New Girl, Same Character

Have you ever watched a TV show or movie and thought it could use some feminism?

Take a look at the awkward and nerdy Jess, played by Zooey Deschanel, from the TV show, “New Girl.” Jess moves in with three men, Nick, Schmidt, and Coach, after breaking up with her unfaithful boyfriend. The guys vow to help her move on from her breakup and wackiness ensues.

Unfortunately, “New Girl” is another example of the female character and storyline with which the American media is obsessed: Oh no, I’m a girl and my boyfriend broke up with me! Now I have to go cry all the time and eat lots of ice cream until I find a new man who will make me happy again! This is essentially the plot of “New Girl,” except instead of crying all the time and eating ice cream in the first episode, Jess cries all the time and watches Dirty Dancing. This isn’t to say that there is anything wrong with showing women dealing badly with heartbreak. We’ve all gone through it. It’s awful, and there’s no shame in using food and movies as coping mechanisms. The problem? It also happens to be the storyline for most popular female protagonists in American media. Why is it that even when a woman is the main character, we seem to only care about her in relation to the men in her life, or in her quest to find a man? When the media treats most female-driven plots this way, it gives the impression that a woman is only interesting because of the men she knows.

Moreover, the show is ripe with gender stereotypes. Check out a couple from the pilot:

Men want hook-ups.  Women want relationships.
Schmidt, who openly enjoys the sexual freedom that comes with being single, expresses his excitement over possibly hooking up at a party. Jess replies that he should instead find one woman that he really cares about. This scene supports the stereotype that women need to attach romantic emotion and be in relationships in order to enjoy sex, while men don’t. That stereotype makes women fear exploring their sexuality and independence, and punishes those who do (slut, anyone?). Jess could be enjoying herself, but is instead becoming one more single woman on television characterized by an obsessive need for a relationship and the inability to be fulfilled without one.

A Missing Voice.
In a shockingly sexist scene, Schmidt tells Nick that he feels emasculated at work. It cuts to him in a boardroom with numerous female employees screaming at him in hysterical unison. One even mocks him by asking if he needs a tampon. Not only does this incorporate a woman using an aspect of female biology to insult a man (and thus, herself), but it relies on the stereotype that women in the workplace are naggy and irrational.

Why wasn’t our female protagonist, who had been in almost every scene up until this point, a part of this conversation so that she could attack such blatant sexism? Jess is practically the only female voice on the show. Her voice cannot be strong if the script won’t allow her to be present when women are belittled. That said, the fix is easy – just don’t have such scenes at all.

The show has just begun, so maybe Jess will develop into a more empowered character. But alas, the media’s portrayal of single women has me doubtful.

Watch the pilot episode and see if you agree:

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3 Comments

  1. i’ve seen “new girl”, and i’m going to be slightly nitpicky here, but i don’t think the show really spearheads the notion hat “men want hook-ups, women want relationships”.. in the pilot, jess intends to find a rebound after a slight nudge, and later on in the series, there are women portrayed having flings with schmidt. so i don’t think the show necessarily silences a female sexuality.

    everything else you mentioned, however, is pretty spot on — especially in regards to “emasculation” and how a man who is considered feminine ought to be the subject of mockery. the show seems to go the extra mile to make fun of schmidt for being “womanly.”

  2. Hi Curtis! Thank you for the comment! Only having watched the pilot, I am now for sure going to watch the newer episodes to see how the characters have developed. I agree that the show doesn’t completely silence female sexuality, as there were definitely some scenes in New Girl’s pilot that I found to openly portray it (such as when Jess is having fun and joking around during her striptease for her now ex-boyfriend in the opening.) My issue was that in that scene, there was a woman encouraging sex in relationships, while a man was encouraging sex in hookups; in context with the show’s focus on men getting Jess back into the dating scene, I found it to be too stereotypical for my tastes. As you said, this aspect of the plot seems to be changing, which has the potential to be really great! I am very interested in seeing how the women Schmidt hooks up with are portrayed. Even more, I hope that Jess hooks up with someone (if she hasn’t already in one of the new episodes) so that we can see it from the female lead’s perspective, too. Thank you so much for reading!

  3. Hi Curtis! Thank you for the comment! Only having watched the pilot, I am now for sure going to watch the newer episodes to see how the characters have developed. I agree that the show doesn’t completely silence female sexuality, as there were definitely some scenes in New Girl’s pilot that I found to openly portray it (such as when Jess is having fun and joking around during her striptease for her now ex-boyfriend in the opening.) My issue was that in that scene, there was a woman encouraging sex in relationships, while a man was encouraging sex in hookups; in context with the show’s focus on men getting Jess back into the dating scene, I found it to be too stereotypical for my tastes. As you said, this aspect of the plot seems to be changing, which has the potential to be really great! I am very interested in seeing how the women Schmidt hooks up with are portrayed. Even more, I hope that Jess hooks up with someone (if she hasn’t already in one of the new episodes) so that we can see it from the female lead’s perspective, too. Thank you so much for reading!

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