The White Liberal “Feminism” of Tina Fey and Baby Mama

Last night I decided to watch Baby Mama while doing some not very mentally taxing work online.  Oh, my.  Was that movie worse than I expected or what?  It was so bad, in such an interesting, ugly bouquet of ways, that I feel the need to share my thoughts with you, both about this movie in particular and my ish with Tina Fey’s schtik in general.

The various characters played by Tina Fey on television and films form a more or less cohesive comic persona.  Fey was the head writer on SNL (where she co-chaired the Weekend Update segment) when she successfully pitched 30 Rock, a sitcom on which she plays Liz Lemon, the head writer of a comedic variety show.  The Lemon character is similar to the persona Fey adopted on Weekend Update, as well as to Kate Holbrook, the character she portrays in Baby Mama (which she didn’t write, but seems tailored specifically to her appeal.) In all of these Fey plays a version of a financially privileged woman in a powerful corporate position who is conventionally pretty, smart,  a bit awkward, and romantically challenged.

I’ll start by mentioning my own hesitancy to use one of my dwindling days as a Feministe blogger to criticize Fey.  Her success as a feminist(ish) comic and writer is notable.  She is skilled, talented, and often funny, and I feel kind of gross going at her on the internet—I don’t like the catfight vibe. Somehow, somewhere, I have a deep seated desire to support other women rather than tear them down.   All those years doing Riot Grrrl zines and talking about “Girl Love” really took.  That said, Fey should not be above criticism.  She has become a kind of feminist heroine, especially to middle to upper class nerdy white liberals, and while I share some of her fans’ appreciation, there are aspects of Fey’s comedy that I find constantly chafing.

Let’s start with her whorephobia and slut-shaming.  I can imagine that the kinds of  sexist pressures that Fey has probably faced as a conventionally attractive lady in showbiz include people trying to sex her up more, go the Maxim route, whatever.  I absolutely respect her choices regarding how she does or doesn’t actively present herself sexually.  However, her derogatory attitude towards women that she finds unacceptably slutty needs to be checked.

I watch 30 Rock occasionally, and enjoy it, though the Liz Lemon character’s anxiety around sluttier women makes me a bit uncomfortable.  It’s fine if I view Lemon as just another flawed character with her own set or quirks and neuroses (I certainly buy the anxiety,) but not if Lemon is meant to be the “sane”, neutral audience entry point into the world of the show, as if of course all self-respecting intelligent women wish to police the sexuality of others, wish they’d button up their shirts and put on some pants and view the fact that they sometimes don’t as a sign of stupidity, if not evolutionary failure.

Kate Holbrook in Baby Mama is a similarly wealthy, liberal professional who seems to view women who aren’t exactly like her in these respects as somewhat alien.  The classist “friendship” she develops with Amy Poehler’s character Angie Ostrowiski , a “white trash” woman who is contracted to carry a baby for her, contains this theme to a degree.  There are various comments throughout that further establish Fey as being on the proper side of sluttiness; “My avatar dresses like a whore!” she exclaims in befuddlement while playing a karaoke videogame.  Later, her love interest jokingly asks if she works as a prostitute at night, the humor lies in the outlandishness of such a notion– corporate women never do sex work on the side!

It’s harder to watch Fey’s characters exhibit slutphobia and not take it personally when she makes comments like this :

“I love to play strippers and to imitate them,” says Fey. “I love using that idea for comedy, but the idea of actually going there? I feel like we all need to be better than that. That industry needs to die, by all of us being a little bit better than that.”

what does it mean for Fey as a self-avowed feminist use a group of people (Women, I assume, in her imagination,) for their comedic possibilities while believing that they should cease to exist?  I don’t want to read too much into this quote in terms of the contempt Fey appears to feel towards strippers. Maybe she just sees them as victimized by an evil industry.  Paternalism is so much better than out and out malice, after all. The wording suggests that Fey engages with strippers—or at least the idea of strippers (as well as other inappropriately sexual women)—only as a subject of ridicule.  How is this feminist?

Here are some other things that I hated about Baby Mama:

-There is a recurring joke where Fey discusses the horrific possibility of having an intersexed baby.  Intersexed people themselves are the semi-mystical, thoroughly confusing and gross butt of the joke.  Ha ha ha ha.

