Is ‘New Girl’ Going Anti-Feminist?


When Fox’s mondo adorkability half-hour New Girl started last season it was met with a love-it-or-hate-it response, but there was something even its harshest critics couldn’t deny: it was, in fact, new. It had a distinctive female voice that showed the main character, Jess (a slightly fictionalized version of Zooey Deschanel) unapologeticly being her ever twee self. No matter how much of a mess her relationship status was, she had the rest of her life pretty much in check. Well, the show isn’t so new anymore and the tone of Season 2 has been so old that’s it’s starting to stink like a pie left out on Aunt Bee’s window sill for the past 50 years. Yes, New Girl is becoming anti-feminist.

Last night’s episode about Jess’ ticking biological clock finally put me over the edge. This storyline is the most tired thing since a story about women getting moody and irrational on their periods and driving the men in their lives insane. Oh wait, that was a plot on the show just a few weeks back. This is now an honest to goodness trend. What happened to the Jess we knew and loved?

That’s not to say shows about female characters – and there are some great ones on the air these days like Girls, Don’t Trust the B in Apartment 23, and The Mindy Project – can’t address fertility issues, but the way New Girl handled it had some bad messages wrapped up in the good laughs. When having dinner with her lesbyan gynecologist friend (yes, it seems like it deserves an extra Y in that sentence) Jess finds out the couple is pregnant and that even at 30 her fertility is about to hit a rapid decline. She totally freaks out that it is like “the Grapes of Wrath down there” since Jess can never met a cutesy euphemism for her genitals that she didn’t like. CeCe, on the other hand, is not so concerned about having babies. She thinks she has time and isn’t that interested in kids in the first place.

After they go to the gyno, Jess finds out that her eggs are fine and plentiful but CeCe discovers that if she wants to have children, she needs to start now. Here is where the problem starts. Jess has a fit because even though she has eggs, she has “no sausage” (silly names don’t only apply to her genitals) to get her pregnant. CeCe finds she wants children more than she thought, but in the end winds up not telling her current boyfriend about her fertility problem to not scare him away because she might want to have children.

Now, hold up just a minute. First of all, it is OK for CeCe not to want to have children. There are plenty of women who choose not to become mothers for various and assorted reasons. Finding out you can’t reproduce must be a difficult blow for a woman, but we also need to learn that it is OK for women in the real world as well as female characters on TV to choose not to ever have a bun anywhere near their oven. Not having children needs to be as viable as Jess’ eggs. I thought that is what feminism was all about, having the choice to do whatever women want with their bodies. And then CeCe is sitting on that park bench with her man, scared to tell the truth about her feelings because it might make her boyfriend uncomfortable because he doesn’t want to play daddy for another decade and he might dump her? Please! The CeCe that we grew to love, the man-eater who strung Schmidt along for an entire season, would not care what this guy thought about her choices. She would tell him to respect her or get the hell out. She would say, “I want kids, I’m confident in my choice, and if you’re not into it, then there are plenty of great guys out there just waiting to knock me up.” Suddenly her ovaries are shaking in her womb because her man might dump her over the baby question?

As for Jess, what happened to that strong warrior woman who faced down Lizzy Caplan last season when she accused Jess of being a bad example of femininity? Yes, Jess isn’t standing up for her right to wear pigtails and love rainbows anymore, she’s waiting around to find the right “sausage” as if that’s all that will validate her. This is what she’s worrying about rather than, you know, finding a job. That isn’t that important to her, but having a baby and a boyfriend is. Who is this new girl? Because I don’t know her. Yes, feminism is about respecting women’s choices, but Jess lives in a world where if she wants to have a baby, she doesn’t need a boyfriend to do it. But she also lives in a world where, to raise a baby on her own, she needs an income. Where the hell are her priorities?

I’m not saying that sitcoms can’t talk about menstruation, fertility, or girliness, but I expect that, in this modern age, they have a fresh take on the subject rather than relying on the outdated comedy tropes of fragile women who are just dying to have babies and get married when they’re not eating cookie dough on the sofa waiting for Aunt Flo go to back to Red Bank where she belongs. For my money New Girl is still one of the best comedies on TV (though its getting a little outshone by The Mindy Project), but I want it to deliver the promise of the first season: of a girl who isn’t afraid to be different, of a girl who is so thoroughly modern that she doesn’t need stupid period jokes to get a laugh, of a girl that is new, both inside and out.

Follow Brian Moylan on Twitter @BrianJMoylan

[Photo Credit: Fox]


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