Thursday, April 15, 2010

In defense of Fey-minism

So now, all of a sudden, feminists are mad at Tina Fey. Not all feminists, mind you. I am not so presumptuous to think of feminism as one homogeneous thought block. I consider myself a feminist (with the women’s studies minor to prove it) and, clearly, I am not mad at my Fake TV Wife. Sure we have small disagreements like any imaginary couple, but my love for her as a whole far exceeds any temporary discontent that may arise. That’s how relationships work, you cut people some slack.

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’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.


cee-cee said...

Subperb Ms.Snarker,just subperb! One of your best posts ever!! When we meet someone, we tend to project on to her/him all the qualities we want her/him to have, and then, as/when we get to know the person better, we assume that s/he has changed!
'Love me some Fey, and Obama, and you!

Amy said...

That salon article is one of the best discussions of feminism and humor that I've read in quite some time. Also, glad you're not bailing on the Fey.

Anonymous said...

Yawn...I think the thing here to remember is the word "Young". Young articulate people are the most annoying and I am not old, but I am not an annoying: "Just received a degree in the past 3 years" feminist either.

Norma Desmond said...

Huh. Anonymous' comment is... interesting, to say the least. As I'm young, I suppose I'll strive to NOT be articulate, as it is, apparently, annoying. Bizarre.

Regardless, lovely post, as always. This very recent Fey backlash is so puzzling to me because, frankly, I don't think it's that much different from any other group making fun of themselves in comedy. African Americans do it, gays do, why can't women do it, too?

Like you said, is everything she does always funny? No. But I see no reason to turn on her just because one might object to a sketch or two. That's just silly.

alice said...

I agree completely with the fact that idolizing people only to thrown them down when they prove to be people, rather than idols, is messy and counter-productive. And I also agree with the fact that in humor, you can't declare entire swaths of the population to be off-limits. At least not if you want humor to be funny.

But I think that it's important to call people out on patterns that they're displaying in their choices. Fey does seem to mock single ladies of a certain age with disproportionate frequency, and since she's not one, it's legitimate to quesion why they're her target of choice. Having them as a main subject reinforces certain patricarchial norms, and calling her on that can be helpful.

But it doesn't mean that Tina Fey should be banned from the feminism bus. At least not mine.

angstysarah said...

Great post! As I watched SNL last Saturday (and only for Tina), I was mildly disappointed because I didn't think the writing/humor was as sharp or intelligent as it could have been (or has been, specifically the Palin sketch). My disappointment really had nothing to do with Fey and the fact supposedly that she was "women bashing." As a person finishing up her MA in Women's and Gender Studies, I become annoyed with others who don't think that women/feminist can have a sense of humor. Come on! Judith Butler uses parody as a way to change the system. I felt that the comedy could have been sharper, but in the end, I still love me some Tina Fey.

bzzzzgrrrl said...

Well put, Ms. Snarker.
So strange, the leaping to condemn. Tina's being what she always has been — and if I picked my icons (feminist and otherwise) on the basis of their always making choices I like, always being people with whom I agree, well, I'd have no more icons left.
Nor would I have to think too much about my own privilege, my own biases, etc.

Anonymous said...

o, it's so long,
what happened by the way?

in addition to make things clear,
the kiss was mouth to cheek.
we don't do it generally.

but once I experienced long time ago
from our friendly granma look woman.

however, even it just culture difference
always, eyes open scene to me.


whatever the story is,

I simply like the word


nice day DS~~~wooo hooo~~~

Liz Hunt said...

Thanks for this article, Dorothy (May I call you that? It seems so informal).

Since I don't have the intelligence or attention span to coherently discuss feminism (or even Fey-minism), I'd like to defend Tina Fey by passionately declaring that at least she's a gal who sticks to her guns!

As a writer, performer and human being, we've at least seen some consistency from Fey. Part of the reason we love her to pieces is because there's an earthy realism (she is a Taurus, after all) to her characters that rings deafeningly true.

I know I'll be pointing out her picture to my daughter one day, saying "That woman is smart. She worked hard, and she stood by what she believed in. She's also damn funny. Now — go get a job!"

weltatem said...

Anyone who admires a comic, artist or performer primarily as a paragon of virtue is seriously aesthetically and philosophically confused.

Jan_Ham said...

Oh my heaves, Ms Snarker, please confess you spent hours on that post, because it was excellently written and cogently argued and at times very funny and if you dished it out in matters of minutes I will be truly depressed.

Hannah said...

I'm gonna have to disagree with you on this one, Ms. Snarker. I mean, I agree that Tina is a feminist as well as smart and funny. But I think that she approaches the neurotic single-lady jokes with an air of "I'm one of you, I'm in on the joke" but she's really not. She's not unattractive. She's not single and lonely. So at times it does feel, like when she's watching the "Porn for Women" channel on 30 Rock, that she's being a bit disingenuous. At a certain point, when she's only making lonely single lady jokes, it seems like she's pointing the finger rather than being in on the joke. Like when there are bad portrayals of lesbians on tv, the problem is less that there is a bad lesbian character and more where are all the good ones? Honestly, I prefer Amy Poehler's feminism to Fey-minism, cause her show is a lot less about her love life and a lot more about how awesome women can be.

That being said, I agree that Tina doesn't have to be the perfect feminist all the time. She'll falter. She'll rag on the mistress (which, I believe, reinforces the evil-seductress stereotype. I wasn't there, but I wouldn't be shocked if Jesse James pursued "Bombshell McGhee") and barely touch the husband. Should Bombshell get mocked? Absolutely, but I would focus more on here white supremacy sh*t than her appearance.

