In Defense of Zooey Deschanel

IBC will occasionally feature the voice of a special guest writing a single post. This one’s courtesy of Carrie Murphy.

After all of the brou-ha-ha about Michael’s critique of Twee/the “Zooey Deschanel” persona, we thought it might be interesting to post a pro-Zooey take on things. Enjoy!

The quirky girl. You know the one. She wears colored tights with old band t-shirts and skirts from the thrift store and makes her own couch pillows. She has big Brigette Bardot bangs and sells jewelry on Etsy. She has a pug that she named Wrinkles and wears her grandmother’s aprons while she bakes ginger-carrot-tea cookies made with organic cane sugar. A little bit of the flour from the cookies has accidentally gotten on her nose and it’s adorably perfect next to her 80s revival hipster glasses and DIY bottlecap pinup girl earrings. There’s a bow in her hair and a bow on her bike. She works in social media or as a wedding photographer or has just quit her job to do her craft blog full time.

She’s the perfect manic-pixie-indie-dream-girl: Zooey Deschanel. A few years ago, people were all up on the Zooey phenomenon; boys wanted her, girls wanted to be her. And suddenly, there’s this huge backlash, all of this hate coming towards her and the persona she projects. Hating Zooey Deschanel is the new loving Zooey Deschanel. She’s too girly, she’s too cute, she’s a bad actress, she’s a bad singer. Thoughts on her singing and acting aside, I think I know why both women and men are reacting to her badly, but I don’t think the reasons are necessarily legitimate.

I’m focusing only on her public persona, as I’m not really into any of her movies and I’ve never seen her show. Her Christmas album with M.Ward is pretty meh. If she comes off as overly “girly” (and I’d argue that that criticism is hugely problematic in and of itself. Girly as opposed to womanly? Who is defining female identity here? Zooey herself seems to agree with me: “ I can’t be girlie? I think the fact that people are associating being girlie with weakness, that needs to be examined. I don’t think that it undermines my power at all.” ), she also comes off as smart and creative. I get the sense that she’s extremely self-aware of her persona and of her public image and the way its being consumed and disseminated. What other mainstream female celebrities can that be said about?

Zooey’s become the most highly visible representation of a certain kind of woman in our culture; the quirky girl, if you will. She’s worshipped by the legions of Etsy-buying, lifestyle blog-writing, tattooed crafty girls all over the country. These woman love her and they claim her as their role model. But why is this so annoying to people? Why is taking joy in simple things like kittens and baking and colorful tights so bothersome to people? I was going to write women rather than people, but I’ve recently found many more men joining in the Zooey hate. One of my Facebook friends posted that she annoyed him because she was like the cool girl in high school who pretended to be nerdy, but that he could never get anyway. Projection, much? Zooey inspires crazy identity projection: you either want be just like her or you see yourself in her, or you hate her because something about her represents a deep-seated insecurity about your own identity.

As for me, I do see myself in Zooey, and that’s why I feel the need to defend her. She is much more reflective of myself and my aesthetic and interests than anyone else I see in the mainstream media. I don’t have the money to buy the clothing in fashion magazines (so that’s why I read personal style blogs and not fashion magazines), but I feel like her look is attainable for me, or for any other smart girl who likes wearing old clothes and riding bikes. I’d much rather live in her world than in the world of say, Kate Hudson or Jessica Alba (and god forbid, the Kardashians).

She looks like a real person, wearing real clothes, talking about real things. I like that. I don’t have bangs and I don’t decorate my apartment with deers and owls, but I’ll de damned if I don’t love me a good cupcake and some vintage country music. Some of those things can be construed as juvenile, sure, but in comparison to what the rest of the mass media tells women we have to be (crazy-exercisers, jonesing for that huge engagement ring and fairytale wedding, and so on), I can’t find Zooey’s schtick as indie-girl-who-loves-weird-stuff-and-baking to be bad, or even half-bad.

