How ‘New Girl’ Let Me Down

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Photo Source: The Amherst Student

Disclaimer: I won’t pretend that I’m an authority on feminism. I am not trained in socially conscious language and I am often being educated by my more socially involved friends. What I am an authority on is my own personal life experiences as a woman and a geek and that is the place that I am coming from.

That being said, ‘New Girl’ has become such a disappointment for me.

When the show started I was so excited to see a more accurate portrayal of female geeks. Not only that, but the female geek was the lead character. The first episode alone had three references to LOTR and an abundance of crafting jokes. Obviously, she didn’t represent geeky women as a whole. She was a representation of one type of woman in the world and whether you liked that representation or not I personally identified with a lot of her character traits.

It was in the middle of the first season when I started to really notice a change. Jess wasn’t really geeky anymore. She was klutzy and weird but the pop culture references had stopped. She liked knitting, making jam and making up weird songs. To me those are just common interests with nothing inherently geeky about them. Soon she swapped roles with the men. She was no longer the socially clueless woman who was watched over by her dysfunctional roommates. She became the mother figure, constantly trying to wrangle three rowdy, idiot boys. She still does weird things but they aren’t geeky. Just weird. She became what every female character on TV becomes: the mom.

This trope is insulting to both men and women alike. We are almost all in the same place in our mid-twenties and early thirties. We are trying to find our place in there world, figuring out who we are and what we stand for. Shows like this turn men into bumbling idiots who need the women in their lives to guide them through every obstacle with a wink and a sigh of defeat.

In the third season they did the one thing that always kills a show for me. They made one of the characters, Schmidt, into a cheater. As if his cheating weren’t bad enough he was also really terrible at it. The writers tried so hard to make him empathetic despite the cheating because ‘he is too dumb to know better’ or ‘his friend wasn’t there to guide him’ and all of that is total, utter bullishit. Now we are back to every other stupid, insipid television trope where men are stupid and we should feel bad for them and women are there to solve all of their problems.

This is coming from a show that had so much promise. The cast ranges in income, race and background. (I’ll talk about how much I love Cece in another blog update that I have planned.) The comedy is often spot on and the actors are all extremely talented. Winston is one of my all time favorite characters and the reason I still watch the show at all. In the end though, Jess is no longer the amazing character that she once was and I find that every time I watch an episode that she doesn’t mean nearly as much to me as she once did.

I miss you, Jessica Day. Maybe some day the world will be ready to watch you are you were originally intended. For now I’ll stick to Youtube scripted series like Squaresville and The Guild for some genuinely cool female geeks.

Want to watch and identify with actual geeky women? Here are some geeky feminists you should be following:

Stand-up comedian @NadiaKamil who has a feminist burlesque dance and a pap smear rap that are not to be missed.

Emily V. Gordon @thegynomite who co-hosts a video game podcast and her Tumblr provides positive body image advice.

Sandra Daugherty (@SexNerdSandra) offers sex-positive advice on her podcast Sex Nerd Sandra.

Mindy Kaling (@MindyKaling) WHY AREN’T YOU WATCHING ‘THE MINDY PROJECT’!?!

And last, but definitely not least, Yvette Nicole Brown (@YvetteNBrown) of Community fame (who is from Cleveland, near where I grew up) and is frequently on The Talking Dead.

I could go on and on with this list and I would be more than happy to upon request. Fear not friends, our female geeky idols are out there! We just need to spread the word!

In Defense of Disney

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I have always loved Disney movies. My mom absolutely hates them. She says they build unrealistic expectations of love (they do). Yet somehow, at 25, I have my own blu-ray collection and Spotify playlist of all of my favorite Disney classics. I have been told that my favorite movies as a very little child were The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast but I graduated up to the animal focused features as I got older. Robin Hood, Lion King and 101 Dalmatians got quite a bit of screen time. Then came the Aladin, Pocahontas and Mulan pre-teen phase. Even now, The Princess and the Frog holds a very special place in my heart.

People love to use Disney and a punching bag. A giant, heartless, corporate stooge, out to turn your children into self-loathing, thoughtless drones. I take great exception to this. We like to take the grey, fuzzy, overlapping edges of every argument and turn them into stark black and white assessments. Life just doesn’t work that way. You can’t have the good without the bad or visa versa. Sure, Disney is notoriously historically inaccurate and the female characters never hold up to feminist scrutiny. That doesn’t mean they should be thrown out with the bath water.

I consider myself to be a feminist. Plain and simple. I want equal opportunities for everyone and I don’t want anyone pre-judging me or forcing me into a box because of my gender. My friend recently posted an article that she found on Facebook that spoke to her experience as a woman. I read it and I understand why it meant so much to her. She and I have had very different life experiences and this article was a lot closer to hers than to mine. It got me thinking about how being a creative opens you up to new arguments and issues.

I think I found it hard to identify and agree with the article because I have no frame of reference for her feelings. That doesn’t invalidate them, I just have a much different life experience. I think that you have a lot more control over life than the author gives us credit for. Of course women are portrayed from a male perspective when men are doing the writing. They can try as hard as they want but it’s up to women to truly fill that gap. I wouldn’t dream of writing from the perspective or a transgender man or woman without extensive research and thorough oversight. I can’t live both their lives and mine and I would never want to portray a character disrespectfully.  We write what we know and if we want our views known we have to speak for ourselves.

We have the responsibility and emotional and societal freedoms now to make our own impact and do our own creating. Men have quite the head start and women like us, who hate being categorized need to produce the work we want to see. You’re only a secondary character if you allow yourself to be. I appreciate that my friend took so much from the article because that’s what all creative works are for. Helping and connecting with others.

