MONDAY ARTS SECTION: Time to Check In With Tina Fey’s Feminism!

Friends: I am fond of jokes. I am fond, very specifically, of ladies who make jokes. It’s not easy out there, for those ladies! Professional comedy is, as lots of folks will tell you, a fairly male-dominated industry; and, if you’ve ever been to a comedy show, or flipped past one on Comedy Central late at night when you were just super-bored, you can verify for yourself that a lot of men’s “professional comedy,” which they apparently get paid for, is just straight-up misogynist stereotyping, maybe served up with a funny voice, or puppet, or whatever. So it is always a relief to find a lady doing the professional comedy thing well; and, if she seems even marginally more aware of gender issues, or more attuned to actual lady experiences, than the dudes who tell all the “women be shopping” or “my wife is such a nag that also I don’t want to have sex with her at all: Seriously, she nags me” jokes, then the relief is even greater.

One such lady is Tina Fey. She is funny as hell, that Tina Fey! And she has built an entire comedic persona out of being smart, opinionated, and slightly angry, which is great! And I could watch Mean Girls on a loop until the day I died without getting tired of it. But, seriously, we need to stop acclaiming her as The Face of Feminist Comedy In Our Times. As Jessica Grose points out, at DoubleX, on this weekend’s Saturday Night Live, Fey devoted nearly every sketch to making fun of single women in some way. I will go a step further, and point out that a lot of the “fun” is… well, just straight-up misogynist stereotyping. Maybe with some funny props, or a costume, or whatever.

Now: Some will say that getting ahead as a woman in comedy is hard and requires concessions, and comedy often relies on shock value, and furthermore that even a feminist comic just can’t convey a sophisticated, non-sexist politics in her work, if she wants to remain funny. A form of expression that is centered on jokes can’t also reflect a feminist way of viewing the world; it’s too hard, it’s not shocking or broad enough, and humor can’t convey complex or difficult concepts with any accuracy. So, if a woman wants to make her audience laugh, she has to set her politics aside while she’s writing or performing.

In related news, if you say that in the comment section, you will get deleted! Because, come on. “How can a feminist… have a sense of humor?!?? In order for a woman to be funny, surely she can’t be a feminist!” That is what you just said. Or thought. Or attempted to post in a blog comment section, whereupon you were deleted.

Because now we are about to talk about Tina Fey and feminism. Namely, that you really can’t ascribe feminism to Tina Fey’s work. If you talk about Tina Fey and feminism, well, you’ve got to talk about Tina Fey’s Feminism. Which is its own animal! And that animal might just turn around and bite you in the face. Witness this segment on “Women’s News,” from last weekend’s SNL!

So: Tina Fey starts out by talking about things ladies have accomplished. There are some pretty funny jokes about lady astronauts! Which I liked! And then, Tina Fey wheels it around and starts talking about the famed “Oscar curse,” which is that if you are a lady and win an Oscar your husband will cheat on you. That is ridiculous! Says Tina Fey! And I agree with her. But then:

“The curse is that there are women like Bombshell McGee walking around.” Bombshell McGee being, apparently, Jesse James’ special lady friend. Her picture is put up on screen; unkind things are said about it, focusing pretty much specifically on her body. And thus, Tina Fey’s Women’s News Segment, on lady accomplishments and lady issues and lady things, presented by Tina Fey, acclaimed feminist/lady comic of our times, turns into a segment about bashing… ladies.

Okay then, Tina Fey’s Feminism!

According to Fey, the plague of male cheating is caused by hot sluts who let your man have consensual sex with them. They are very bad people, these hot sluts! With their tattoos, and their large breasts that Tina Fey spends seriously about thirty seconds describing in the most hateful, detailed way possible, and so on and so forth! Also: The sex they had with your man was consensual? Unless they have special voodoo powers, or employed other means of coercion — in which case, the problem would not be that they had sex with your man, but that they were rapists — the cheating was very likely caused by the fact that your man consciously and willfully decided to insert certain of his body parts into a person who was not you. A man could literally be knee-deep in enthusiastic-consent-giving sexy ladies and not cheat on you, if he didn’t want to cheat on you. And, if he does want to cheat on you, nothing short of chaining him to the radiator is going to stop him. (ADVICE: Don’t chain your man to a radiator.) The same turns out to be true for ladies, in fact! If we don’t want to cheat, we don’t cheat, and if we do, then we do. It’s the cheater’s fault, pretty much always. But why hold Jesse James, or men, accountable for their own actions, when it’s so much easier to blame a girl? That’s what Tina Fey’s Feminism is going to do, anyway!