This piece has some great points, especially through a feminist lens. And you know what? Zooey’s also publicly called herself a feminist. She’s one of the only female celebrities of her generation that I can think of who has done that. And if some 14 year old girl who loves her style can read an interview with Zooey where she’s advocating feminism and personal expression, it’s pretty difficult for me to see what’s annoying or damaging about that. Would I rather those girls were reading interviews with bell hooks or Betty Friedan? Sure, but come on. If young girls and younger women somehow come to a greater personal understanding of what it means to be yourself and be a feminist through exposure to Zooey, I’ve got to say hell yeah.

About Michael von Braithwaite

Does it look like I'd wear it on a boat, at an eccentric person's estate or accompanied by a peacock on a chain? Yeah, I'll probably buy that.

5 comments

  1. Louise

    “I don’t have bangs and I don’t decorate my apartment with deers and owls, but I’ll de damned if I don’t love me a good cupcake and some vintage country music.”

    THAT is a great sentence – the best of the day. And yes, I’m no longer a hater.

  2. Here’s a useful quote stolen from the comments section of an article about Portlandia: “[Superficial] Identity and culture are two different things. If you have culture, real culture, attacks from cynics don’t matter. If you only have [superficial] ‘identity’ then an attack on that is an incitement to violence.”

    I added the “superficial” in brackets, because I think identity can run deep and be as real as culture. But the basic idea applies to Zooey hating or lack thereof. To the extent that she represents or participates in certain cultures (feminist, artistic, DIY), she’s kind of great. To the extent that she represents or participates in annoying trends (quirk at a nonhuman decibel), she’s less delightful.

  3. Thank you for this. Really. I can’t think of a better role model than Zooey. She’s human, down-to-earth, and like you said, so easy to identify with! She’s also really honest in her efforts to reach out to teenage girls and young women (all women, really) to express themselves, to feel comfortable in their own skin. She makes ME feel better about what I like–who I am. In a culture where runway models and fashion magazines are everywhere, it’s nice to have a mainstream, popular voice telling us to be proud of how we look.

    So thank you, Carrie Murphy!

  4. Jo

    Um, last I checked, absoluetly every other popular star “identifies” as a feminist.

    I liked your post but that line annoys me- identifies as a feminist. wha? we have equal rights as men, some more (ie in laws), some less, though (ie sexist jokes for one thing, pretending women are all horrible but men are perfect friends for another). how does this very very basic thing make her so cool? anyone now who calls themselves feminist doesnt even mean the real def- they mean they want to be better than men and focus entirely on women. hence “FEMinist”, not “EQUAList”. it is “cool” and “hip” to call yourself a fem without actually being one though. not a real one like

    as for role models, what is with people’s sick obsession with saying actors, singers, models and athletes are role models to imitate?? how shallow! Look up to God, your parents, a teacher- people who actually matter and affect you. not a shallow celebrity who really just wants your money, even if they “seem nice” or are “cool feminists”.

    I love that she isnt afraid to be a girly girl in a tomboy’s world (btw, why do feminazis hate femininity and act boyish, again?), something almost frowned upon nowadays, I’m disgusted to say, but she’s just an entertainer. she has done nothing to help people or impact lives in a nonshallow way. sorry, I dont want to sound like I’m lashing at you (and like I said, I like and agree basically with what you originally meant) but I had to state that.

  5. Elbow10

    I do not understand why people thought the Jess character was so unusual – Elaine on Seinfeld, Pam on the Office, the female leads on How I Met Your Mother – don’t all the female characters in comedies have to dork it up? That’s where the humor is, right? In this case, the dorky female is the center of attention – is that the difference? Rather than the 2012 pop culture trappings attached to the dorky female? People like the show now that the focus is off of her, and there is more of an ensemble feel, so I think people were uncomfortable with a silly character as the center of attention. The Mindy Project gets it right by making the lead female part villian, part heroine – with problems both funny and serious. That’s what it takes for a character to lead a show, even a comedy. BTW, I am a huge fan of the New Girl and Zooey Dechanel – I just think the shift in liking/not liking her right now falls squarely on the shoulders of the show’s writers not anything she can do personally.

IBC LOVES your brain, and we encourage thoughtful, lively discussion. We will, however, moderate comments that are abusive or disrespectful. Stay classy!

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