Hello again, girls and guys! With a title like New Girl, one can’t help but wonder how the show treats its ladies (and men) – does it play on “traditional” gender roles, act as a symbol of female liberation, or treat both sexes equally and not address any gender lines? In today’s post, we are delving into the role of gender in New Girl and what this means for its overall effect as a show (and you can bet that it makes a statement!).
New Girl, being a fresh show that enjoys challenging sitcom customs with its shamelessly quirky lead, unexpected relationship fluctuations, and surprising dialogue, does not always stray from the norm. Jess, like most female leads on television, is beautiful and likable, her main flaw being her klutziness. While some (such as Hi! Magazine) have accused her of being without substance due to Zooey Deschanel’s tendency to fit into the Manic Pixie Dream Girl role with her “ultra-feminine character,” others may find her mannerisms endearing rather than overdone.
When a beautiful actress is cast […], executives rack their brains to find some kind of flaw in the character she plays that will still allow her to be palatable. She can’t be overweight or not perfect-looking, because who would [want] to see that? […] So they make her a Klutz. – Mindy Kaling
So, what else is expected in New Girl, besides the main characters’ feminine likability (which, let me say, isn’t necessarily a bad thing)?
It’s noticeable that the females within the show all carry distinctively feminine job titles, Jess being a teacher, and Cece a professional model who is often ridiculed for her “dumbed down” profession (see: Models). These professions, unfortunately, usually of lower pay and “respect” than those of their male counterparts; Schmidt works at a marketing firm (high paying and often emphasized in his expensive tastes), Winston is an ex-professional athlete (very high paying), and Nick is a bartender (perhaps an exception, but he is, however, a law school drop-out).
This trend of feminine versus masculine professions is found in many popular sitcoms, such as Friends, where Monica is a chef, Phoebe is a masseuse, and Rachel is a barista then professional shopper, all of which sharply contrast from the boys’ roles: Joey is an actor, Ross is a paleontologist, and Chandler is a businessman.
This may seem unnerving, but it ultimately serves to reinforce the “expected” roles of men and women in society (which, let me say, is probably a bad thing).
New Girl does shine in its play on this initial gender role set-up, though. For example, while Schmidt may work at a top marketing firm, it is run mainly by women, and his boss is often depicted as cruel and sexually abusive, a scenario usually reserved for powerful males and lower-ranked women within a business. Cece, as well, is depicted as a woman of power: she is in complete control of her relationship with Schmidt (with him eventually often trying to prove his worth to her) and she almost always level-headed, stern, and influential. Relatedly, Winston’s girlfriends are often domineering and cause him great heartbreak, bringing him to the point of tears in “Nerd” – this is an obvious, intended gender role switch.
Returning to New Girl‘s potential issue of an over-exaggeration of Jess’s character, or displaying the typical “female” role of girly perfection, the show’s creators have apparently recognized this fault and grown to adjust it. As The Atlantic states, “Somewhere along the way, the show that started as a potentially irritating ode to star Zooey Deschanel’s signature quirkiness became one of the more enjoyable sitcoms on television.” So, Zooey Deschanel’s classic feminine role is not appreciate by everyone. New Girl writers took notice of this (or perhaps had it planned all along), as Jess experiences a great deal of character development as the series progresses. “The writing became both warmer and sharper,” says The Atlantic, as it no longer relied on Jess’s cutesy nuances and quirky personality to carry its humor. Rather, by season 2, it intensely focuses on the overall cast and their struggles to deal with the challenges of young adulthood, showcasing genuine yet funny reactions to everyday life situations.
Early on in the season, Jess was a disappointingly one-note character, all cutesy eccentricity and little substance. In one episode she insisted on wearing fake hillbilly teeth to a wedding, and and in another she became so uncomfortable after accidentally seeing one of her three male roommates naked that she couldn’t bring herself to say the word “penis.” – Meghan Lewit
In the end, New Girl has progressed quite a bit from season 1, its protagonist no longer a classic female character lacking substance, and its women and men both holding equal grounds in terms of powerful demeanors. Significantly, rather than pinning its females as characters preoccupied with romance (as relationships are a large part of the young adult experience), all of New Girl‘s characters seem to be driven by their romantic interests, or, at least, a large amount of screen time is dedicated to each roommates’ love interests and how they are all deeply, emotionally affected by relationship starts and ruptures.