Also mentioned: The fact that the lady Jesse James cheated with is “into Nazi stuff.” This is cause for Tina Fey to tell Bombshell McGee that even Hitler would be on Sandra Bullock’s side, because she is so “likable,” which, yeah, is pretty funny. But check out who is missing from the joke, and is also apparently into Nazi stuff: Jesse James. He doesn’t get called out. I guess, maybe, because he’s not a terrible bad female whoreslut with large breasts?

But, whatever. Racism is way less important than cheating! At least, you would think so, from watching the sketch! And cheating, says Tina Fey’s Feminism, stems from the fact that “the world has always been full of whores.” By this point, we’re not even talking about Jesse James’s Nazi-sympathizing lady friend any more. (Who I have little interest in defending, simply because Let’s Defend The Racist is really not a game of which I ever intend to purchase the home version.) We’re just talking about sluts, sluts in general, and how they are all out to steal your man. It’s unclear whether these sluts have all actually slept with your man, in order to qualify for the title, or whether Tina Fey’s Feminism just thinks they’re subhuman because they work at Hooters and have unconventionally spelled names. “Wives,” Tina Fey’s Feminism says earnestly into the camera after it’s gotten some hoots and applause for the “whore” jokes, “you are not the losers in this scenario.” Who is the loser? Whores, duh! And she concludes, “the world is hard enough for women.”

Right. For example, Tina Fey’s Feminism might devote an entire segment of a popular live television show to yelling misogynist slurs at you and insulting your tits!

But, whatever. Being a lady who has lots of non-marital, non-monogamous sex is bad, we all know that! Especially if you work at an establishment that frequently objectifies its visible female employees, and profits off of sexism! An establishment like, say, NBC… uh, Hooters! I mean Hooters! However, there is another option for you, ladies: Not having extramarital sex, and being single. And as we all know, Tina Fey’s Feminism will never make fun of you for… oh.

Oh, right. “Sad lonely single lady who fills her barren body with fudge, for no man has taken her in wedlock nor yet given her his seed” is, in fact, even more common than slut-bashing in the comedic stylings of Tina Fey’s Feminism. And, granted, the sad unfuckable ladies get a lot more sympathy than the wicked fuckable ladies, in said comedic stylings: Liz Lemon (spinster!) is the protagonist of 30 Rock, whereas Jenna and Cerie (skanks!) are side characters. (And Cerie seems to migrate further and further off to the side every season.) But, like, let’s look at the equation. Not having sex (with your husband): Bad. Having too much sex (but not with your husband): Bad. Is there any class of lady who is allowed to have sex and escape stereotypically sexist criticism, in the work of Tina Fey’s Feminism?

Oh, right: Ladies with husbands. “Wives,” like the ones that Fey reaches out to in solidarity and consolation during that first sketch, before blithely conflating them with “women” in general. Wives like, for example, Tina Fey! Who has been married since 2001, and started dating the man to whom she is now married seven years prior to that. It seems kind of weird, actually, that someone with so many thoughts on All the Single Ladies (“If you were likable, he would have put a ring on it” — Tina Fey’s Feminism) hasn’t apparently been single since the Clinton administration. But, then again, it’s really not. The women Tina Fey defends tend to have something in common with her. The women she makes fun of tend to have obvious differences. Which is the whole point: Feminism is for women, but Tina Fey’s Feminism seems like it’s for… Tina Fey.

63 comments for “MONDAY ARTS SECTION: Time to Check In With Tina Fey’s Feminism!

