The backlash against actress Zooey Deschanel’s particular brand of twee reached new heights when her hit sitcom, The New Girl, premiered last fall. The ads proclaimed the comely actress “adorkable,” and Jada Yuan’s New York Magazine profile of Deschanel expressed the divisive feelings towards her succinctly: “[Women] 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.”
Last night, The New Girl approached the polarizing nature of Deschanel’s girlie-girlness head on in an episode called “Jess and Julia.” Lizzy Caplan plays Julia, the hard-edged lawyer girlfriend of Jess’s roommate, Nick. Jess sucks up to Julia because she wants Julia to help her get out of a ticket. Jess—who got the ticket because she was braking for an injured bird—plies Julia with cupcakes and cooing, and Julia does not respond kindly. They have the following exchange, with Julia acting as the greek chorus of the blogosphere:
Julia: A judge might buy into this whole thing.
Jess: What whole thing?
Julia: Your whole thing. With the cupcakes, and the braking for birds, and the whole, “Bluebirds help me dress in the morning!”
Jess: I didn’t realize I was doing a thing.
Julia: It’s a great thing! The big beautiful eyes, like a scared baby. I’m sure that gets you out of all kinds of stuff.
The pair continue to clash for most of the rest of the episode, and Julia continues to be the conduit for the criticisms that the blog world lobs at Deschanel. Julia accuses Jess of trying to mess up her relationship with Nick. “I know that I’m the mean lawyer girl who wears suits and works too much,” she says. “And you, you’re the really fun teacher girl with all the colorful skirts, and you bake things. And eventually Nick is going to come running to you, and you’ll tuck him in under his blankie.”
Later, Jess responds by making nearly the identical argument that the real Deschanel makes in that New York Magazine piece. To Yuan, Deschanel says, “I think the fact that people are associating being girlie with weakness, that needs to be examined. I don’t think that it undermines my power at all.” The character Jess makes it funnier, but the message is the same:
“I brake for birds. I rock a lot of polka dots. I have touched glitter in the last 24 hours. I spend my entire day talking to children. And I find it fundamentally strange that you’re not a dessert person. It freaks me out. I’m sorry that I don’t talk like Murphy Brown. And I hate your pants suit. I wish it had ribbons on it or something just to make it slightly cuter but that doesn’t mean I’m not smart and tough and strong.”
That argument is completely reasonable. There shouldn’t be just one acceptable way of behaving for women—and whether you’re a ball busting lady lawyer with an anger management problem or a beribboned glitter pusher, you shouldn’t be shamed for it.
However, that’s not the message that was put forth by the end of the episode. In the last fifth of the show, Julia comes over to apologize to Jess, and it turns out that deep down, what Julia really wants is to talk about her feelings and crochet baby hats. That’s what makes Julia a happier person—having girl talk about her embarrassing high school days.
Narratively, because Jess/Deschanel is the star of the show, they had to make her be more sympathetic than the Julia character. And intellectually, I understand that. But in the real world, I want those Murphy Brown-talking, pantsuit wearers to be just as acceptable and palatable as the cupcake clan.