-Fey’s character is the VP of a Whole Foods stand-in called Round Earth.  Steve Martin’s portrayal of the company’s capitalist hippie CEO is funny.  Less so is the subplot about Round Earth opening a massive flagship store in an abandoned warehouse that I think was supposed to be in West Philly (I was multitasking, if they clarified the neighborhood, I missed it.) The film reduces tensions between Round Earth and small local businesses and residents who feel invaded to some kind of irrational bias that can and will be overcome if we just listen to Tina Fey, caring corporate VP.  Gentrification is great when it’s companies with Liberal appeal doing it. Baby Mama throws a few softballs at Whole Foods through the Round Earth subplot (health food is gross!  Some yuppies are too obsessed with vitamins!), but at the end of the day the company triumphs as responsible and admirable and Good For The Community. The film creates a space for Liberals to scoff at Wal-Mart as Evil but embrace Whole Foods, in all it’s healthcare opposing union busting as a Good Corporation that’s just a little silly sometimes.

-Racism.  There are few roles for people of color in Baby Mama’s white world.  The biggest is that of Fey’s doorman, Oscar Priyan (played by Romany Malco), who assumes the role of the Magical Negro, receiving no character development but dispensing much sassy advice and support to the two white female protagonists with whom he never, ever has any sexual tension.  Towards the end I though perhaps Amy Poehler’s character would end up coupled with him—during a climactic spat Fey calls her white trash”  to which she replies “I deserve that” and Malco intones “no, you don’t”.  Wow, is Baby Mama actually going to develop the latent class-solidarity theme that cried out from under the cutsey scenes of Poehler and Malco asexually bonding? Given the predictable, formulaic trajectory of the entire movie (I spotted the films final “twist” the second Fey met Greg Kinnear), they should have gotten together—except for the Magical Negro law which forbids him from having any sex life, especially one involving a white lady.  Despite the existence of his own child, who we see in a birthday party montage over the closing credits.  It is actually Malco who gives the film it’s name—Fey explains that Poehler is her surrogate, to which he replies “oh, your baby mama.”  Fey tries to explain no, it’s different, she has no romantic relationship with Poehler, to which Malco replies (paraphrasing) “Relationships have nothing to do with it—she has the baby, you pay the bills.  Ask any black man in Philadelphia.”  HA HA HA shoot me.  That line might be a little less overwhelmingly less offensive if there were, I don’t know, any black female characters in the movie, but no.  The only woman of color I recall at all was a sexxxy Asian woman coupled with Tina Fey’s ex who is on screen soley to cause insult to the injury of Fey’s bruised ego.  I don’t think she got to say anything.

-It was directed semi-incompetently and never reconciled it’s balance between comedy and drama, slapstick and heartwarming, resulting in an agitating and tone-deaf eyeroller.  Strange edits and flat scenes abound.  Scenes go on too long.  It has its funny moments, but doesn’t cohere.  Even as an entertaining  piece of offensive, oppressive propaganda for white ladies’ liberation within liberal corporate capitalism.

Fey didn’t write Baby Mama, but she chose it as her start vehicle into the world of feature films.  It fits nicely into her oeuvre as a “feminist” icon, if feminism is only for rich white straight ladies doin’ it for themselves by climbing the corporate ladder with their exclusively abled bodies. (another recurring joke involved a woman with a speech impediment, btw LOL.)  Of course they have to climb over the bodies of everyone else—except their white male bosses, natch—to do it.  Woooo sisterhood!

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37 comments for “The White Liberal “Feminism” of Tina Fey and Baby Mama

  1. Alexis
    September 4, 2009 at 3:35 pm

    I was rooting for Amy Poehler’s character to get with the doorman.

  2. Constintina
    September 4, 2009 at 3:46 pm

    But it would have sapped his majickal powers!

  3. Roy
    September 4, 2009 at 3:51 pm

    I think that your criticisms are well founded, and I appreciate the opening paragraphs–it’s a feeling I’ve had before, too… it’s hard to express the exact feeling for me. You want to support people who are generally in line with your beliefs, but you also know that people aren’t perfect, and even the best among us need criticism sometimes. I haven’t seen Baby Mama, but your description sounds a lot like what I was expecting.