  1. Amarantha
    April 12, 2010 at 12:07 pm

    i agree that the first one is pretty sexist. But I thought the brownie husband skit was making fun of two annoying tropes in commercials: a) women loooove chocolate and b) single ladies are sad lonely cat ladies. I didn’t see it as making fun of single ladies, just commercials.

    Then again, I don’t watch 30 Rock so i’m not sure if this lines up with a general theme in Fey’s comedy or not.

  2. Alara Rogers
    April 12, 2010 at 12:10 pm

    It seems like you have to be a comic genius nowadays to break new, unstereotyped ground.

    I am certainly *not* going to say that a feminist cannot be funny. But I will say that a feminist can’t go to the pile of stale old stereotypes, pull one off, blow on it and throw it out there as something fresh and new, which seems to be what 90% of comedy is about nowadays. To actually do *feminist* comedy, you would have to, I dunno, *not* reach for the tired old stereotype? And why bother, when you get just as many yucks from the audience whether you worked hard to craft something original and funny, or if you just pulled any old thing out of the stereotype closet?

    The thing is that if you do something fresh and original, it’s *funnier*, because it’s new and unexpected. Like, take that Playstation commercial where the girlfriend is whining that her boyfriend won’t pay any attention to her because he’s too busy gaming. Wouldn’t it have been much more hilarious, and probably more effective too, for the punchline to that commercial to be “And the worst thing is… he never lets *me* have any time on the game!” Like, you know, this game is so awesome even your girlfriend wants to play it. (Not that this would have been fully feminist either, since firstly it depends on “even your girlfriend”, which implies that most women don’t want to play games, and secondly, if even your girlfriend wants to play it how come you get to hog all the game time? But it would at least have gotten its humor from *subverting* the stereotype of the whiny girlfriend who doesn’t like you gaming, rather than totally playing into it.)

    I can’t understand the appeal of stereotypes in humor except to say that the comedians are lazy; funny is *based* on subverting expectations. Once something is an expectation, then seeing it repeated… really isn’t funny. So why *isn’t* there more feminist humor? Misogyny is totally expected! Let’s pull some feminism out of nowhere and make the audience howl because they totally didn’t see it coming! But no, that’s haaaaard. Let’s just have a skit about how bitches ain’t shit, because we can paint that one by the numbers, and most of the audience won’t care.

  3. Alicia
    April 12, 2010 at 12:24 pm

    I am so glad to see someone else had the same view as I did after watching that SNL. I had such high hopes for Tina Fey hosting. Being a woman and being funny does not have to be about prostitutes, strippers, and being lonely. Just look at Kristen Wiig. I admire her for always bringing the funny without degrading herself.

  4. Yatima
    April 12, 2010 at 12:28 pm


  5. RD
    April 12, 2010 at 12:36 pm

    Tina Fey slamming “whores”/sex workers is nothing new unfortunately.

  6. Wendell
    April 12, 2010 at 12:37 pm

    This post amused me like crazy, and illuminated that element of Fey’s comedy that I felt uneasy about but couldn’t put words to. And the line “…Let’s Defend The Racist is really not a game of which I ever intend to purchase the home version” is brilliant!

  7. Meredith
    April 12, 2010 at 1:03 pm

    Three things I’d like to say:

    1. I fully agree with the whole mistress-as-symptom and cheating-man-is-the-actual-disease argument you made. So…preaching to the choir here. That part of Tina Fey’s rant during WU made me cringe. I’m so tired of women acting like all other women are out to “steal” their man. It degrades both women and men, as if men are too stupid to know whose hole they are wiggling around in. “Oh wait, that wasn’t my wife? D’oh!”

    2. I disagree with the second item. Aside from wanting a brownie that size for myself, I agree with Amarantha that Fey seemed more to be making fun of all these commercials clearly aimed at single women in order to coax them into filling their sad, empty, single lives with chocolate.

    3. I also disagree with Alicia – I do not find Kristen Wiig funny at all. She seems to play the same character over and over and runs each punchline into the ground so hard that it can only be identified by its dental records.

