The Sandwich Feminist

La Intellectuelle is a feministic pop culture nerd intent on finding smart things in dumb places. This is her second installment in a series on archetypes.

The inspiration for this moniker – which I came up with a few days ago – comes from an episode of “30 Rock” called “Subway Hero” (get it?) in which “Carol Burnett Show” actor Tim Conway guest-stars as a blast-from-the-past NBC writer noting the changes around the studio since the fifties. He tells page-extradonaire/eternal naïf Kenneth that they used to call girls like Liz Lemon “sandwich girls” – a reference, I’m assuming, to double-penetrative sex (fun!). I’m going to be really confusing here and reappropriate this term in order to reference Liz Lemon, but in a different way. She’s a Sandwich Feminist: her brand of feminism most often manifests itself in her lack of “feminine” views about food. As in, Lemon likes “man” foods. As in, she eats an awful lot of sandwiches.

Now, I believe that Liz Lemon is, in her way, a feminist; I am certain that Tina Fey is, given that she created her own goddamn TV show and is possibly the best-known screenwriter in comedy right now. Lemon is self-deprecating, but that certainly doesn’t bar her from feminism. However, “30 Rock” is probably not a feminist show. (This does not mean that it isn’t funny. Or, that it wasn’t funny the three seasons that it was actually funny. Until Alec Baldwin totally jumped the shark with the whole Elizabeth Banks subplot, it was near brilliant show biz satire, featuring a uniquely nonsexual relationship between Jack Donaghy and Liz, paired with the kind of self-referential density really only rivaled by “Arrested Development”).

And here’s why it just ain’t feminist: Lemon is presented as a feminist only because she is not feminine. She works in comedy – a traditional boys’ club. She is often contrasted with Jack Donaghy’s overtly sexy girlfriends. In one scene, Salma Hayek is discussing passionate sex with Donaghy, while Liz is on the other side of the room wearing a Slanket and singing to a block of cheese. This is funny, but it’s sure not feministic. Like, I don’t feel particularly liberated watching a lady sing workin’ on my night cheese; being lazy and hungry in the evening really doesn’t indicate a person’s gender or sexualness. It desexualizes totally. Actually, Liz’s lack of a healthy sexual identity is both the butt of jokes and a plot arc – she displays a certain shame regarding sex which is explained away in a later episode involving what is perceived to be a childhood masturbatory experience with a poster of Tom Jones. I’m not saying that all feminists like sex, or have sex – some people don’t, and that’s okay – but I dislike this extreme discomfort around the subject. A lot of this is probably for comedy, and the rest, I’m assuming, comes from Tina Fey’s own late-blooming sexuality (which there isn’t anything wrong with; it’s just an observation).

Obviously, this archetype is pretty much Liz Lemon-centric. It isn’t unique to one character though, or it wouldn’t be an archetype. Sandwich Feminists are usually more or less diluted, and manifest as the unsexy counterpart of the Guy’s Girl (our lovely Connie Shen blogged about that stereotype recently). Aspects of the Sandwich Feminist pop up in romantic comedy leads like Katherine Heigl (in “27 Dresses” she was a down-to-earth career woman, mixed with a princess fantasy believer) and Mila Kunis (in “Friends with Benefits” she was a sloppy belching creature and also a daddy-issues minx) and, from time to time, Kate Hudson (in “How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days” she let out her burger-eating guy-ness and coupled it with some girl-on-girl misogyny). But Liz is the whole package. I mean, I just coined the term for her.

All I want is to be able to eat my sandwich and be a sexual being at the same time. I’m pretty sure that’s possible in the real world, if not on NBC.

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