    I think it’s sometimes hard to balance the need to criticize people we otherwise like with the desire not to seem like we’re demanding perfection, but you’ve done an excellent job of it, here.

  4. September 4, 2009 at 4:33 pm

    I recently watched this monstrosity myself. Every criticism you made is so bang on. Fey`s insistence in slut shaming is indeed problematic. I am further disgusted by her desire to see sex workers disappear. She either does not know or does not care how vulnerable some of them can be. In mind if you are going to take on the label of feminist it behooves you to care about all women and not perpetuate stereotypes that have proven to be dangerous.

  5. September 4, 2009 at 4:59 pm

    Yeah, I saw this movie because I was trapped on a bus with it (though the fact that it was on a bus apparently meant that I missed the whole mocking of intersex people! What?). Honestly, I didn’t even notice a lot of the stuff you mentioned here because it was all just haha, Amy Poehler’s character is poor (and look how stupid poor people are!), haha, Amy Poehler’s character is poor (and look how stupid poor people are!), haha, Amy Poehler’s character is poor … for like 90 minutes. Ugh.

  6. September 4, 2009 at 5:09 pm

    This is a great post, well thought-out. I’d read criticisms of Fey in terms of the elitists-only feminism her work can connote, but I hadn’t heard about her slut-shaming and anti-sex-work comments. I’ve realized that having my celeb-crushes (like Tina Fey, for her leadership on SNL, her great writing, her role on 30 Rock) disappoint me is, unfortunately, all too common.

  7. September 4, 2009 at 5:14 pm

    Do all movies really need to be peppered with folks of all walks of life to tell a story? It was a hilarious movie that got genuine laughs not stemming from snark or sarcasm. I found it refreshing.

    There’s the way we wish the world was and then the way it actually is. Not every movie has to move forward an agenda.

  8. September 4, 2009 at 5:35 pm

    Re: fey’s comment about the stripper industry needing to die (as that is, I gather, what she was talking about and not that strippers themselves should die) — there are many many feminists who would agree with that sentiment. While we can all agree that sex workers ought not be shamed, one can make a pretty sound (feminist) argument about how an inherently exploitative and sexist industry controlled predominately by males and patronized predominately by males is (at worst) a blight on society and (at best) in dire need of reform. We shouldn’t confuse our support for sex worker rights with support for an industry whose practices are the reason that sex workers lack rights to begin with.

    As for her 30 Rock persona…I think the most un-feminist aspect of that is not the way she she seems to simultaneously fawn over and become insecure around “sexy” women, but rather that the comic appeal of her character is that -in spite of her financial privilege and success- she is an incredibly insecure woman who believes that she will never find happiness without finding a man and having babies.

  9. Tara
    September 4, 2009 at 9:06 pm

    Thanks for your post Catherine, I agree with you. I don’t remember the intersex jabs but I did find the class stereotypes troubling. I don’t think her character’s anxiety around sexy women is meant to be a reflection on them but on HER character, something I can relate to. Also, I too would like to see the sex industry disappear if not reformed. I don’t mean to insult anyone. I live in Miami and the sex workers I see DAILY in my neighborhood do not look like they feel empowered, rather debased and abused.

  10. September 4, 2009 at 9:36 pm

    I’m not hugely surprised there’s jokes about intersexed babies in Baby Mama (haven’t seen it), especially since there’s quite an amount of transmisogyny in 30 Rock, intersecting with the sex worker shaming. I especially liked the reference to a trans woman as “shim”–like we needed a new pronoun to be disrespected with.

  11. September 4, 2009 at 9:47 pm

    Well, then let’s let them speak for themselves instead of assuming what’s best for them. And if you think some sex workers *can’t* speak for themselves then our work needs to be in not drowning them out further.
    It’s true that many, many people are forced into sex work by either human trafficking or a community that’s left them no other options. But I don’t think the root of that evil is sex work itself. To me, it seems colonialism and institutional violence against the poor and racialized are what we should really be fighting.

  12. Constintina
    September 4, 2009 at 11:14 pm


    in dire need of reform

    Not sure what you mean by this, but in my own way I certainly agree. Doesn’t make Fey’s comment okay.


    I too would like to see the sex industry disappear if not reformed. I don’t mean to insult anyone.

    You realize you are replying to a post by someone who works in “the sex industry”, yes? And regardless of your intentions, it is insulting.