    That is all.

  8. lavenderstain
    April 12, 2010 at 1:07 pm

    Tina Fay is in a mean-girl league of her own when it comes to this stuff.
    well written and argued article. thanks.

  9. JetGirl
    April 12, 2010 at 1:16 pm

    Yes to all you and Jessica pointed out. Yet I still want a brownie husband.

  10. April 12, 2010 at 1:34 pm

    I want to know what I am if I’m a married lady who also likes to pack her maw with fudge. Inscrutable?

    • April 12, 2010 at 1:41 pm

      @Claire: Defying classification, is what you are! But wait: Are you married to a Brownie Husband? Because I think that is becoming a more acceptable lifestyle choice, for the ladies today.

  11. latinist
    April 12, 2010 at 1:46 pm

    I basically agree with all this. But I want to attempt a very, very, very partial defense, sort of, of Tina Fey.

    I think the reason she gets a lot of credit as a good-for-the-women comedian isn’t just because, well, she’s a woman and a funny, successful comedian. It’s also because often (including in the clips you posted) it seems like her comedy is directed toward a female audience. A rather nastily limited female audience, yes. But a basically female audience. That’s not feminism, but it’s something.

    This comes through especially on the making-fun-of-spinsters thing. As Sady pointed out, TF has a lot more sympathy for “spinsters” than for “whores.” And that sympathy shouldn’t be discounted. It really is the case that single women, in our society, are often made to feel unhappy about their situation. And comedy that speaks to that unhappiness is something valuable. The ideal comedy on this, of course, would be constantly noting the basic unfairness of the way society does this, and telling single women something like, “hey, don’t let the bastards get you down, you’re no less valuable as a person for being single, and if some people don’t appreciate you, the hell with them.” TF doesn’t do that (as far as I can see). But what she does do is say, essentially, “yeah, it sure sucks being single, well, I know how you feel, at least we can laugh about it.” Which certainly falls short of feminism, but is at least a step up from “ha, look at those dumb single women, what a bunch of losers” (which is basically where her “whores” comedy stops, making it, I think, significantly nastier).

  12. Rachel
    April 12, 2010 at 1:50 pm

    And how about the metal shop crack? As someone from a working-class family, I know exactly what she means and it really pisses me off– in an old familiar way.

  13. April 12, 2010 at 2:10 pm

    I agree, I thought brownie husband was making fun of ads, Sarah Haskins style, not women. I also, as it happens, have plenty of hate in my heart for both the cheater and the other (wo)man, however I manage to object on grounds that have nothing to do with tattoos and everything to do with how we treat people, whether that’s in the realm of racism or in the realm of treating others as we’d like to be treated by not sleeping with dudes we know to be in monogamous relationships.

    I really enjoy Tina Fey, I think she’s smart and hilarious, but I do have a real problem with the gap between what she says about herself and what we can all see is true. No, Tina, you are not a fat, hideous, single lady who will die of barren womb syndrome, you are a thin, hot married woman with a baby. Surely there are things about your real life you can mine for entertainment.

    In the end though, I don’t demand perfection from every woman in the public eye. Part of what I want from feminism is to have enough women out in public doing their thing that some of them will be nearly perfect, others generally good, and some crappy, and I’d rather watch 30 Rock than a show by an ideologically imperfect dude who doesn’t even try to advance any feminist principles at all.

    • April 12, 2010 at 2:31 pm

      @Natalie: I think it’s complicated by Fey’s history of making fun of single women, in the exact same way, in contexts that are not about ads. Like, how hideous Liz looks in hi-def, and how in the first season she nearly died by choking on food and had to give herself a chair Heimlich (which was a scene that aired, previous to 30 Rock, on Sex & the City — and, I mean, I don’t know if this was intentional, but it was almost NOTE FOR NOTE THE SAME), and the constant jokes about how ugly she is, and how crazy she goes when (a) she doesn’t have a boyfriend (see: “Anna Howard Shaw” day, or (b) she’s around an ex-boyfriend (see: “Floyd”), and basically every other joke about how terrible and lonely her life is. That’s the same woman in those scenes, and she always has creative input to some degree or another. It’s there, it’s a current in her work, and to pretend it’s not is naive.

