Learning to Tolerate Zooey Deschanel, A Feminist’s Struggle
This post is a part of the “Out of the Kitchen” weekly column in which various news and pop culture items will be examined through a feminist lens.
So let’s take a moment to talk about a pop culture icon of a woman, who seems to be nearly everywhere, shall we? Let’s talk about Ms. Zooey Deschanel.
Deschanel is tricky territory for me. She is someone who on a fundamental level just rubs me the wrong way, which is absurd, of course, seeing as how I’ve never met her. But in ever-presentness (she’s not only an actress but also a singer and fashion icon) I have found there to be a quality about her which doesn’t mesh well with me.
I’m not sure what it is. We can all agree that Deschanel is cute. Maybe it’s that she’s too cute. From her doe like eyes, to her hip vintage style, her hypnotizing folk band singing voice, the hearts on her cell phone, and her website’s URL (hellogiggles.com) she is undeniably adorable. Even her first name has a favorite childhood fieldtrip destination hidden right in it!
Unfortunately, this has led me to talk a lot of trash about Ms. Deschanel in private circles. It’s no secret to those who know me that she rubs me the wrong way. We all have that celebrity, don’t we? The one who we bash and in return our friends make sure we know everything about this person. So of course someone passed along this New York Post piece on Zooey. As Jada Yuan writes about Deschanel, I’m not alone:
Among women, Deschanel tends to be more polarizing. They either covet her bangs or they resent her for seemingly playing into the male fantasy that women are only attractive when they act like girls. Plenty of blog posts have used Deschanel as a launchpad for this very debate. Then there’s grumbling that while alt-heroines of the past (Winona Ryder, Parker Posey) had a kind of edge to them, Deschanel is all sweetness and light: not enough kohl on the lens.
It’s true that I am very much not alone in my general resentment of Deschanel. One of the pieces that Yuan was referencing ran on Jezebel and sparked a lot of discussion. The piece, as Yuan summarizes it, posited that, “women who act girlie are ‘in it for the peen’ and shamelessly trying to ‘broadcast to men that we won’t bite their dicks off.’” This piece and others like it on Jezebel have prompted other feminist sites to decry Jezebel as fundamentally bad for feminism.
While I don’t see Jezebel this way, the truth is that I actually agree that being mean and spiteful toward other women in a huge problem. (Sidenote: is there anything worse than the woman who says, “I just don’t get along with other women! All my friends are guys!” Whenever a woman says that, I always think, “Clearly, the common factor is you.”)
Moreover, I’ve even made the case in favor of girliness over at my own blog. So how can I navigate my own feelings about Zooey and women like her, while staying true to my brand of feminism? I guess a critical distinction to make is the difference between being nasty toward another woman for no good reason vs. actually analyzing the things you dislike.
For example, you might have a coworker who totally pisses you off—You could go after her hair, weight, style, grammar, or any number of other frivolous attributes. But believe you me, you will come across as petty to those around you. This is different than disliking someone because she disrespected you, not trusting her because she talks about others behind their backs, or getting annoyed because she leaves dirty dishes on the office kitchen counter.
In the first set, you’re really just picking apart this person for the sake of picking them apart—pointing out things about them which are fundamental to who they are, but have no true effect on you. In the second case, you’ve identified things about them that are grounds for legitimate conflict. (And remember—conflict in itself isn’t fundamentally bad. It’s how the conflict is resolved that counts.)
With a celebrity like Deschanel, it’s a little different. I can’t say that she has done anything to me personally, because she is, of course, totally unaware that I exist. However, I can take a look at the messages that are sent by the characters that Ms. Deschanel portrays or the content of her songs. It is not automatically catty to do these things to another woman. We have no requirement to continuously praise other women.
So it’s ok that I dislike how (spoiler to follow) Summer in 500 Days of Summer plays into the stereotypes that women don’t really know what they want, or that they’re passive-aggressive about relationships. It’s ok that I dislike how her character in Our Idiot Brother is an embodiment of the sleeping around bisexual.
But what I really shouldn’t bother hating on Zooey about is all that other stuff…her undeniable cute factor, her voice, her style, her popularity. Or at least, I shouldn’t bother in public ways, because let’s be real, my inner feelings probably won’t change just because I have accepted a public stance of tolerance. But if I want to practice what I preach, be tolerant, I must. (A little Yoda speak for you there.)
At any rate, I should probably just learn a lesson from a 15 year old. In her piece “Getting Over Girl Hate” Tavi Gevinson discusses that girl you just love to hate, saying, “Trust me—you secretly want to be best friends with this girl.” Tavi’s wise beyond her years and an all around bad ass feminist. I’d recommend anyone struggling with “girl hate” check out her advice. It’s basic, good stuff if you’re 7 or 27…not that I’m talking about any 27 year old in particular…*cough*