    @queen emily

    Lovely. I haven’t seen all that many episodes of 30 rock, so I hadn’t come across any blatent transmisogy yet. Good to know what there is to look forward to.

  13. S.A. Small
    September 4, 2009 at 11:36 pm

    Do all movies really need to be peppered with folks of all walks of life to tell a story?

    No, but some would be nice.

    It was a hilarious movie that got genuine laughs not stemming from snark or sarcasm. I found it refreshing.

    As someone who tends to get laughs from snark or sarcasm, I must respectfully disagree with your refreshment.

    There’s the way we wish the world was and then the way it actually is.

    Are the black men you know all doormen, or do you just wish that they were?

  14. S.A. Small
    September 4, 2009 at 11:44 pm

    Also, spreading blame where blame is due:
    The movie was written and directed by Michael McCullers, who I’m guessing wrote the part for Fey–they worked together as writers for SNL. Looking at his resume, this is probably not your go-to-guy for feminist cinema. Of course, even if we can credit him with primary authorship, no one’s forcing Fey to take this part.

  15. September 5, 2009 at 7:57 am

    I don’t like one bit how you merely put that Tina Fey didn’t write “Baby Mama” in an aside. It’s not a minor issue. Don’t fall for the already toxic trap that’s standard in Hollywood of refusing to give the writer credit—be it bad or good—for what’s onscreen. Every time we blame an actor for the script, an angel of literacy loses its wings.

  16. September 5, 2009 at 8:16 am

    But other than that, well considered and thought-provoking. I haven’t seen “Baby Mama”, alas. It looked like a classist piece of trash from the outset, and so I wasn’t interested. But “30 Rock” is a much more interesting, subtle show. Not without problems, but so very funny.

  17. September 5, 2009 at 8:35 am

    @Amanda Marcotte
    Whether or not she wrote the script for this monstrosity, she still chose to actively participate in it, in full knowledge of the ways in which the film was reductive. She needs to be held accountable for that.

  18. Sahara
    September 5, 2009 at 9:46 am

    Hey queenemily, unfortunately I heard that pronoun over 10 years ago, and it was supposed to be funny :(

  19. Stevie
    September 5, 2009 at 10:06 am

    The sex industry seems like a divisive topic among feminist I know. Maybe we could reach a common ground here and at least acknowledge that some aspects of the industry need to be at least regulated to empower women who are stuck in the industry through human trafficking or poverty? To me, Feminism is about creating as many choices for women as possible. When being a sex worker isn’t a choice for a woman, that doesn’t seem right.

    Also, should the theories about objectification of women and rape culture enter a discussion about the sex industry? Or is that old news?

    I only ask because I am often conflicted as a feminist about the sex industry issue.

  20. September 5, 2009 at 10:55 am

    I do think you’re on point, but I would draw a distinction between the out-and-out satire of 30 Rock and whatever Baby Mama is supposed to be.

    I did get the feeling watching Baby Mama that it had a harder edge that was lost somewhere along the way. It brought all these class issues to the fore (between the Whole Foods gentrification story and the whole “paying a poor woman to have your baby” story, which both seemed poised to satirize white middle class liberal values) and it seemed so much like Amy Poehler was going to hook up with the doorman but then they cut it at the last minute. I’m not defending the movie; it backed away from actually doing anything with any of this, so it just came out classist and racist. Plus the ending is the worst thing ever in that (SPOILERS) it makes it clear that, like, surrogacy is totally unnatural and the only way to true happiness is having your baby the old-fashioned way, with a man and a nuclear family. To sum up, it was one of those things that would have been a good idea if it had been done well, but it was not done well at all.

  21. William
    September 5, 2009 at 11:17 am

    I don’t like one bit how you merely put that Tina Fey didn’t write “Baby Mama” in an aside. It’s not a minor issue. Don’t fall for the already toxic trap that’s standard in Hollywood of refusing to give the writer credit—be it bad or good—for what’s onscreen. Every time we blame an actor for the script, an angel of literacy loses its wings.