      I also don’t demand “perfection” from women, for the record. I demand that they not be anointed “the face of feminism” in whatever industry when they are very clearly doing some explicitly sexist work. And I think the philosophy of “good enough” holds us back. “I’d rather have this pseudo-feminism that traffics in misogynist stereotypes than NO feminism!” Uh, I’d rather have some feminism. Which is why I’m glad Parks and Recreation is on the air. And why I was glad when Battlestar Galactica was on the air. And why I’m currently watching Caprica with some interest, because it has promise in that department.

      And, yeah, racism is worse than cheating. There! I said it!

  14. April 12, 2010 at 2:42 pm

    I have always been a little put off by Tina Fey’s style because it has a kind of puerile, juvenile slant to it at times that almost negates the Feminist message. The response I have have is one of one of “so close, but yet so far away.”

  15. April 12, 2010 at 3:00 pm

    I have never found Fey humorous in the least. She is no Glida or Rosanne, Pearl Bailey or Judy Gold. What she happens to be is a “nice white lady” and it has been my experience that folks tend to fill in all the missing elements as far as NWL are considered.

    Don’t we have real feminist to critique. I don’t consider a feminist who has goo gobs of problematic stances on females, race, sex work or fatness to be a feminist much.

  16. April 12, 2010 at 3:02 pm

    Why did you use “ladies” so much in your post?

    Seriously asking. Thanks.

    • April 12, 2010 at 3:05 pm

      @SB: I just say “ladies” a lot! It might be my favorite word, I think.

  17. April 12, 2010 at 3:12 pm

    And, yeah, racism is worse than cheating. There! I said it!

    Heh, I agree with you 100% about this.

    The thing for me, though, is that I don’t think Tina Fey herself says she is the face of feminism– she might have done and I might not have heard of it, though. If it’s just something other people say about her, then I’m not sure she should be taken to task for not being something she never claimed to be.

    Basically my fix would be more ladies with public platforms, not the removal of Tina Fey, which I know is not what you suggested either. Between 30 Rock and Parks and Rec I prefer Parks and Rec for sure, but I am glad both exist.

  18. Lesley
    April 12, 2010 at 3:58 pm

    I actually think Tina Fey tends to make fun of most women; I think she does that because she is sort of simultaneously making fun of the exact stereotypes you are talking about.

  19. willa
    April 12, 2010 at 4:18 pm

    In reply to this comment:

    “I think it’s complicated by Fey’s history of making fun of single women, in the exact same way, in contexts that are not about ads. Like, how hideous Liz looks in hi-def, and how in the first season she nearly died by choking on food and had to give herself a chair Heimlich”

    I don’t know if this advances the discussion or not, but I actually really identify with some of the more “losery” Liz Lemon stuff on 30 Rock.

    Such as, there’s a scene where Lemon explains that she’s holding her bra together with tape. That sounds like something I would actually do.

    And another episode, where Lemon’s home alone at night singing and eating a plate of cheeses. That is also something I would do.

    I don’t READ those moments as “Oh my God, what a LOSER, let us laugh at the loser lady!” I see it as for once, finally, FINALLY a woman on TV acts how I would act if I were on TV, if I were honest about my silliness. I don’t eat a selection of cheeses at night for fun, but I do eat three-day-old brownie batter. And I haven’t held my bra together with tape. I’ve held it together with safety pins. I tried with a paper clip once but it didn’t work.

    I guess what I’m saying is that for a lot of the 30 Rock comedy at least, I see that Lemon’s supposed to be the character you identify with and root for. However, the argument could be made that watching a woman who is successful-ish at work and has no personal life is mundane and has been done to death. It just rings more true to me in this instance than in, say, Sex and the City. So I guess it’s a YMMV thing.

    However, there’s a LOT in that show that is ill-considered and downright stupid. Did Tina Fey write those awful scenes? I ought to find out.

