Tuesday, July 31, 2007

We don't talk about Liz Lemon like that around these parts

I've got a bone to pick with a Miss Sarah Seltzer and it's in the shape of Tina Fey. In the most recent issue of Bitch Magazine, Seltzer wrote an essay on "30 Rock" called "Sour Lemon" which argues "...Fey should be a feminist role model. So why does she still trade in on sexist stereotypes at the expense of herself -- and smart girls everywhere?" Later she adds, "And if the sexist jokes are a way for the smart, attractive, and powerful Fey to make herself less threatening, then that's not very funny at all."

Please give me a moment while I take off my apron, hand my husband his slippers and say, "What the fuck are you talking about, woman?" For one thing, putting aside the character of Liz Lemon, Tina Fey should not only be considered a feminist role model, she should be given her own burning bra trophy with a built-in eternal flame. She has succeeded in a field that is extraordinarily male. Most funny women who make it succeed as performers. Fey made it as a writer and eventually became the first female head writer in Saturday Night Live history, which is the gender equivalent of a woman becoming the pope. Then she went on to write Mean Girls, a film with a core message that says it's good to tell the popular girls to piss off and it's good for young women to be smart. And finally, she has created an Emmy-nominated sitcom in which a woman, Liz Lemon, heads her own successful show, called, of all things, The Girlie Show. How much more frickin' feminist street cred do we need to give this woman, for Betty Friedan's sake?

Seltzer complains that Liz Lemon is not strong enough and is only painted in stereotypical strokes. Okay, but the thing is, comedy traditionally, you know, plays with and subverts stereotypes, rendering those stereotypes weak by making them the object of derision. It's a little something-something called satire. It's what funny people do. Seltzer has issue in particular with an episode called "The C-word" in which Lemon gets called a naughty word by one of her subordinates. "After an angry speech and subsequent collapse in exhaustion," Seltzer writes, "the message has been hammered home: women can't handle authority."

Oh man, this woman's lucky I'm too busy earning 60 cents on the dollar and being subjugated to get too riled up, but I'm still getting cranky here. My problem with her argument is this: the academically feminist version of a strong woman is not realistic. It's academic, which is fine when it's all about publishing papers. Why do all "feminist" chickies have to be Cagney and Lacey-tough? Seriously. One day Hillary Clinton might be leader of the free world. You don't think she felt flustered when Edwards made that crack about her jacket last week? Simone de Beauvoir was all feminist, but you don't think she got a little self conscious when Sartre called her fat? And when Condi Rice gets those crank calls from Rumsfeld in the middle of the night, you don't think she gets insecure?

My point is, why do strong women have to be portrayed as, well, tight-assed men to be taken seriously? The reason Liz Lemon is appealing to women is because in spite of her insecurity and vulnerability, she always gets the job done. She's the one that solves the problems and not because she's some sort of symbolic mother, narratively compelled to rescue and nurture everyone. She does it because it's her job and she's good at it. I'm tired of people writing women either as girly know-nothings or substitute men or angry bitches or any other two-dimensional variation that requires no thought. I want a character who's true to life, someone like the women I know, women who are goofy and silly and who worry but who are still brilliant and strong and really, really good at whatever they choose to do, whether it's write comedy or have a family or ride magical ponies.

So keep your Gloria Steinams and your academic stiffs. I'd rather have Liz Lemon's relateable and highly entertaining craziness any day of the week.


Mickie Poe said...

Excellent review, Liz and very much on-the-mark. I noticed a telling word in what Seltzer says here: "Fey should be a feminist role model." Should? What does that mean? What is Seltzer looking for that she's not getting in her personal life; why all these expectations for someone else?

Liz said...

Exactly! How come every time a woman does something she has to be someone's role model? Does George Clooney get up every day wondering what he can do to be the best role model he can be for tall, good-looking gentlemen? I don't think so.

Plus, Fey is a good feminist role model. She's done great work. She's exceptional at what she does. What else is she supposed to do?

Cynthia said...

Preach on, sistah!

One of the things I hate the most about some feminists is the idea they have that a woman, to be strong, has to be a cold bitch.

In the case she used as an exemple of "bad feminism", the character had spent the whole night working, was extremely tired and upset and just had just lectured her MALE co-workers. It is a rollercoaster of emotions and she was just letting it all out. What? Now women who show emotions are bad feminists? Since when? Since when a woman needs to be more like a men - who can't deal with nor show emotions - to be a feminist? It's the exact opposite, in my opinion.

So yeah, this article is worth nothing to me.

Stephanie said...

Word. I love this post so much I want to take it behind the middle school and get it pregnant.

Anonymous said...

Is it a coincidence that Miss Sarah Seltzer writes for "Bitch" magazine? I think not. What a load of crap and your post is right on the money. I love Fey and "30 Rock". Can't wait for the next season!!


Kimberly said...

To be filed under: Reasons why I love the Park Bench writers.