    While I agree that its a problem that writers don’t get the credit (or blame) they deserve in Hollywood, when you’re talking about the way movies get made and the problematic themes that pop up, writers are of secondary importance. Regardless of how offensive Baby Mama was, do you think it would have gotten made if Tina Fey hadn’t signed on? Do you think it would have been seen by nearly as many viewers? Do you think it would have had the same degree of power by being seen by the same audience? For better or worse, writers in Hollywood tend to be hired guns, people who come in and produce a script which they then lose control of. Tina Fey chose this film to be part of her big entrance into the A list, her name likely brought interest and funding, her face was on the advertisements, she delivered the lines as written despite her not inconsiderable influence.

  22. Bitter Scribe
    September 5, 2009 at 11:26 am

    Fey’s humor about sexy women seems very much in line with entire genre of poking fun at ostensible liberals by putting them in proximity with women or people of color who conform to unpleasant stereotypes. Oh, look, an actual black person makes Joe Earnest uncomfortable! Isn’t that hilarious! John Hughes was a master of this (when he could be bothered to put people of color in his movies at all), which is one reason I didn’t cry too hard at his recent passing.

  23. Constintina
    September 5, 2009 at 1:00 pm

    @Amanda Marcotte

    What Renee and William said.

    Also, as a writer who writes screenplays, I certainly am aware of the ways that writers are undervalued and underdiscussed in Hollywood and much film-related discourse. In this post I was exploring what I see as a Tina Fey “feminist” brand that cuts across the different projects she works on as a comedic actress, whether she’s also writing and/or producing or not. I thought it was interesting that her character and the themes of Baby Mama had so much in common with what I’ve seen of 30 Rock (which I do think is better and has a lot more going for it, despite being problematic,) as well as Fey’s SNL skits, despite the fact that she didn’t write it.

  24. September 5, 2009 at 1:04 pm

    “Also, should the theories about objectification of women and rape culture enter a discussion about the sex industry? Or is that old news?”

    It’s not old news – mainly because neither the objectification of women nor rape, in and out of the sex industry, are theories. I, as a whore, find consistent re-directions to the contrary insulting. In other words, if pro-sex-work non-whores get to talk about the sex industry, so the fuck do anti-sex-industry non-whores.

  25. Constintina
    September 5, 2009 at 1:14 pm


    The sex industry is totally fucked up, but global capitalism is totally fucked up. When we’re discussing things like human trafficking and coerced labor in the sex industry, we have to see it as part of a broader system of economic exploitation.

    I’m not pro or anti the sex industry, I’m pro sex workers (pro workers in general) and am in favor in human and labor rights and self determination, end of story. I would like to see this as a place where feminists can find common ground. but apparently we can’t.

  26. Stevie
    September 5, 2009 at 1:37 pm

    OK, those are good points. Thanks for the replies.


  27. September 5, 2009 at 2:30 pm

    Agree with Renee re Amanda’s point — sure, if Tina F were an unknown, she’d have little influence on the script, but that’s hardly the case.

    Fey definitely has issues with privilege factoring into her disdain for strippers.

    @Joan re #24 — agree. As a former stripper, I too think support for sex workers can coexist with a nuanced view of the sex industry, and as a big girl, it’s possible to acknowledge that there are some issues relating to this industry that loom larger than those in other workplaces due to the vulnerability of the employees, the fact that the employees are predominantly female, and the legal and social status of the employees.

  28. September 5, 2009 at 3:53 pm

    Octogalore – thanks for all of that as it exactly expresses how I feel too.

    Also – I should have said in my initial comment too that I don’t like it when any woman mocks and/or looks down on and/or exploits strippers or any other woman in the sex industry. And by exploit, here, I mean I’ve seen things like Fey’s above-mentioned “whee, it’s fun to play strippers but I’m better than them and you should be too!” b.s., and I’ve seen women go to strip clubs in order to get that sexy-by-proxy-to-strippers mystique they fancy while going to great lengths to distance themselves from THOSE women (ew, look at her boob job/outfit/makeup/nasty-stripper-move). Most of the the disdain I encounter about/towards women in the sex industry is from men, but I have seen it from women, and it blows either way.

  29. redredrose
    September 5, 2009 at 3:55 pm

    Are the black men you know all doormen, or do you just wish that they were?

    Yeah, because that’s exactly what she was saying.

