What is a Feminist Anyway? Can Zooey Deschanel Be One?

In recent years there has been an increase of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope (MPDG) in media, which according to one blogger, is a girl who has an offbeat personality and a love of life with an “ adorable cipher, a saucer-eyed gamine whose quirky hipness and hip quirkiness make men want to change their lives for the better.” [1]  The current embodiment of this character happens to be an actress/singer/songwriter, Zooey Deschanel. So here is the debate. These quirky 20-something women are considered “too girly.” They love the “little girl” things like rainbows, ribbons and kittens.  The argument is that these women are simply playing to man’s fantasy of dating with little girls. That they are specifically acting in this way, liking beanies that look like pandas and wearing frilly clothes, to appeal to this fantasy.  They argue that his portrayal of women is degrading and offensive to feminists everywhere.

So who are these “feminists” that are getting so angry and attacking women for behaving in a way that displeases them?  These women are probably the bra burning, brilliant women who try desperately to improve women’s lives.  So who is right and who is wrong?  Should we turn our back on the cute and quirky Zooey Deschanel’s of the world or should we push them to be more aggressive and strong willed?

First I think it is important to expand upon Deschanel’s character.  I did some research about some of the things she is critiqued for.

#1. Zooey Deschanel tweets things like, “I wish everyone looked like Kittens” does not act “age appropriate” and she says things like:

“I’ve always straddled a weird line — there’s a lot of mainstream stuff that I love,” Deschanel tells the mag. “At the same, I still feel like an outsider. I’m the outsider who’s on the inside.”

“I went to Northwestern because I had gone to a really nontraditional high school,” says the actress, who counts Jake Gyllenhaal and Kate Hudson as her former classmates.


“I drive a hybrid, a Prius. I try not to be wasteful. I’m not a major environmentalist, I’m not Ed Begley, Jr., but I think there are little things you can do,” says Zooey Deschanel. “I think the things that we all do every day add up, like recycling, reusing.” On the set of “New Girl,” her new Fox sitcom, “they got everybody reusable water bottles, so everybody has their own bottle. Those things can make a big difference.” [2]

“She’s a relatively frugal spender” [3]

#2. Is her new website that she founded, entitled HelloGiggles. [4]

Oh brother, HelloGiggles? Is that a joke? Nope. That is the name. On this website you can buy t-shirts with ice cream cones and pinwheels. But what is the bulk of this content? Well, they write about things for women. On the about page it says, “Everything hosted on this site will be lady-friendly, so visitors need not worry about finding the standard Boys Club content that makes many entertainment sites unappealing to so many of us.” I assume the “Boys Club content” refers to such things as scantily clad women and inappropriate topics….so I decided to read the content I was pleasantly surprised to find such topics as: “10 reasons why I am not a Kardashian,” “5 Things I Learned from She-Ra: Princess of Power” and “How to portray girls in a good ways on TV.” My favorite quote from an article I read on here was this,

“Society – or maybe more to the point, MUSIC – has taken a huge spin. It’s not like I don’t like the beat of ‘Sexy and I Know It’ but, you know, the characters in the song are acting gross. Other songs, they’re so club-and-booty-obsessed. I don’t want to get my “freak on”. I’m a girl, I wanna have fun. Where is a song like ‘Single Ladies’? Why aren’t I hearing more girl-empowerment songs? Or boys singing about how awesome girls are?”

“Are my only fun pop choices KE$HA and LMAFO?” [5]

So remind me again why feminist bloggers are so angry with this? It seems to me that it is sending some good and fun messages out being a strong woman and sorting through bad media for the good.

#3. Zooey Deschanel’s character is weak and shallow and acts like a little girl

Deschanel stars in a hit TV series called, New Girl. This TV series centers around the character Jess (Deschanel) who definitely fits the (MPDG) profile.  She makes up her own songs randomly, she loves kittens and wears frilly clothes.   However, she is smart and funny and confident.  In a recent episode she stands up for her way of life.

“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.”

So is Zooey Deschanel a bad role model or a great example of being a girly and a feminist? That can definitely debatable.  Deschanel has some great qualities that women should try to emulate, but obviously some of the things she has said should be taken with a grain of salt.  So to answer the question I posed earlier, should we try to change the Deschanel’s of the world or simply ignore them because they don’t fit our particular brand of feminism? I would say neither. We should work together in support of women’s causes even if our personalities and fashion styles are different.

I am sure everyone agrees that acting stupid or “dumbing down” in order to not intimidate a guy is ridiculous. I am also sure that everyone agrees that acting like 5 year old to solicit sexual attention from a man is also wrong.

The question here is, can there be more than one type of feminist?

Can the stay-at-home mom without a college education who lives to support her children and husband still be a feminist?  Of course

Can an actress who dresses really girly and is an elementary school teacher still be “smart and tough and strong”? Yes.

Can a woman who despises bows and ribbons and most things “feminine” still be a “good” feminist? Yes!

Is it ok to wear hats with panda ears and bows in your hair and still call yourself a feminist? Definitely!

Feminism can simply be about desiring an equal voice for women at home, in schools, in government and around the world.  So feminists can come in all shapes and sizes and certainly can have different clothing styles and personalities.

3 thoughts on “What is a Feminist Anyway? Can Zooey Deschanel Be One?

  1. GoodReason says:

    I sure agree that feminism should be a large tent, but can you tell me in what way Zooey has been “smart and tough and strong”? That would help us see . . .

    • RT says:

      I think ZD is a successful, accomplished, talented woman… but I have never the “smart tough and strong” that is talked about in this article. Not only do I genuinely believe it isn’t there, I also don’t believe it has to be.

      This is a real issue for feminism and I wonder if it might be dumbed down a little by worrying about if we resorting to mean-girl-style b****ing instead of focusing on ‘real’ problems. Classic distraction tactics.

      The main problem for feminism seems to be credibility, and respect. I personally (to my own discredit) have less respect for ZD when she is unable to contend with her male equivalents. This is not an attack on her personally but more a sad realization that we are not given the same voice in media as our male counterparts, nor are they going to offer it willingly.

  2. Victoria Fox says:

    Mindy Kaling wrote a hilarious article for The New Yorker where she talked about the Manic Pixie Dream Girl:

    “The Ethereal Weirdo appears a lot in movies, but nowhere else. If she were from real life, people would think she was a homeless woman and would cross the street to avoid her. But she is essential to the male fantasy that even if a guy is boring he deserves a woman who will find him fascinating and perk up his dreary life by forcing him to go skinny-dipping in a stranger’s pool.”

    Zooey Deschanel is creating herself into a character that ultimately seems to be aimed at a male-centered model of female desirability. I agree that feminism should be inclusive, but can’t we look to real women?

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