Honestly, this reminds me of convos I have with my mom. (Who is, of course, much older than Tina, but has a similar mindset of feminism that she displays.) My mother is concerned with appearance, she will be gossipy about other women. She actually recently said to me "...I want you to be a girlie-girl." She doesn't always know how to deal with butch or trans persons. But she's a seriously strong feminist that taught my sister and me to be strong women and to be unafraid of calling ourselves feminists and standing up for women in personal and systematic ways. She grew up in the deep South in the 60's. Those gender expectations just don't go away. So this younger/older division (which does not run neatly along age lines or marital status) is tough to cross. Young women need to remember that they have what they have because of the work of second wavers. Older women need to remember that they need the voices of younger women to show them the new gender landscape we're becoming more free to step into.

So, shockingly, Tina isn't perfect. And people need to call her on it when she does stuff that isn't cool. But, it's good to remember she's funny and successful without telling rape jokes or being some dude's sidekick. Plus, she gets some good jabs in about the patriarchy. There are a lot of female comedians (*cough* Sarah Silverman *cough*) who don't do that, and even more men. So I'll criticize Tina, but I won't stop loving and supporting her work.

Jimena said...

I think you should read this: Sady Doyle's blog post on her own blog (not Feministe), called "Thirteen Ways of Looking at Liz Lemon." Really interesting read.

I agree with the poster above who said she preferred Leslie Knope's brand of feminism. What little I see of Liz Lemon, it still makes me feel inadequate for never having even dated, while Leslie Knope makes me feel like I want to aspire to something big. *shrug*

Anonymous said...

This is kind of embarrassing for you. You probably shouldn't link to a better written essay (SALON's Rebecca Traister piece) that you've all but plagiarized.

SALON: What goes up must come down; those who are worshiped must one day be reviled. The laws of gravity and celebrity dictated an eventual Tina Fey backlash, one I expected eons ago.
SNARKER: 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...I, for one, am not all that surprised. To be honest, I thought it would have started ages ago.

SALON: What's surprising about the form it's taking is that the mob gathering to pull Fey from her pedestal is not made up of withered cynics irritated by her ubiquity, but by a group of once-enthusiastic female fans.
SNARKER: But some are surprised by the source – namely, young feminists.

SALON: feminist detractors
SNARKER: feminist detractors

SALON quotes Sady, Jessica, Amanda
SNARKER quotes Sady, Jessica, Amanda

SALON: While it might be fair to argue that Fey has profited from a feminist embrace, she did not ever pretend to be a standard bearer for contemporary feminism. We're the ones who made her that... 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.
SNARKER: 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 entertain us.

SALON: The continual critique of feminism and feminists ... is that they lack a sense of humor.
SNARKER: The women's movement has never enjoyed a reputation for hilarity.

Kennedy said...

the critiques of Liz Lemon being single are really bizarre to me, because it's not like she's endlessly single because men don't want her.

She's single not because she can't get hot men (JON HAMM, Jason Sedienkis, Michael Sheen has angles that work for him), but because their relationship isn't what she wants, and SHE breaks up with THEM. Her being single is by her own agency.

She also breaks up with losers - Dennis Duffy. The only guy who has ever dumped her was Peter Dinklage, but that was only a one-episode arc (to my dismay). Peter Dinklage was so effin hilarious on 30 Rock.

Anyway, give Liz Lemon some credit. She never settles. She ends relationships when they don't work for her. She's still a feminist, ok?

Shaneslover said...

It never ceases to amaze me how (almost blindly) passionate you are about (your fake wife) Tina Fey,
I must confess it can be a little annoying sometimes, but hey it's your blog.
However, as annoying as it can get,
I really like the way you stand by (your woman) her, I almost feel compelled to do the same with my own idols XD
Regarding the topic discussed, I don't feel I can give an opinion, since I don't know Tina's work really well.
However, what I certainly know is to whom I have to turn up in case I want to learn more about her :P

dc said...

"women who flock to married sports stars and married celebrity husbands are fair game in the mocking department"

In response I would say that married sports stars or semi famous husbands of celebrities are actually more worthy of mockery, since they're the one's who cheated. The women who went out with the skanks did not break a public and legal committment to their spouse.

The point is: men can choose to be single and skank it up to their hearts content. Just don't bother to get married!

betseyb said...

I understand how people can say that Tina Fey can't relate to single, young, regular people. However, I don't agree with them. Yes, Tina Fey is a very pretty lady. Yes, Tina Fey is not single. Yes, Tina Fey is skinny. But she hasn't always been. I think those people who say that she can't relate, have never seen a picture of her back in the day. She had bushy eyebrows, weight problems and some seriously funky hairdo's. Tina Fey has not always looked the way she does today. Tina Fey was a virgin when she got married, for petes sake! I think it's easy to look at the way people are and assume that they have always been that way, but most of the time, it is not the case. When I see a Tina Fey skit, I don't see a woman making fun of people that are different from herself, people with whom she cannot possibly correlate. I see a woman making fun of herself.

tlsintx said...

Snarks! Wow! You go!

I'm just glad we girls have the floor for a change...bring on those opposing viewpoints...get it all out!!!

Carol said...

Ah, BesteyB - you beat me to it! I was just gonna say the same thing.

My personal theory is all of us still go around with an inner self image that matches our worst hair day in junior high. All the later success (and hair gel) in the world never really displaces it. I've seen the pictures, too, and Tina, bless her, had an awkward phase that lasted for decades.

Object to other things if you must. But I have no doubt that the woman is including herself in the joke.

Anonymous said...

Fey is overexposed and it's boring.
Too much is bad even for talents like hers....

Making Space said...

LOL It's OK. You can still love her. Promise.