    I didn’t see the SNL show, so I have nothing to offer about it.

    Sorry if this is a mini-derail or side note, I don’t think it is, but I could be wrong.

  20. CC
    April 12, 2010 at 4:47 pm

    One more who saw the brownie sketch as making fun of similarly-themed ads. I also do some of the lame things Liz Lemon does and I do find myself rooting for her much of the time, though her pettiness bugs me.

    Also, I’m not sure where “It’s unclear whether these sluts have all actually slept with your man, in order to qualify for the title, or whether Tina Fey’s Feminism just thinks they’re subhuman because they work at Hooters and have unconventionally spelled names” comes from. While the Tiger Wood mistress who worked at Hooters is not one of the ones that spells her name “Jaimee,” I think that joke is pretty clearly about Tiger’s indescretions, and I’m pretty sure he had sex with all of his mistresses.

  21. Amarantha
    April 12, 2010 at 4:48 pm

    I think Tina Fey got a big boost because she came into the forefront in a very specific time when there were almost no visible female comediennes other than, say Amy Poehler. And when most of the women portrayed in the media followed the “sad young women wrecks her life” arc, a la La Lohan or Paris Hilton or Britney Spears. So it was just refreshing to see a high-profile woman own her shit and be funny and composed and holding it together. I think we’re coming out of that phase as a country, so hopefully some more funny ladies can because visible–ones that are also kickass feminists.

  22. Amarantha
    April 12, 2010 at 4:50 pm

    And also, to see a successful woman be over 30 and not have earned success by dint of embodying hotness as defined by the patriarchy. Also change “women” to woman in last quote.

  23. Elizabeth
    April 12, 2010 at 5:09 pm

    I agree with Willa’s statement above. I can’t believe so many of you see Liz Lemon’s character as a “loser.” Personally, I’m so glad to see a goofy, flawed yet intelligent female character on TV. She’s the first female TV character that I have EVER strongly identified with.

    Tina Fey’s self-deprecating humor is comparable to Jon Stewart’s, who is always deriding his height, age, etc. It’s just one kind of comic persona.

  24. Lisa
    April 12, 2010 at 5:34 pm

    I agree with some of the comments here- I think Tina Fey’s power as a woman comedian is that she gives voice to the way a lot of real women feel as they confront sexism and stereotypes in society.

    The fact of the matter is that a lot of real women also hate women like Bombshell MacGee and would consider her to be a “whore”, so that complicates things. But over all I think she’s giving (middle class, white) women a true glimpse of themselves, and I personally love to watch it. She shows us the struggle to fit in, to watch our weight, to find a great boyfriend. It’s not the stuff of great feminism, but it’s a dose of feminism large enough for the public to swallow.

    I do sometimes wish she would “go further” in her critiques, but I feel the same way about Boondocks and a number of other shows that are keyed in to injustice. They toe the line but then back off. My activist side is perpetually frustrated, but the realist in me knows that it’s how they stay on the air (they are entertainers, after all! Not activists!!). It’s still a step in the right direction.

  25. Anony Mouse
    April 12, 2010 at 5:35 pm

    I didn’t see the SNL and can’t view the clips now, so I can’t comment on any of the sketches, but it’s worth pointing out that Tina Fey merely hosted this SNL. She showed up and read cue cards. SNL’s staff writers are the ones responsible for the content.

  26. Ami
    April 12, 2010 at 5:45 pm

    YES! I watched SNL this weekend and was endlessly disappointed in Fey. I told my partner, “I can’t wait to see what the feminist blogs have to say about THIS” come Monday. To which I was NOT disappointed :)

  27. Anna
    April 12, 2010 at 5:48 pm

    I missed SNL, so this comment is about 30 Rock. During the earlier seasons, me and my lady friends didn’t sit around talking about how glad we were not to be like Liz Lemon. We’d eat cheese and brownie batter after the episode, laughing about how we are EXACTLY like Liz Lemon. We were okay with being like that, and we also thought it was funny, because most people are secretly totally crazy losers when no one else is around. We were certain that was the joke, but we aren’t so sure anymore.

