Tina Fey: Fallen Feminist Icon or Just What We Need?

As soon as Tina Fey took the first bite out of her “Brownie Husband” during this week’s “Saturday Night Live,” I knew there would be a lot of talk. Both the kind that celebrated the fauxmercial’s ingenious hilarity—and, I mean seriously, obvious satire—and the riled-up ridicule from those who seem to have been waiting to pounce on Fey ever since she decided to own her hotness and pose for magazines in low-cut dresses and take the lead in a romantic comedy—things that I think are just as feminist as not giving a shit about high heels or lipgloss. (Psst, the feminism is in the control of one’s own image. Yes, she’s in control of it). But pretty feminists have been criticized for embracing their prettiness for generations. (Gloria Steinem comes to mind.)

Ever since that now-infamous “SNL” appearance, there’s much more of the latter going on. The basic argument against Fey is: Why does Tina Fey make fun of women so much? Whether it’s her disheveled, unlucky-in-love—but totally successful, strong, and otherwise badass—character Liz Lemon on “30 Rock” or the pole-dancing, repressed homemaker in her latest film, “Date Night,” some women just can’t let Fey off the hook for portraying flawed—and, yes, unattractive—characters or turning her icy wit against other women.

But is she now? Well, yes and no.

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Boobs: The New Political Battleground

Boobquake 2010 on Monday, April 26, had lady bloggers and Facebookers and Twitterers everywhere psyching each other up to show tons of cleavage in the name of feminism. The idea came courtesy of blogger Jen McCreight, who got annoyed (like most of us) at Iranian cleric Kazem Sedighi’s recent statement of sound scientific theory that women dressing immodestly “lead young men astray, corrupt their chastity, and spread adultery in society, which (consequently) increases earthquakes.” I’d be pretty content to let those words indict themselves, but McCreight vowed to wear the “most cleavage showing shirt I own” on April 26, and encouraged women everywhere to join her: “I encourage other female skeptics to join me and embrace the supposed supernatural power of their breasts. Or short shorts, if that’s your preferred form of immodesty. With the power of our scandalous bodies combined, we should surely produce an earthquake.”

Look, it’s funny. And well-intentioned, as she’s doing something we do far too little of: She’s making feminism fun and sexy. (Not to mention that we totally get that she fired off a quick blog post without thinking it would become a national movement, as she explained in a subsequent post.) There are some problems, however: First, the whole idea makes us a little uncomfortable if we analyze it too much (or, really, at all), like a politicized version of “Female Chauvinist Pigs” mentality, like that sneaky Pussycat Dolls way of dressing like strippers to court male fans while calling hotpants empowering to court female ones. And we don’t love that suddenly other bloggers are suggesting push-up bras for the event and message boarders everywhere have shown a disturbing tendency to react to the idea by decrying their own lack of cleavage or otherwise subpar bodies. (It doesn’t take much to set off our body image issues, does it, girls?) And while more than 36,000 people have now become fans of the Boobquake “movement” on Facebook, we’re sadly not shocked one bit to report that the comments on photos women have posted of their own breasts (some very naked, some not) run the gamut from guys panting (“awesome tits!” and “freaking hot nice wow!” are the tamer thoughts) to guys calling pictures “horrible” and saying “please delete.” It’s not unlike a few weeks ago, when women took to the streets of Portland, Maine, topless to, essentially, claim women’s right to go topless in public just as men do. It went peacefully and without arrests, but — unsurprisingly — attracted a lot of male onlookers who weren’t really interested in the political undertones of the event. Go figure.

We live in an age when a celebrity’s slight variation in cleavage can prompt days of heated “did-she-or-didn’t-she” debate over whether she’s gotten implants — people, please see the push-up-bra link above to find out how that can happen without surgery. (Heck we also still live in an age when, as SF Gate blogger Margot Magowan points out, actresses are still routinely cast based on breast evaluation.) We could soldier forth flashing folks in hopes of eventually desexualizing our breasts, but that seems biologically dubious — they are particularly erogenous, they are unique to women and thus intriguing to men, and it has been established as a basic mating tenet that we show them to indicate sexual interest. It’s hard to blame men for looking, though we do blame them for being sexually harassing about it. (Why is it so hard to keep your thoughts to yourself? No one is forcing you to type creepy thoughts onto Facebook, guys.) At any rate, the demystification of breasts seems a long way away.

Follow Jennifer on Twitter: @jenmarmstrong

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