Tina Fey: Victim of ‘Superior’ Feminism

Writers: Do you ever get that feeling when you read something truly spectacular – whether it be a novel, a poem, or a commentary – and think, “Damn! I wish I wrote that…” Most likely you do, and I refer to this as “Writer’s Envy.” (Surely I am not the first to dub it this, and again, I feel that self-loathing setting in…)

Well, I felt that this morning when I read Rebecca Traister’s “The Tina Fey backlash” on Salon.com. (Don’t be put off by the length – it’s totally worth the read.) It was everything I’ve been wanting to say since I read Sady Doyle’s post ripping Tina Fey and her character Liz Lemon to ideological bits and pieces. Though I can never say it better than Rebecca Traister did, I feel the need to add on/give my two cents anyhow.

Back in January, I wrote a post entitled “Liz Lemon: Feminist Icon (Havin’ It All).”Ahh, those were the days when I felt that Liz Lemon as a character on 30 Rock was a favorite amongst feminists, standing out as probably the best female role model on current-day television. Boy, was I wrong!

Turns out, some feminists in the blogosphere are displeased with Tina Fey and Liz Lemon in terms of feminist rank. Because apparently, there’s a hierarchy of feminism now, and the “superior” ones (like Doyle) know far better than the ones who are not quite up to par (like Fey).

In a nutshell: Tina Fey’s satirization of insecurities marked by the independent, career-oriented woman used to be funny and loveable, but are now offensive and non-progressive in the world of feminism. And then the Fey-hosted SNL episode happened, and online commentaries exploded with disappointment – most notably with Fey’s use of the word “whore” when taking jabs at Michelle “Bombshell” McGee. (In my opinion: totally hilarious. Is that so wrong?) If it had only just been creeping in before, the backlash was now officially solidified.

How did we get to this point? As Traister poignantly says:

“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, who overidentified with her, or with Liz Lemon, or with the Weekend Update host who declared that bitch was the new black, and attached to her a passel of our highest expectations and ideals.”

Yes, WE projected this feminist role model onto her ourselves. Hence, my blog post in January. Though at the time, it was a light-hearted, short and sweet kind of post embracing Lemon’s differences from other female TV icons (i.e.: Carrie Bradshaw), as well as her relatability.

Here’s the thing though: I should not have to feel ashamed for liking Liz Lemon and being a feminist at the same time. I should also not have to be ashamed for thinking Liz is a good female character on TV right now. But most people who have the “Liz Lemon is not a true feminist” debate have this holier-than-thou attitude, thinking they possess some secret, hidden key to “real, truer” feminism – something that Tina Fey is supposedly failing at implementing.

It’s annoying. It’s also pretty insulting, because the arguer is most likely assuming that Tina Fey and her fans are too shallow or stupid to comprehend this “truer” version of feminism. It’s kind of like, “You know, even though I also watch 30 Rock regularly and probably laugh throughout the episodes, I am a distinguished feminist amongst you all for dissecting Liz Lemon and outing her as a fake.”

These feminists expect too much of Tina Fey. Realistically, how can anyone expect a comedy like 30 Rock to be politically correct and perfect in ideology when it’s whole premise is based upon calling out stereotypes by employing them comedically? Traister beautifully ponders this notion of “where to draw the line” between feminism and humor, saying point blank:

Tina Fey is a professional comedian. She is not a professional feminist.

Thank God. Someone finally said what I was thinking in two succinct sentences. Rebecca Traister, I might just start projecting a feminist role model onto you.

The last thing that bothers me about this backlash? Liz Lemon is growing as a character. Because – imagine that – most main characters grow as the show goes on! (The idea!) So why are we expecting perfection and feminist-to-a-tee behaviors and decisions from a character who is clearly still figuring her shit out in her late thirties? This is another reason why some of us women love Liz Lemon: She’s figuring it out, just like the rest of us. No one is a textbook feminist at all times. (And if you think you are, don’t kid yourself.) Liz becomes more confident as time goes on. She refuses to settle. She starts to realize her true worth. I believe the last few episodes of this season have started to point towards that.

A feminist is not just born; she is grown into throughout life. And who’s to say that by age such-and-such (late thirties, in Fey’s case), you need to have developed all capabilities of the ideal feminist? Regardless, every woman is an individual, and I think sometimes feminism forgets that. Or ceases to care, at least when trying to prove its point.

Hell, maybe I’m a bad feminist for all I know. But for me, feminism should never have hierarchies. This isn’t a goddamned hazing initiation, after all. It’s not about weeding out the bad feminists from the good ones, and it’s not about shaming other feminists for not being feminist “enough.” Let’s all learn from one another, yes. I’m glad that articles like these help me to engage in discourse on women’s issues. And trust me, it’s complicated and difficult when writing a feminist post criticizing feminists who critize women for not being feminist enough.

Last time I checked though, feminism was about equality. And one would hope that a group aspiring towards true equality would at least cheer on and support the ones who are trying – in whatever way that is their own – to break the mold in places where there was little room to make a dent in the first place.

Instead, we find part of that group tearing apart one of the few women in entertainment today who profoundly resonates with us.