What bothered me about her article the most (other than the drastic mischaracterization of Doctor Who) was how she gave up her own power. I have known more than a few women who have had a rough go at childhood and I am well aware that not everyone made it through quite as unscathed as I did but I don’t like assigning blame away from myself. If I become a secondary character to anyone it is because I allowed myself to be. I am in control of me and I will never give that up. That’s a tough stance to take and it doesn’t stop me from pointing out gross injustices when I see them. Nobody’s perfect.

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That being said, I never had trouble identifying with a male lead character. I read the entirety of Harry Potter from Harry’s shoes. Gender doesn’t define feeling. It never really occurred to me to separate male/female perspective in my head. A tip for any male creatives that may be reading this: your male characters could very easily be female. The only thing that honestly separates us is how our bodies function and how society reactions to us have shaped us. We try to separate ourselves and categorize ourselves but in the end the parts of us that really matter are all the same.

That’s why I am so protective of Disney. I honestly owe a lot of my self-confidence and empowerment to Belle, Jasmine, Mulan and Ariel (and now Tiana). I watched these young women reading obsessively, singing loudly, running around without shoes and putting aside their fears to stand up for what is right. If you look at anything hard enough you can pick it apart. I am sure the author of that article would say that all of these women were motivated by trying to be the peacemaker because society had conditioned them to be the caretaker and soother for all men. But all I saw as a child and all I see now are young women who are smart, strong and passionate.

I’m sure that I got plenty of negative messages from these stories as well. You can’t have the good without the bad. I would never trade how those characters made me feel. I have had and always will have the power to think for myself. Critical thinking allows me to learn both good and bad lessons from everything. The important thing is to look at everything you consume and choose what you let influence you. We are capable of that at any age.

So, lay off my Disney, lay off my Doctor Who and never, ever, ever tell me that these characters are taking away my power. Only I can do that.

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Disclaimer: This is only my personal opinion. Everyone’s experiences in life are different and valid. I want to voice my opinion in hopes of setting a good example for any other young women and men that can identify with what I am saying. I’ve had some amazingly strong and intelligent students over the last four years and this is for them. I hope that anyone struggling with stereotypes and misconceptions will have someone to talk to and empower them. If you don’t, my inbox is always open.

Taking a Step Back to Ask Why

So, today I was on Reddit. Normally I try to steer myself to the positive and informative discussions and avoid the anger inducing idiocies that the internet is so adept at brining out. Today though, I stumbled into a sub that was making fun of the feminist campaign of ‘I need feminism because.’ Not only did the sub commandeer the name of the movement but it was extremely misleading unless you read the sidebar. The funny thing about it was that it wasn’t the posts that were so bad but the description of the sub itself. The posts seemed to reflect valid interpretations of the subject matter which is why it took me so long to realize that the sub was actually a group of people rallying around emotionally hurting feminists.

The sidebar reflected a common internet troll (I know everyone hates that word now). It was clearly written by a person who had been slighted in some way by the movement. Someone who is defensive because he/she has only been exposed to the darker sides of feminism. Let’s be clear, feminism has a dark side. Every movement has a side that is comprised of people who have just been through too much or feel too much and therefore take it too far. It’s those people that create the people who created r/mensrights. I’m not saying that these extremists aren’t valid and that they don’t have a right to be angry but when you go about asserting your anger badly you are going to create your own downfall. Much like King Arthur created Mordred, we create our own worst enemies.

So when I finally figured out that I had stumbled upon a vitriolic reaction to one of my favorite campaigns I naturally became angry. It’s always hard to have people telling you that your experiences and emotions aren’t valid or are too intense. I hate seeing people blatantly deny that the things that I go through on a daily basis actually happen. And it’s funny because before I figured out their agenda I was agreeing with a lot of posts.

They’re right sometimes. There are other reasons that women make less money than men. A lot of the pain women experience is often inflicted by other women. Men also experience discrimination and it can be even more overlooked. And most importantly, most men are pretty great. We let our experiences with the terrible 30% of the male population affect the way that we treat the other 70% and that’s not fair. The problem with all of this is that what that other 30% does is just so deplorable that we build up this shield to defend ourselves from them and the other 70% suffer by default.

The thing is, we don’t need that other 70% creating subreddits that undermine our cause and devalue our feelings. We need them to stand up for us, admit there is something wrong and do their best to stop it when it happens. We don’t need a knight in shining armor to save us. We need every man to stand beside us and to tell that 30% that what they’re doing is not okay. It makes me so sad to see instead that they’ve decided to let their bad experiences overwhelm their judgement. That they will continue to be so defensive that they feel the need to belittle and undermine people who are trying to express how they feel. It also makes me sad how many women will engage with their behavior and lend it credibility.

That’s when I asked myself ‘why?’. Why do we automatically jump on the defensive and why don’t we bother to ask these people why they have reacted that way? If we are ever in a situation where we are faced with, say, a man mocking another man for loving My Little Pony, why don’t we ever bother to ask them why it bothers them? There’s a pretty good chance that they’ve never thought about why either.

This can be said for a lot of actions. We go through the daily motions and through most of it we never bother to think about why we are doing it. I am well aware that some people are just assholes. There all all sorts of people in the world. The assholes can rarely be helped but those people who respond with such vitriol just want to be understood. They want someone to listen for once to why they feel these feelings.

I think we could all benefit from stepping back and asking why. No judgement. No anger. Just a simple why. Maybe if we tried to do that, even just once a week, we’d have a lot less hate.