Losing my patience with doctrinaire feminism (they’re all wrong about Tina Fey)

April 16, 2010 at 4:21 pm (feminism) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Why is there such a movement towards angry feminism these days?  We need a big tent, people. There’s room enough for many flavors of feminism, but I ask that you hear my argument for materialist feminism.

For starters, there’s been some Tina Fey bashing. This isn’t new– some feminist bloggers have been complaining about Fey for a while. One (Melissa McEwan) even railed Tina Fey (harshly) for not being proud of her scar. Mederma ads must offend her to the core. (Anyone with a scar knows that the feelings towards it are more complicated than just “I hate my scar because of society’s idea of beauty” blah blah blah. And Tina Fey’s is no exception).

Liz Lemon’s style of feminism has been critiqued for quite some time (some bloggers calls it “Liz Lemonism”). Liz Lemon is privileged and white, after all, and has more than her fair share of babycrazy. Some bloggers argue that Liz Lemon and the other characters on 30 Rock don’t do much for feminism. Chloe Angyal can’t stand that Tina Fey is pretty, saying she’s too hot to play Liz Lemon. In the same post as the scar issue above, McEwan shows she doesn’t get the humor of 30 Rock by explaining her irritation with the behavior of Jenna (she’s a joke, Melissa–a caricature of the diva).  She also completely misses the point of a joke made at Maxim‘s expense.

This week, Rebecca Traister wrote a very terrific and interesting article for Salon about the Tina Fey backlash, which has gained steam after feminist complaints about several of the sketches Fey appeared in during her recent SNL hosting gig. Normally, the flavor and quality of a sketch wouldn’t be pushed onto the guest host, but because Fey had formerly been head writer for the show, and because so many of the sketches had that distinct Fey humor about them, it’s safe, I think, to assume that she had some part in writing most of Saturday’s show.

Is it anti-feminist to mock Sarah Palin’s stupidity or Bombshell McGee’s homewrecking skills? What’s terrible is that someone on Twitter (who calls herself a feminist) suggested that Fey’s husband is cheating on her because Fey took issue with Bombshell McGee during Weekend Update. I say it’s more anti-feminist that women like Sarah Palin and Bombshell McGee exist; for a comedian to critique/mock their behavior (especially a female comedian) brings some equilibrium to the situation. We do feminism no favors by protecting women like Bombshell McGee and Sarah Palin. They need to be called out on their crap and crimes against other women, as Tina did so well on Saturday.

Consider the brownie husband sketch for a moment.

I’m tempted to write about how it reminds me of a certain Simpsons episode in which Homer behaves quite the same way in a motel room, but I’ll let that go. For now. In the meantime, let’s consider what the feminists have to say. One says that Fey is using this “pathetic single woman” trope as a refrain. (Referring also to Liz Lemon). To them I say, it’s comedy! Lighten up! We want freedom in comedy; we don’t want to be tiptoed around, do we? We can’t have it both ways, girls.

And besides, as I watched and rewatched the commercial, it seems to me that the parody is more of a joke on dating and how much it sucks, difficulty of finding the right guy, etc. etc. Women are not so simple as to just need chocolate at the end of the day, and men are not so simple as to be easily replaced by chocolate at the end of the day. Fey’s humor is more layered than she’s often credited for.

It wasn’t so long ago that male comedians contended that no women were funny. Fey became the first female head writer of SNL, and she didn’t turn it into a comedy show for female audiences. In fact, she wrote some of the best SNL since its second heyday in the late ’80s. She should have written sketches that were just plain funny and not necessarily worrying about them being pro-woman, and that’s what she did.

If Tina Fey stuck to comedy that didn’t mock or satirize women, it would fall flat. Women are over half the population, for chrissakes. We do a lot of funny stuff. We might even do half of all the stupid things done in any given day. Why, just the other day, a female friend of mine (with an MBA) went to lick whipped cream off her finger and forgot she was holding a mocha, consequently pouring hot mocha down her shoulder. Comedy gold! And doesn’t the fact that women can be mocked show that we’ve come a long way, babies? We all know the rules of comedy: it’s not funny to pick on underdogs and underlings. And Sarah Palin and Bombshell McGee are not weak. They can, and should, take it. And frankly, it would be anti-feminist to ask her to keep her critique of women out of her comedy. Instead of picking on Fey, I think these old school feminists should be railing against Lifetime, because that channel epitomizes the kind of simplification of women, their tastes, and their concerns that actually does do damage to feminism.