  30. September 5, 2009 at 10:24 pm


    I really liked your post. I came across your post via StumbleUpon because i have ‘feminism’ as one of my big tags and listed interests. So I get a lot of good and important stuff regarding gender equality, cultural attitudes, civil rights / liberties in general, but I also turn up a fair degree of extremist content (e.g., when emotional bitterness trumps rational discussion) under the rubric of feminism. So, some discussions have left me with a few raw nerves.

    I read a few paragraphs of your post and I was like grrrr but I was having a glass of syrah and decided to chill and read on.

    See. when I see blog commentary about things like gender interaction labeled as sexist in entertainment-based media, it frustrates me if the commentary-author doesn’t acknowledge some complexity which seems obvious to me:

    – the financial incentive of the studios to produce something that is not socially responsible, but profitable
    – the fuzzy enduring question about whether art influences culture more, or vice-versa
    – what level of seriousness does an audience absorb cultural messages billed as comedy
    – whether certain character deceptions are parodies or not, and if so, is it intended that the audience be taking away the opposite message
    – what responsibilities do studios have to provide entertainment which conforms not only to obscenity standards, but the standards of various groups which might find content objectionable?

    In any case, you stated your case eloquently, and I agree with you that it’s good to evaluate our cultural influences.

  31. S.A. Small
    September 6, 2009 at 2:23 am

    Okay…let me be more direct. (Perhaps I should me snarkier and more sarcastic next time.) Heather complained that Constantina seemed to want movies that were “peppered with folks of all walks of life”—-which to Heather, it appears, was an unreasonably high standard—-and that Baby Mama fell short. Then:

    There’s the way we wish the world was and then the way it actually is. Not every movie has to move forward an agenda.

    I took exception to this and replied very snarkily, because it implied that since Baby Mama didn’t represent “the way we wished the world was” that it then represented reality instead. Which is bullshit—-and hence the snarky question. (Hopefully you don’t think me so thick as to believe that Heather wishes all black men were doormen. I was merely being efficient.)
    I really just bristled in general at Heather’s comment (and hopefully you didn’t just pull that last part of my first comment out of context). Sure, every picture shouldn’t have to be some sort of human cornucopia in order to be good. But the same sorts of people get to be in almost every movie and they always get to be the hero/ine, or at least interesting or deep, while the rest of us get stuck with bit parts, replaying tired and demeaning stereotypes.

  32. Lukovka
    September 6, 2009 at 9:14 am

    entire genre of poking fun at ostensible liberals by putting them in proximity with women or people of color who conform to unpleasant stereotypes. Oh, look, an actual black person makes Joe Earnest uncomfortable!

    Oh, well put! That’s much more concise than the complaint I was going to try to write up about some of the dynamics on 30 Rock.

    I deliberately missed seeing Baby Mama, but I do enjoy a lot of 30 Rock–still, the sort of “comedy” above shows up in 30 Rock not infrequently, and it always annoys me. Because the way it’s done on 30 Rock, it always presumes audience sympathy with the protagonist, the white ostensible liberal. It’s quite rare 30 Rock would ever move outside the protagonist’s viewpoint to give the “others” much in the way of agency or motivation. So, even if the protagonist is making a fool of herself, it’s presumed the audience will still think, “Yeah, but I could see that happening to me… black people *do* get so touchy over nothing!” or whatever.

    And then if the protagonist gets off some supposed zinger stemming from her perception of “weird, other” experiences–for example, about Twofer being a black nerd, or about Tracy, as a black man, not trusting the medical establishment–there’s never going to be a rejoinder that fairly represents those other experiences. Because the writers just don’t get it.

  33. William
    September 6, 2009 at 1:03 pm

    A shorter Marvin:

    Hey, I don’t usually hang around here and I have no context but you didn’t talk about what I’d have liked you to talk about and that really grinds my gears. You really should have acknowledged the things I care about, but seeing as you were rational and didn’t have any of that icky emotionality I’ll let it slide this time.

    Even shorter:

    Privilege? What privilege?

  34. September 6, 2009 at 1:18 pm

    Fey allowed the title Baby Momma to stand. That said it all for me tat this movie was not for me and would piss me off royally. Seeing that the term applies typically to underclass black women who have children out of wedlock I was already insulted that someone (typically a white “liberal”) would find it amusing to culturally appropriate a term based on pain.

