“Are You Literally Comparing a Zombie Novel to My Ability to Create Life?!”
New Girl is a quirky, hilarious show that follows four friends living together in their loft, and the daily adventures that surround them and their social circle. Currently being aired on Fox, this show has become quite popular, and is known for offering a pretty feminist portrayal of Jess and her life living with 3 guy friends, all together in one loft. But in the episode titled “Eggs”, we see a not-so-feminist viewpoint unfolding. In this particular episode, the female characters of Jess and Cece struggle with finding out whether they have enough healthy eggs left to able to have babies at a time that works for them and their current/future boyfriends, and if having kids is something that they are even ready for yet. Meanwhile, we see the male character, Nick, struggle with the “critical” decision to start work on writing his zombie novel. As we watch Jess and Cece take on the stereotypical problems of womanhood while the male characters deal with problems way less serious, we see an old discourse in action: the patriarchal notion that it is the woman’s job to worry about family and household matters, not the man’s. This reinforcement of patriarchal norms has a great prevalence on television, and it holds true once again in this episode of New Girl. And why do we care?
The patriarchal norm being expressed in New Girl’s episode “Eggs” is one that many people have become familiar with: it is the woman’s job to be concerned with starting the family, maintaining the family, and all other important household issues, while men are free to pursue whatever leisurely pursuits they wish, whether that be watching the game, going out with some drinks with the guys, or writing a low-quality zombie novel. While we do see this in this episode of New Girl, this example of patriarchy has also shown itself in lots of other shows as well. For example, the show King of Queens has this as a recurring issue in many of its episodes. As Doug runs off to go cause trouble in many episodes, his wife Carrie almost always has to be the one to “keep everything running” by cleaning up his mess. Also, since Carrie’s bizarre, elderly father lives with them, Doug often escapes to go out for drinks with the guys, and leaves Carrie to deal with her dad’s drama. We tend to see the same kind of gender dynamic in shows like Everybody Loves Raymond, and According to Jim. An even more recent example would be the show Modern Family, in which Clare is often having to clean up after all of the little messes that Phil gets into, in order to keep the family running. And so, television has a rich history of this patriarchal discourse which dictates that while men get to run around having fun as juvenile adults of sorts, the women are the ones that have to be serious, responsible, and keep the home life running.
After looking at the rich history of this patriarchal discourse in television, we are able to now see this same trend playing out in “Eggs”. Throughout the episode, we are shown the stark contrast between the problems that the men are having in this episode versus the women. After talking with her gynecologist friend, Jess goes on a rant now that she found out she may only have so many eggs left that could potentially make a baby. Jess explains all the serious concerns that she has: how she is only really just starting her career as a 30-year-old woman, she is worried about her ability to start a family, why she isn’t in a relationship….all kinds of “big-picture” life problems, all revolving around being able to make a home/family for herself. Meanwhile: Schmidt’s biggest problem is why he can’t have good sex with his boss, and Nick is procrastinating on starting to write his novel about zombies (which he seems to think is just as bad as Jess’ problems). The episode shows flashbacks of him even immaturely pushing his laptop off of the counter so that it will break and he can avoid writing the novel.
Then as the episode progresses, we are shown how the nature of these major kinds of family-starting decisions are apparently only unique to females. As Jess is ranting to her male roommates about how concerned she is about maybe never getting the chance to start a family, she says “Being a woman sucks!” This implies that even though a male and a female both may want to start a family, the burden of being able to do so falls primarily on the female. We see this again when they take fertility tests and Cece finds out that her biological clock is running out of time, and she has to start right away if she wants to have children. Jess then asks Cece if she could do anything to help, and Cece’s reply is “make me a guy so I don’t have to worry about this”…once again expressing that the family-starting responsibility is solely a female one. And it is a big responsibility. As Cece sits with her boyfriend Robbie on a bench at the zoo, she asks him if he would like children, and he said that he would: in maybe 10 years. The look on Cece’s face then says it all, as she comes to the realization that their relationship may not work, because she won’t be able to provide him with the children that he wants, at the exact time that he wants them. This seems to imply a lack of understanding on the part of her boyfriend, too, as though he would be unwilling to cooperate with her and maybe adjust his personal timeline a bit in order to help Cece have the family that she wants with him. Cece had even worried to Jess earlier, sighing “What am I going to tell Robbie…” as though she owed him some kind of explanation for her inability to provide him with a family at the exact time that he wants one.
As this is all unfolding at the zoo, Jess and Cece at one point run into Winston and Nick, and Nick is drunk. Nick, painted as the incredibly immature, main male character in this episode, has proceeded to get drunk at the zoo instead of just getting down to business and starting his zombie novel. After he and Winston depart from their encounter screaming loudly about something in his drunkenness, Jess then says “you know what, I don’t think we should act like the guys” as they had joked about earlier. Based on the amount of responsibility that they are dealing with in this episode…they probably can’t afford to, either.
And so, now that it has been established that this patriarchal norm is very relevant in this typically-feminist show, the question comes to mind: why does it matter? Who cares if there is a tad bit of sexism in this episode? The point is this: there has been a lot of speculation that TV can serve as a kind of mirror image of our culture, as well as an influencer of the culture, too. In some ways, people may look at it as a kind of cycle, where we influence the shows that we watch, and then the shows that we watch influence us in turn (Goldstein & Perucci, 1963). If this is the case, what is it saying if we are still watching shows with patriarchal norms in them, particularly in our post-feminist era society? The existence of these discourses of male dominance might be a sign that feminism has not pervaded our culture as well as we thought, and is something to keep in mind. As Bonnie J. Dow has said,
“As a feminist, I believe that patriarchy is alive and well, that women’s attempts at self-definition and self-determination continue to be marginalized, silenced, and stymied in myriad ways (despite descriptions of contemporary times as “postfeminist”) and that popular culture and television play key roles in that process” (Dow, 1996).
Therefore, these patriarchal norms showing up in our TV shows are a symptom of a societal issue for one that calls itself “post-feminist” and claims to be empowering women as much as possible.
We can now look at this episode of New Girl and see it as part of a bigger picture. Along with many other TV shows that have been a part of our culture, they are full of the ideology that men are able to do as they please, and leave women with the responsibilities of running the home and getting families started and operating smoothly. This shows itself numerous times throughout the New Girl episode titled “Eggs”, in the things that the characters Jess, Nick and Cece say and do. The relevance of this lies in the fact that we are still viewing TV shows with patriarchal norms in them, even in our “post-feminist” society. Now the question is: are these TV shows influencing us with these ideas? Or are we influencing them?
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