But what’s really got my undies in a bunch is attitudes such as Sady Doyle’s. She says:

Feminism is for women, but Tina Fey’s Feminism seems like it’s for  … Tina Fey

This makes me angry because this kind of attitude sends feminism back a decade or two. First of all, Tina Fey (nor anyone) owes feminism nothing except to be true to herself. She’s a comedian: the only thing she owes us is laughter. That’s the kind of freedom feminism has fought for!

Secondly, feminism is not for women. Feminism is for everyone. What is the point of a social movement that promotes any group over another? Feminism’s top concern is for all-around equality regardless of sex, sexual orientation, ethnicity, race, age, socio-economic background, religion (or lack there of), etc. This is what materialist feminism is all about. Feminism illuminates the fact that white men (simply for being white men) having had the upper hand, more choices, more money, more respect, etc. etc. for so long is not right.

Electing Barack Obama President is just as much a boon for feminism as electing Hillary Clinton would have been.

Maybe there’s a problem inherent in the word “feminism” as it sounds like it means “pro-woman.” It really means “pro-equality.” Of course, I will argue up and down for years and years that people (like Tina Fey) should have their own flavor of feminism, (and should be allowed to be photographed from whichever side they prefer) but this doctrinaire, anti-male, anti-freedom feminism that attacks people like Tina Fey gets us nowhere. When feminism comes across as anti-male (and as though feminism is only for women), people are turned off of feminism. It makes young girls not want to call themselves feminists because the idea of seeming like a radical, man-hating bulldyke is unappealing to many girls, shockingly enough. It makes men of all ages not identify as feminists because they don’t feel welcome here. I, for one, want anyone who believes in equality to feel comfortable identifying as feminist; and to achieve this goal, we feminists have to stop claiming feminism is only for and about women (and particular types of women at that). Let’s ditch the negativity and the exclusion, girls! Melissa, Chloe, Amanda, Sady . . . I ask you all to rethink your dated, doctrinaire approaches to feminism and join me in 2010. Join me in the type of feminism where men and boys are welcome and women get called out on their reprehensible behavior (if they are guilty of it), just as we call men out.

4 Comments

  1. Kristina said,

    As I told you on twitter, my short reponse is: I agree. I enjoy Tina Fey’s comedy and I think you’re right on when you say that not mocking women like the crazy tattoo lady (whatever her name is) and Sarah Palin would be more of a disservice than making jokes. I think you hit it right on the head here:
    If Tina Fey stuck to comedy that didn’t mock or satirize women, it would fall flat. Women are over half the population, for chrissakes. We do a lot of funny stuff. We might even do half of all the stupid things done in any given day.

    Even if you don’t find one joke Tina Fey makes funny, you have to admit she’s made great strides for women in television. As you mentioned, she was the first (and only) female head writer at SNL, she created, writes, produces, and stars in a hit show that has won tons of awards. How many people (male or female) can claim that? It’s a small group.

    I also agree with your comments on allowing Tina Fey her own version of feminism. I think it’s inevitable that every feminist has his or her own “version,” I thought that was the point?

    I’ve been meaning to blog about what I consider “anti-woman” female comics after seeing a Comedy Central special in which a female comic made jokes about abortion, rape, binge drinking, etc because I found it offensive. I do believe there is a line which some comics (male and female) cross, though it’s hard for me to define it. I will let you know when I make the post because I’d love to hear your thoughts.

    • Denise said,

      Thank you for your comments!

      I can’t wait to see your blog about anti-woman female comics. I’ll admit that while I will argue for days about Sarah Silverman’s right to her comedy, she tends to cross the line– my line, at least. (I remember being particularly offended when she said “The best time to get pregnant is when you’re a black teenager”).

  2. Angela said,

    I like your thinking. I think it’s ridiculous when feminists try to imply it’s my job as a woman in engineering to succeed for the sake of women everywhere and then use my position of power to favor women, whether competent or not. It’s as if there’s some huge contest going on with only one winner and uneducated women working in a factory in Alabama for minimum wage are somehow enriched by my success. That sort of thinking ought to be limited to third grade boys-vs-girls spelling bees — no good comes of fighting an old boys club with an old girls club.

    • Denise said,

      Well said, Angela!

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