And you wanna talk about progressiveness?

Liz Lemon: Feminist Icon (Havin’ it All)

I got to thinking about female television characters after reading Salon.com: Broadsheet’s commentary, “Carrie Bradshaw: Feminist Icon?” I recommend giving it a read whenever you get the chance, but basically: Writer Tracy Clark-Flory debates whether or not the character of Carrie Bradshaw from Sex and the City (played by Sarah Jessica Parker, of course) can be considered a role model for modern-day women.

And then it occurred to me…Liz Lemon (played by Tina Fey, of course) of 30 Rock has to be, truly, one of the best female icons on television right now.

Essentially, Liz Lemon is a lot like Tina Fey (except “more of a loser,” as Fey herself once said.) But they seem to represent the same concepts and ideas, and the similarities are obvious when comparing Lemon and Fey’s careers and histories. (For instance, Fey started out in improv in Chicago, and this is often mentioned on 30 Rock in regards to Lemon’s past.)

There are oh so many reasons why us women looooove Liz Lemon. She strives and struggles to “have it all!” as a creative writer, business woman, single woman on the New York dating scene, and a sometimes “clock-a-tickin’” wannabe mother. While jokes are made about Lemon attempting to “have it all,” she fairs pretty well, while also pointing out to us – comically – the hardships of a successful urban woman having to date, maintain friendships, and be respected as a boss and a professional.

Women say they can relate to Lemon because they “eat like her,” or are “dorky” like she is. Or they get nervous around men like she frequently does. We can relate to her. We see her at home, not made-up, hair a mess and lounging around in un-sexy sweats eating blocks of cheese late in the night. In fact, she’s a welcome relief with her eating habits. Because unlike the Sex and the City women, you’ll never find her ordering a salad. (But instead: a meatball sub.)

Liz Lemon may be what we call an “accidental hero”: She never really set out to become a positive role model for women, but she’s become one anyway. And she’s my personal pick for the feminist icon of the small screen. Hell, maybe even beating out anyone on the big screen at this rate.

She’s smart. She’s funny. She’s independent. She’s not perfect. And she’s like us. What more could you ask for in a fictional feminist icon?

Why ‘Audition Day’ is One of the Best ’30 Rock’ Episodes…Ever

EDITOR’S NOTE: I’ll admit it – I just got into 30 Rock. But to be fair, in about two weeks’ time, I became officially caught up with all past three seasons. And I’m currently watching the fourth one as it comes on every Thursday. In case you’re still questioning my true devotion, I’ve watched maybe half of all the episodes at least twice.

SPOILER ALERT! This post contains spoilers for anyone who has not seen “Audition Day,” episode 4 in the fourth season of 30 Rock.

'30 Rock' title card screenshot, Wikipedia Commons

I can’t think of many other shows that utilize the art of “cultural referencing” as often and as successfully as 30 Rock. One of the things that makes the show so uniquely funny is its nod to relevant pop and daily culture.

I’ve been hearing people say that the show is “not that funny” this season. Seeing as how I was doubled over with laughter while finishing the third, these comments worried me. But once I started catching up with the current season, I was pleasantly surprised to find that I was laughing just as hard as I was in season three.

“Audition Day” – the fourth episode – is already a favorite of mine. I’ve watched it about five times since it aired. (Thank God for Hulu.) There are so many reasons why this particular episode makes that embarrassing snort escape from my nostrils while laughing too hard.

And trust me, I know that it’s not funny to point out why something is funny. So in the below list, I’ll try to just commentate briefly on my favorite moments:

  • The Liz Lemon audition tape from 1996: As Liz and Pete attempt to “rig” the auditioning system to get Jack to pick the actor they want, Liz expresses that she feels a little guilty using the other actors in this process. “So much rejection,” she reflects, as the flashback cuts in and we see an old audition tape of her trying out for a carpet cleaner commercial. “My name is Liz Lemon, and I am represented by Suzanne’s B+ Talent.”
  • Jack has bed bugs: And because of this, he is ostracized from the office and meetings. (“Did you just MUTE me?!”)
  • “Beat it, Grizz or Dot Com” – Jenna, to Dot Com
  • Jack on the subway, where he does the “homeless guy” speech, reworded to fit his own bed bug sufferings.
  • The whiny violin music behind all of “rejection” scenes. Very reminiscent of the sad Charlie Brown music.
  • “I’m not gay – I’m biiiiii-laarrrrrioussss!“: While gay humor does not…humor…me, I felt this was actually funny because it pointed to the ridiculousness of the “Funny Gay” stereotype. For another example, Tracy Morgan yelling, “I repeat, all funny gays into the car!”
  • The doughnut-eating woman “Hmmm-mmmmm”-ing onstage: This is the most random and nonsensically hilarious thing I’ve seen on TV in a long time.
  • And last, but certainly not least, dowdy Kathy Geiss doing the Susan Boyle “I Dreamed a Dream.” At this, I laughed so hard I cried as I watched this…on Hulu…alone in my apartment.

So there you have it. So much comedy and so many references packed into 30 (well, more like 21 with commercials) minutes. Yes, I say – 30 Rock’s still got it.