    Something happened to 30 Rock, and I linked your post about it, Sady, to all of those lady friends I was talking about. I always liked Cerie, and I was surprised when I learned that she was supposed to be a dumb character; until sometime at the end of last season or so, I thought she was supposed to be capable but bored and highly privileged. Maybe it was Jenna suddenly not even being able to sing “Amazing Grace,” when she used to have a beautiful voice less than six months ago.

    Anyway, what I’m saying is that I agree with you, and I did not agree with Liz Lemon’s version of the world even in the earlier seasons – I just did a lot of the same things she did, and I thought it was nice to see a woman on TV doing things that women aren’t really “supposed” to do, such as have a mustache that we secretly tweeze every day, but shh. No hair has ever grown itself onto my face! That would be icky!

    So it hurt on kind of a personal level when I slowly realized that the joke might be on me, a lot more than I understood at first.

  28. April 12, 2010 at 6:18 pm

    in tina fey’s own words, from the character she wrote for herself in ‘mean girls’,

    Ms. Norbury: Ok, so we’re all here ‘cause of this book, right? Well, I don’t know who wrote this book, but you all have got to stop calling each other sluts and whores. It just makes it ok for guys to call you sluts and whores

  29. roses
    April 12, 2010 at 6:27 pm

    Tina Fey’s self-deprecating humor is comparable to Jon Stewart’s

    But Elizabeth, how are jokes about a middle aged single woman who desperately wants a husband and baby but is too off-putting to keep a man self-deprecating when Tina Fey has been married since she was 30 and in a relationship since she was 23?

  30. April 12, 2010 at 6:34 pm

    Thanks for this. I watched Tina Fey’s SNL appearance eagerly, and the news segment in particular really disappointed me. In addition to what everyone else has said, I really took offense to her poke at Michelle Bombshell’s tattoos. Since when are tattoos in and of themselves an indicator of poor character, and since when is making fun of women for their physical characteristics okay? Don’t try to mention that on HuffPo, though…

  31. luvpickford
    April 12, 2010 at 6:37 pm

    Can we stop talking about 30 Rock once in a while and give some well-deserved attention to Parks & Recreation? I’ve met quite a few people who don’t enjoy P&R, but 30 Rock certainly hasn’t resonated with me since season 2…

    However, Amy Poehler’s Leslie Knope is naïvely optimistic, but maintains some dignity unlike other NBC characters like Liz Lemon or Michael Scott. Plus, she sticks to her guns in the male-dominated world of small-time local government as a self-proclaimed feminist (like Poehler herself). Whether creating her own categories (such as “the Naomi Wolf Factor”) while judging the Miss Pawnee beauty pageant or reluctantly listing sexist non-sequiturs “This would not happen if I had a penis!”) to save a coworker from getting arrested for accidently shooting their boss, the humor on “P&R” never comes off as misogynistic.

    You have to love Amy Poehler for thinking about young girls too, by co-creating Nickelodeon’s The Mighty B! & the webseries Smart Girls at the Party ( Plus, she gave the best advice while accepting an award last year: “Girls, if boys say something that’s not funny, you don’t have to laugh.”

  32. April 12, 2010 at 6:39 pm

    The lady astronaut and pubic hair jokes were not only way feminist, but also about 100 times funnier. WHY oh why can’t we just stick to the funny?

  33. talldrinkowater
    April 12, 2010 at 7:10 pm

    There’s only one reason Tina Fay is so successful: deep down she’s one of the boys, which makes her fit in perfectly in Hollywood. She’s not exceptionally funny, or an exceptionally good writer, certainly not an exceptional performer. She’s plays a role convenient for the old boys club by saying what sexist men believe about women, but she says it in a female body so it’s more insidious and harder to argue with. She’s just a frat dude in drag.

