania Marghitu's picture

When you wrote that Jess

When you wrote that Jess wants the preferential treatment, I thought back to the episode of 30 Rock from Season 3, “Natural Order,” in which Liz and Tracy attempt go without preferential treatment and focus on complete equality, hence, the water cooler scene (I could only find this shoddy quality video): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t6qzh0VDlxM Interesting as both Fey and Meriwether have been construed as ambivalently feminist, with their works as showrunners as post-feminist texts. I eventually became a fan of New Girl when the “adorkable” angle wore off and it turned into more of an ensemble series about friendship, but it still poses some problems, like you mentioned about the masculinity. The Q&A you linked to asked a lot of questions about the show as racist, and one asks if Winston will get an A-plot. I think he’s certainly the most underdeveloped character. Since Rossend also brought up some good points about masculinity as well, what do you think about Nick, Schmidt and Winston?

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