Engaging, non-stereotypical images of men… on a sitcom? Heather McLendon was pleasantly surprised.
Yes, I have become a Newbie. As I mentioned last week, I gave New Girl a trial-run last year, and I couldn’t stand it. The show forced its “adorkable” angle too much. I quickly got annoyed that Zooey was everywhere, acting in the same manner whether she was Jess or frolicking in frocks for Cotton commercials.
But then, thanks to the recommendation of Alyssa Rosenberg this past autumn, I gave the show another chance.
Sure, Jess is still a smidge annoying, some jokes wear a bit thin, and the weekly plots sometimes fail in an epic fashion. What makes the show truly great, though, is its representation of men. Schmidt, Winston and Nick steal the show. And the writers do their best work when they’re challenging conventional or stereotypical gender roles.
In “Models,” Schmidt gives Nick a cookie because he was thinking of him, which freaks Nick out. He doesn’t understand — or believe — that a man can give another male friend a cookie “just because.” Later, Winston tries to explain to Nick why Schmidt is so hurt, saying, “Do you not realize that I say “good night” to you every night, and you never say it back?” The episode culminates with Nick trying to right the situation by giving Schmidt a cookie because he doesn’t know what else to get him, which makes him recognize that: “You love me too much, man. And you picked the wrong guy. I’m just gonna let you down.” He tears up as he says this, and all three men acknowledge that they care for each other. They’re besties, and they celebrate with a group hug.
In “Parents,” Schmidt competes in a “manly” competition with his cousin. When neither triumphs in the burp and push-up contests, Schmidt says: “Manhood today is about exfoliation and cheese courses and honesty and Paxil. And, yes, cutting peppers in classic stile de julienne. You may have bested me in a competition of pre-Clinton manhood, but I am Schmidt — a refined and enlightened pescetarian (90 percent of the time).”
And in “Fluffer,” Nick stands up for himself and calls Jess out for using him as an emotional fluffer. (A fluffer, apparently, is someone employed in the porn industry who keeps the actor, well, aroused, on set.) Jess kept using Nick to get into a sensual mood before her booty-call dates with Sam, and Nick finally has enough. He establishes necessary boundaries for his platonic relationship with Jess.
Yes, yes, and yes.
New Girl is tackling stereotypes and outdated notions of masculinity — with humor and style. It’s an important show to watch and appreciate, especially for feminists. Lately I have been discouraged and frustrated by the number of feminists who berate men for sexism without recognizing that men experience sexism, too. (Stick with me, my feminist readers.)
Yes, there is undeniable patriarchy in our culture. It has been embedded, and it has an insidious effect on our media, power structures, workplace environments, and conversations about rape, reproductive rights, and birth control. Yes, there is unforgivable prejudice against women and inequality, and we still have a lot of work to do in order to obliterate these vile practices. Women still have an uphill battle and shoulder the bulk of ugly (everyday) sexism.
However, consider that it is just as dangerous to take an anti-male, men-are-the-cause-of -all-problems stance as it is to assume women can’t manage certain roles of power or authority. Men are subjected to unfair assumptions, gender roles, misrepresentation, and body issues as well. Perhaps not as frequently or visibly, but these instances do happen. We need to stop the us vs. them language. Men and women need to battle inequality collectively. If we keep using the blame strategy or finger-pointing or “versus” speech, we will never attain true equality.
This viewpoint isn’t new — others have said it before and many more will need to repeat it again. I don’t think we can have too many reminders in our Twitter-era of instant sound bites and binder memes that men and women, gay and straight, ought to have fair, unprejudiced representation in our media. New Girl is a step in the right direction.
This article originally appeared at HeatherMcLendon.com.