  35. Niki
    September 6, 2009 at 10:48 pm

    I’m with Amanda above. Let’s not blame the actors for a badly written script; it’s a detriment to the invisible world of scriptwriters everywhere. And I will start off by saying I agree there were problems with Baby Mama, but I’m going to focus this comment on other works of hers. I think it’s better to focus on Tina Fey’s creations when one is looking at the thematic trends in her filmography, not her casted roles. In other words, of course actors have some responsibility for the roles they choose to play, but filmmakers and TV show creators have even more responsibility for the ethics (or lack thereof) in the worlds they put on screen.

    So, about 30 Rock; I think we’re meant to feel sorry for Liz Lemon’s stunted sexuality. Sure, she’s the main character, but since when are protagonists supposed to be flawless? I’ve always perceived her fear of sluttishness as a sort of mockery of the way women are expected to be in the corporate world; she’s a parody. That’s how I read her character and I think that’s how she’s meant to be read.

    And I’m surprised no one’s talking about Mean Girls here, the movie that Fey actually did write. That movie had such a strong message against slut-shaming, culminating in a speech delivered by Fey herself, that I don’t think it’s fair to ignore the movie she actually wrote and pick apart the one she didn’t.

  36. Niki
    September 6, 2009 at 10:56 pm

    to continue my comment above: Again, I’m not denying that Baby Mama had its problems, but I also don’t think we should ignore a couple of key facts about Hollywood and female artists. It is damn hard for a female comedic actor to make it as a star in “buddy comedy” type films and not romantic comedies (or as the romantic interest of the male lead); Tina Fey does not have the star status that many other actors have and I really doubt she has all that much say over the scripts she doesn’t write herself, so I doubt a woman of her status in Hollywood can just demand more socially responsible films; and since the works she does write really do tend to be much more feminist-friendly than films like Baby Mama–again, I really don’t see any problems with Liz Lemon, I think we’re meant to laugh at her frigidity–I really don’t think it’s fair to diminish the importance of a out-of-the-closet feminist making it in the mainstream world of comedy. That is a major, major achievement, even if her feminism might sometimes be less than perfect.

  37. nic
    September 10, 2009 at 6:55 pm

    I’ve read through about half these comments, so forgive me if this topic has already been addressed and I’m just a broken record.

    People on this comment list – whether self-proclaimed feminist or not – have made many comments speculating on the lives of sex workers. Whether it’s the BabyMama writer you’re criticizing, Tina Fey, or just someone else within the thread, I feel like most commentators have referred to sex workers as some kind of uncomplicated group identity…. whether you’re trying to “stand up” for them or “save” them, this is problematic.

    I think one person in here noted that they s/he her/himself is a sex worker and I’m certainly interested to hear more insights from her/him and further perspectives from others.

    Nevertheless, I’m kind of surprised that for a whole slew of comments attacking classism in a movie, there is little curiosity about what classism and white privilege might exist in the sex worker community itself. I’m not making a claim to know, but I certainly am curious as to whether these aspects of privilege and oppression transcend into this line of work as well and perhaps do a lot of dictating as to who is able to find the work empowering/ how choice factors into the equation for womyn and differently gendered folks who are also POC and from underresourced communities. I’m curious as to whether there might be a correlation between White Privileged Liberal women’s notion of “feminism” and white or class-privileged women’s notions of uncomplicatedly empowering sex work. Yes, I recognize I’m bringing an observation close to home and rubbing into people’s comfort zones in this repeated dialogue.

    Ultimately, I recognize that as a non-sex worker, it’s my job to listen and not rely on unexplored ideas or theories or enjoying the sound of my own voice too much. But I certainly am curious about these complications and interested in hearing more, especially from sex workers whose marginalizations exist in the aforementioned layered/intersecting manner!

    sidenote: yeah, that film could have been better, but i also didn’t think it was the worst. and i think while some things were carelessly elided, some elements – especially the class issues – were super intentional to build conflict in a movie…. cause that’s what movies appealing to the larger populous are supposed to do, dude: make imperfect characters that everyday people can relate to on some level and carry them through a story arc. i didn’t see the movie as an attempt at feminism, i saw it as an appeal to a growing niche market that the writer and actors thought would make them money. And that’s fine to give a lot of hell to, but it might be less maddening when you don’t see it as an attempt at groundbreaking feminist work too.

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