About a year ago, I questioned the controversy over Zooey Deschanel, an actress whose nerdy girlie image I vaguely identify with. I couldn’t tell, however, if she knew what she was doing or if she was kind of selling out.
Well, to be short and sweet, Deschanel, Glamour‘s covergirl for February (see right) has officially declared herself a feminist. In the interview, she basically reiterates what she said in the “Pinup of Williamsburg” interview, but explicitly added the word “feminism.” In a way this is non-news. Nevertheless, the internet is hungry.
What I find really strange and interesting about the preview of her interview is the way she says her schtick is unintentional and then later gets really pointed. When asked about her hair as part of her brand (I’m just disgusted by that question), she responds:
“…And I’m all about unintentional. I’m not a calculated person…. Somebody asked me, ‘How did you start doing comedy?’ and I was like, ‘By being unintentionally funny.’ I think making a movie or a record, the best things happen by accident—and those end up being the magic. Every time I’ve followed my gut it’s been better than when I’ve tried to do what I was supposed to do.'”
Right, Zooey. You’re just fabulous and not trying. Then the interviewer asks her about the controversy surrounding her image and she responds:
“I’m just being myself. There is not an ounce of me that believes any of that crap that they say. We can’t be feminine and be feminists and be successful? I want to be a f–king feminist and wear a f–king Peter Pan collar. So f–king what?”
That I find compelling and pointed and the magazine promptly shifts to questions about looks and dating advice. Fear not, the media (okay, Jezebel and feminist bloggers) took notice of the big little nugget as well.
Let the backlash start!
Wait…where’s the backlash…is this happening…?
Dodai Steward for Jezebel picks apart Deschanel’s tepid response to a question about body image, but on her feminist remarks writes, “You’ve got to admire Zooey’s pluck when faced with a question about her critics.”
Salon’s Mary Elizabeth Williams, who has previously slammed Deschanel for making her teeth hurt, gave the actress props for unapologetically announcing her feminism and refusing to talk about motherhood. She writes, “Yet after an appalling rash of high-profile women, including Marissa Mayer, Carla Bruni, Katy Perry and Melissa Leo apologetically insisting that they refuse to call themselves feminists, it turns out that the kewpie from the sitcom is the one bold and confident enough to announce [that she’s a feminist].” Though she still has a pretty harsh tone about Deschanel’s brand of femininity, she also concedes that part of the mission of feminism is to undermine the idea that a woman has to fit one brand of femininity or another. Let’s screw with those paradigms, folks! Williams concludes, “And unlike so many of her peers, she’s not going to play the game of promising the world that all she really wants to be is a mother; she’s not going to reassure anybody that it’s OK, she’s not a feminist. And this is exactly what feminism looks like. It’s not frightened or demure; it’s unconditional. And it wears a tiara if it wants to.”
Ironically, the affection I once had for Deschanel has waned as she has become the ubiquitous poster child for “Manic Pixie Dreamchildren.” Mostly, this is because I fear comparison. I have bangs and peter pan collars and polka dots and I make funny faces and voices and I just want to be me, not her. I feel like a jerk for doing so. I think what’s rubbing me the wrong way is the way her image has become extremely commodified since she hit TV last year. In this light, I have to admit that I find her statement kind of reassuring. I loved that she used the f-word and I love that she’s just sort of going for it. I just hope this push-back makes its way into her creative work more. I gave up on New Girl because I just couldn’t take her self-caricaturization anymore. Let’s see less adorakable and more reality, maybe?
Also, how ironic is her defense of feminism given all the bullshit surrounding her on the cover? Seriously?
Feel free to argue.
My discomfort with Deschanel largely comes from the fact that I feel like she’s becoming yet another ideal of femininity that I just can’t live up to. I mean, I think it’s great that Deschanel has opened up some possibilities for what it means to be a feminist and feminine, but, like you say, she’s becoming increasingly commodified without many other women being presented as alternatives to Deschanel’s own alternative. Does that even make any sense? It’s like this: I find myself drawn to Felicia Day as someone who is both “girlie” and “nerdy”, but because Deschanel has the market cornered on “girlie”, images like Day don’t come through as much.
Also, I can’t get over how many times I’ve heard Deschanel singing “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” which is — let’s face it — a song about date rape.
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