The main tenet of the feminist movement is its belief that “all women are free to do whatever they want to do with themselves without discrimination or judgment from anybody ever (all women including straight, queer, lesbian, bi, trans, asexual)” (Ambion, 2014). This can be achieved only by the ever-sought for concept of equality among sexes: equal opportunities, be it in careers or personal choices; the dismantling of sexism, discrimination, and stereotyping; and the end of the patriarchal system that still runs the world today.
New Girl is an American sitcom that premiered in 2011 and centers around Jessica “Jess” Day, a quirky school teacher who moves into an apartment with three men Nick, Schmidt, and Coach after a bad break-up. An interesting thing is that when Jess saw the men’s ads for an apartment opening on the website Craigslist, she initially thought they were three women because the word “sun-soaked” was used in the advertisement. Regardless, even after meeting the three in person and discovering that they were, in fact, men, Jess fell in love with the place and still decides to move into the apartment.
If this occurred within the space of our still-traditional Filipino culture, this would have been unacceptable—a woman, living with three men who are roughly the same age as her, unmarried—and yet it would seem that in the fictional USA within which New Girl exists, there seems to be no problem. No one judges Jess for staying with three men—no slurs of “slut,” “whore,” or, as we Filipinos would say, “malandi.”
The main role of the media in the feminist movement is representation—the presentation of three-dimensional female characters in a story. However, although New Girl’s protagonist is female, the main ensemble is composed of only two women: Jess herself, and her supermodel best friend Cece Parekh. Jess is presented as an intelligent, sexually active yet innocent-looking, cheerful, and quirky young woman who is very compassionate and concerned about her friends and her students. Cece, of Indian descent (which is interesting to note because of the feminist aspect of intersectionality), is presented as a cold, stand-offish woman to most males, but is caring and understanding of Jess. Compared to Jess, she is very put-together, no doubt brought about by her career as a model, and always receives advances (both requited and not) from different men, particularly Schmidt. Both women, no matter how different they may seem, are projected as equally attractive and equally likeable.
Although New Girl can be lauded for creating three-dimensional female characters that pass both the Sexy Lamp Test and the Bechdel test, there are still numerous instances in which the male gaze takes dominance in the presentation of the show.
Nick, Schmidt, Coach, and their friend Winston are often seen objectifying the female body (mostly those of the extras, and only very rarely Jess’ or Cece’s) in terms of curves, breasts and so forth. An addition to this objectification is there are frequent instances among the men wherein they compete for a woman’s attention thus treating her as a prize to be won.
Another interesting thing to look at is the character of Schmidt, who is a successful marketing officer in an industry that is mostly dominated by females. This, along with his vain and “effeminate” habits—being nit-picky about toiletries, clothes, and “image”—leads his sexuality to be continuously questioned by various characters throughout the series. Although he does not make an attempt to change his habits, other people’s comments frequently lead him to make outbursts that make it seem as though being effeminate were something to be ashamed of. This is problematic in terms of feminism because it assumes that masculinity ranks higher than femininity in terms of social acceptability.
New Girl has been running for three years and four seasons up until the present, and spans various story arcs and character development arcs that are far too numerous to tackle in a single essay. And yet the admirable thing about this TV series is that being a woman is never the butt of a joke—rather it’s the antics and ridiculous situations this band of unlikely, middle-aged friends get themselves into.
Ambion, N. (2014) Feminism: a horror story [Report]. Quezon City: University of the Philippines Diliman.