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.

Here’s why she’s not “making fun” of women in her TV show or movie roles: “30 Rock”’s Liz Lemon is certainly flawed—and that’s why she’s awesome. Fey—writer and creator of this fictional, comedic show—is deliberate in the desperation of her character. It’s a critique on the way society portrays single, successful, non-married non-moms. It’s the image shoved down our throats through mainstream women’s magazines and just about every successful TV sitcom in the history of time. Women’s magazines—hell, all media—have one very clear message: Happiness is a box of chocolates given to you by a guy who loves you and—finger’s crossed!—is going to pop the question and make all your fairy-tale dreams come true. But most of the women in those successful TV sitcoms were married moms, you say? Exactly. Even the few truly successful single-ladies sitcoms find a way of either marrying off those ladies or making their pursuit of a man their primary obsession. (There are—thank goodness—a few recent exceptions to this rule).

Now, Tina Fey has been known to bash women a bit. She and Amy Poehler would often use Barbie dolls—misogyny’s own mascot—to portray the pitfalls of women when they co-hosted “Weekend Update.” Because, guess what? Women are flawed. The whole point of sitcoms and sketch-comedy shows is to mock people. And if women can’t be in that mix, I’m not sure that means we’re winning the battle against sexism. So why, then, are Fey’s once-devout followers so up in arms about her rant against Jesse James mistress Bombshell McGee?  Yes, she called her a whore. But I still don’t get why this is anti-feminist.

Woman-bashing of any kind is, of course, decidedly against the cause that seeks to bring equality and respect to all members of our gender. But the truth is, not all women are fighting the good fight. In fact, they’re fighting against it.

Quite frankly, sometimes some women deserve to be called out on their shit. Those who actively seek out married men—ideally those with fame and money—for sensational affairs seems like a good place to start. Fey’s criticism of Bombshell McGee—and celebrity mistresses in general—doesn’t let the cheating men off the hook, as some feminist bloggers are claiming. But, really, there has been no shortage of Jesse James bashing. It’s almost too easy to point the finger at the man who strays. Yes, the finger should be pointed at him (one particular finger comes to mind), but he is only one half of the offense. McGee, in fact, started this entire public spectacle by blabbing the affair to the media to begin with. Why do we allow the philandering women who make cheaters out of their married playthings out to be victims rather than villains? While the dude is cast off—usually to sex rehab or some other inauspicious place to lay low—the women are booked on talk shows, appear on magazine covers and are offered book deals (OK, that last one hasn’t happened yet, but celebrity mistresses are certainly out there trying to peddle their stories to publishers). These women are celebrated by the media, then spit out and cast aside as damaged goods. This vicious cycle is far more offensive than Tina Fey calling a whore a whore.

Ladies, we need to take responsibility for our part in a sexist society. The Bombshell McGees of the world aren’t helping unite women—or help us earn respect. And this is what Tina Fey was talking about. Yes, I could’ve done without the too-long critique of Bombshell’s body (I’m never going to be a fan of the “big boobs and tattoos alone make a skanky whore” theory), but it was her actions that were really on trial. Despite its flaws, this critique may have been one of Tina Fey’s strongest feminist arguments to date. But here’s the thing: She wasn’t even trying to make a feminist argument; she was trying to be funny. That is, afterall, her job.

Now certain feminists are breaking up with Fey and stripping her of her feminist-icon status, to which I cry foul. Others criticize us—and themselves—for labeling her a feminist icon in the first place. Why are we so quick to write off a new role model as soon as she proves she’s not a “perfect” feminist? Therein lies the never-ending problem with the modern-day feminist discourse—which often sounds a lot like infighting. There is no such thing as a perfect feminist. Just a glance at the movement’s history reminds us that some of the founding sisters of feminism were actively racist and classist. But they’re still in the history books, and they should be.

So wouldn’t we rather celebrate a woman who very obviously has a feminist conscience in an industry that’s not only notoriously sexist, but also the main vehicle by which we receive the themes and messages of life? Sure, a feminist columnist or blogger may be able to take a more righteous stance on an issue, but will it make as big of a sound as a woman who runs one of the most successful shows on TV? Like it or not, the answer is no. And that’s why Tina Fey is now—and will most likely always be—a feminist icon.

– Heather Wood Rudúlph


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Author: Heather Wood Rudulph

Heather Wood Rudúlph is the co-founder of SexyFeminist.com and recently FeministMommy.com. She's a seasoned editor and writer, most recently for The Huffington Post, AOL, DAYSPA magazine and Movies.com. She’s written and edited stories about entertainment, beauty, healthcare, fashion, travel, teens, spirituality, women's rights, civil rights and environmental practices. Her work has also appeared in Seventeen, Elle, Details.com and The Los Angeles Daily News. She teaches nonfiction writing for Gotham Writers Workshop and is co-author of the book, SEXY FEMINISM, to be published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in March, 2013. She has a journalism degree with a sociology minor from Syracuse University and lives in California with her husband and son.
About Heather Wood Rudulph

Heather Wood Rudúlph is the co-founder of SexyFeminist.com and recently FeministMommy.com. She's a seasoned editor and writer, most recently for The Huffington Post, AOL, DAYSPA magazine and Movies.com. She’s written and edited stories about entertainment, beauty, healthcare, fashion, travel, teens, spirituality, women's rights, civil rights and environmental practices. Her work has also appeared in Seventeen, Elle, Details.com and The Los Angeles Daily News. She teaches nonfiction writing for Gotham Writers Workshop and is co-author of the book, SEXY FEMINISM, to be published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in March, 2013. She has a journalism degree with a sociology minor from Syracuse University and lives in California with her husband and son.

Comments

  1. Meagan says:

    I find it to be a very fine line between setting a tone and example for what respected women in media find acceptable and respectable for women in general, versus whether a man were to make the same mockery of the opposite sex. If a man were to have written this skit, wouldn’t it have been offensive to women, and wouldn’t it have made you feel that if you didn’t get a husband that you were somehow incomplete?
    I think that rather than looking to human beings – who are not going to be leading the same kinds of lives you might think they do based off of their portrayal on the television – as being or not being Feminist Icons, I think you should perhaps just look at their specific acts and what progressive achievements that they have under their belts.

    Tina Fey often plays a woman who is begrudgingly and humorously teetering on the edge of spinsterdom.
    Is her constant criticism of this period of a woman’s life really all about feminism or is it just her personal well of experience, or maybe not even personal but just what she personally finds the most juice when it comes to her specific comedy? I think it’s a bit sad, I don’t care about the brownie husband thing, but I don’t think she’s a feminist icon. If anything she represents a woman who is still struggling within herself, and not necessarily totally conscious of the feminist cause that we assume she represents – though I will admit that she is a very very fine specimen and I am very proud that she is such a strong force within comedy! I just wouldn’t hold her accountable for maintaining feminist pride or anything, I just don’t think she’s too into it.
    And I find that it’s not cool to sit around and judge people like the Bombshell McGee or anything, I mean sure what they did was terrible, but then again, as you said there are two halves to every story, it’s not fair to call them whores, especially considering the fact that they probably WERE honestly seduced by these famous celebrity men… and while these famous celebrity men are NOT called whores – they in fact were the ones having multiple mistrisses. NOT the other way around. So what you even said is offensive.

    Amy Poehler on the other hand, I think is more of a Feminist Icon, because she has fun with her femininity and puts a very positive spin on life.
    http://emilyslist.org/blog/video_amy_poehler_talks_feminism_with_7_year_old_ruby/

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