Of course, that’s not how idolizations work. In an idolization you put someone on a pedestal, worship them with holy chants and sacrificial offerings and then – as Newton and his apple demand – send them crashing back to earth for the crime, real or imaginary, of displeasing the gods. Tina has been on that pedestal for quite a while, so the backlash was inevitable.
But some are surprised by the source – namely, young feminists.
I, for one, am not all that surprised. To be honest, I thought it would have started ages ago. But ever since Tina’s “Saturday Night Live” hosting gig last weekend the vitriol has risen sharply among some of her most vocal feminist detractors.
The issue, it seems, is her frequent mocking of single women (i.e. the Liz Lemons of the world). And, to be more specific, the number of her SNL sketches that were about sad, pathetic and/or evil single ladies. Witness: the Brownie Husband lady, the slutty golf commentator lady, the creepy crushing on Justin Bieber teacher lady, the 9-inch hooker with a heart of gold lady and the Bombshell McGee (I really can’t bring myself to say “lady” after her name, sorry).
The criticism has been swift and unforgiving:
Sady Doyle at Feministe:
“It seems kind of weird, actually, that someone with so many thoughts on All the Single Ladies (“If you were likable, he would have put a ring on it” — Tina Fey’s Feminism) hasn’t apparently been single since the Clinton administration. But, then again, it’s really not. The women Tina Fey defends tend to have something in common with her. The women she makes fun of tend to have obvious differences. Which is the whole point: Feminism is for women, but Tina Fey’s Feminism seems like it’s for… Tina Fey.”
Jessica Grose at DoubleX:
“…(I)t has come to the point where the pathetic single woman trope is such a constant refrain in Tina Fey's work that one has to wonder what she’s really trying to say.”
Amanda Marcotte of Pandagon:
“When I hear a married woman rant about the evils of sluts out there, I tend to wonder who her husband’s been dicking.”
So much for the solidarity of sisterhood. Isn’t that exactly the kind of behavior we abhor in our own critics? Knee-jerk name calling. We get nowhere when the response to someone calling us bitter single bitches is for us to yell back that they’re smug married cheaters.
Now, I will whole-heartedly agree that Tina’s SNL episode was spotty. It’s always spotty these days. But it had three genuinely funny bits: the opening monologue, Brownie Husband and Sarah Palin Network. That’s more than most Saturdays. Granted, the 9-inch-hooker skit was patently unfunny. It was puzzling and ridiculous. And the show obviously had no faith in it either because it was the last sketch before the goodbye wave, typically the place where funny has already gone to die and is now starting to smell.
And I’ve already detailed my disappointment in her Bombshell bashing without equal time going after the other party involved – namely the philandering husband. Why bag on someone who “looks like a dirtbag’s notebook” and not the dirtbag, too?
But to say that Tina Fey has a problem with single women after those sketches is pretty preposterous. Lest we forget, Sarah Palin is super-duper married and that was the best and meanest skit.
The real criticism that should be leveled at Tina’s SNL stint is that only one sketch paired her with another female cast member. And that sketch, where she played a mom with an unusually clingy daughter, was primarily about the daughter. The writers, it seems, didn’t think two women could be funny at the same time.
The serpent eating its own tail argument that inevitably arises in these kinds of criticisms is that women shouldn’t bash other women. But to say as a monolithic group that females can’t criticize other females is as silly as expecting an entertainer to be a feminist savior. Instead of handing out bad feminist cards, how about we focus on the people who don’t believe in feminism at all.
Let’s be perfectly honest, women who flock to married sports stars and married celebrity husbands are fair game in the mocking department. These are both very bad life choices. Are there a myriad of external societal and economic forces feeding into a woman’s decision to go that route? Sure. But surely we can also call a spade a spade without it being a larger commentary on womankind. Some women do dumb, terrible things. We can make fun of them for it; it’s OK.
Part of this is just the nature of the Internet. Something makes you mad. You type furiously. You hit send. Other people read it, they get mad, they type furiously, they hit send. Deeper reflection and time to cool off is in no way correlated to the ability to press the submit button. Sometimes anger becomes a meme.
The bigger problem, I fear, is with expectation. We demand perfection from our idols and when they fail to meet our impossible standards, we toss them aside. Much the same thing is happening with President Obama among progressives. We are disappointed in some of his decisions and disillusioned by some of his actions. But baby and the bathwater, people. If we keep building people up only to tear them down when our every expectation is not met, what will we have left? Tina Fey has never claimed to be a feminist icon. She is a funny lady who considers herself a feminist. But her real job is to make us laugh.
Rebecca Traister at Salon.com’s Broadsheet blog has a particularly thoughtful take on the Fey-minism fallout. She concludes her post (though really, read the whole thing) saying:
“Feminist comedy cannot always take as its targets the Jesse Jameses and the Richard Nixons of the world. Women also have to be able to mock -- sometimes harshly, sometimes sexually, sometimes intellectually -- the Sarah Palins and the Bombshell McGees, to laugh at our single selves, at our high-achieving selves, at our professional selves and our maternal and sexual and idealistic selves, or we will quickly re-earn a reputation for humorlessness. We can't expect to escape all the mean jokes, or the mean girls. And we can't lay the blame for the often ruthless nature of equal-opportunity mockery at the feet of a woman who never promised to do anything but entertain us.”
As an unmarried, college-educated, food-obsessed, self-deprecating, klutzy nerd I find her tweaking of unmarried, college-educated, food-obsessed, self-deprecating, klutzy nerds hilarious.
My criteria for her work is therefore quite simple: Was it funny? Was it smart?
A hero doesn’t have to be perfect. Most of them aren’t. Thomas Jefferson slept with his slaves. FDR had multiple mistresses. Einstein was awful to his wife. Dr. Martin Luther King plagiarized parts of his doctoral dissertation. These facts do not diminish their accomplishments. They are just part of what it means to be human – we kind of suck sometimes.
The older I get, the more I understand that life is filled with gray area and endless compromise. Youth is the domain of black and white. I can see the other side, if still vehemently disagree, of almost any argument. Well, except for Glenn Beck. There is no reason for Glenn Beck.
The continual critique of feminism and feminists (and let’s go ahead and roll lesbians into that group, too) is that they lack a sense of humor. Our PC culture – which I completely understand and for the most part try to adhere to – demands that we create a buffer zone to protect feeling, egos, psyches and toes. But that’s not how comedy works. Perfect people are not funny. Flaws are funny. Foibles are funny. Fucking idiots are funny.
Certainly, I’m not suggesting that all the women who are criticizing Tina just “lighten up.” That’s the infuriating retort always thrown at women when we fail to laugh at society’s latest date rape joke or dumb slut joke or fat bitch joke. What we need to do is set realistic expectations. I expect a lot from President Obama, because he is the President of the United States . Have I given up on him? No. Do I want him to so better? Yes.
I expect Tina Fey to be funny and smart. Are all her jokes funny and smart? No. Do I still think she is funnier and smarter than almost every other female entertainer working today? Hell yes.
Of course, all this should have been prefaced by the fact that I am deeply, deeply biased. No one talks shit about my Tina. I am Liz Lemon, hear me roar.