  34. anon
    April 12, 2010 at 7:48 pm

    It really stumps me that so many people seem genuinely offended/turned off by things like the brownie husband commercial and Liz Lemon’s character. I think it’s hysterical that Liz Lemon – a clearly smart, successful, and attractive woman – is continually shit on by everyone (Frank?! Frank is going to call Liz ugly?!) for being some sort of lonely loser. And she buys it, too. Now that’s irony.

    The show works for me as satire because that absurdity is our reality. We live in a culture that constantly shits on smart, successful, fantastic women, trying to convince them they are less than. Hell, the more successful you are, the more they try to make you feel bad about it. I think the way the show plays that up in all its ridiculous glory is completely feminist.

  35. April 12, 2010 at 8:49 pm

    This is in no way a defense of some of Fey’s jokes—I made fun of her on Facebook for the cheating rant myself—but one thing about humor is that it’s hard to be funny about stuff that isn’t what makes you laugh. I’ve often had people wag their finger at me for joking too much or not writing the jokes they would want me to write, but I don’t know how to be funny about stuff I don’t understand intimately. So my feeling is that Fey writes what she writes because it’s what she gets, and what she’s good at. She’s probably not setting out to get anyone.

    Which doesn’t excuse it, by any means. But it’s helpful to understand where someone is coming from. She could cut out making completely inexcusable jokes about “whores”, and she could definitely sit more on what she’s good at, which is satirizing certain pressures put on women. But I do think it’s not especially useful to ask her to write jokes outside of what she finds funny or understands. We simply need more diversity in who is getting to crack jokes. The fact that Fey is one of the few female comedians out there means she gets a disproportionate amount pressure to speak for more women than she really probably can.

  36. April 12, 2010 at 9:26 pm

    ‘She’s just a frat dude in drag.’

    Ooh, talldrinkowater, let’s not do that, okay?

  37. April 12, 2010 at 11:13 pm

    “She could cut out making completely inexcusable jokes about “whores”, and she could definitely sit more on what she’s good at, which is satirizing certain pressures put on women. But I do think it’s not especially useful to ask her to write jokes outside of what she finds funny or understands.”

    Amanda, that’s her job. She decided to be a comedian and writer, and unlike most people who choose those professions, she actually gets paid for it. If Tina doesn’t understand what is funny outside of demonizing certain classes of women (e.g, “whores”), then she better ask somebody. She is the one who wrote, and said, the following words: “You all have got to stop calling each other sluts and whores. It just makes it okay for guys to call you sluts and whores.”

    I know I can do my job without hating on other women. If Tina Fey can’t figure out how to do her highly-paid job without continuously hating on other women, then maybe she should find another job.

  38. Henotheist
    April 12, 2010 at 11:25 pm

    I want to put a little pressure on the critique of Liz Lemmon’s character as well — criticizing Tina Fey for writing a comedy that stars an insecure single woman isn’t a bold feminist move by any means, but it isn’t sexist, either. The majority of the characters on 30 Rock are single and insecure: all of them, in fact, except Tracy Jordan — whose intimate relationship with his wife is instead a subversion of the “irresponsible black guy” stereotype.

    And the fact of the matter is that — outside of “family sitcoms” — the majority of characters in funny TV shows are single and insecure. Think of Seinfeld, Friends, Frasier, etc. In fact, as the latest season of The Office shows, it’s a tricky sell to keep your characters from “jumping the shark” post-marriage and post-baby: Pam and Jim are doing okay so far, but then we’re only three episodes in — and Pam is conspicuously less present right now. The show has already transferred our interest to singles Andy and Erin, and back to Dwight and Michael and so on. It might be worth asking whether single characters get sidelined in “family sitcoms,” and whether married characters get sidelined in “office sitcoms.”

    Having said that, the WU skit is just plain bad news, and anyone looking for more feminist fare should consider Sarah Haskins or Amy Poehler!

  39. Bruce from Missouri
    April 12, 2010 at 11:51 pm

    ***But Elizabeth, how are jokes about a middle aged single woman who desperately wants a husband and baby but is too off-putting to keep a man self-deprecating when Tina Fey has been married since she was 30 and in a relationship since she was 23?***

    I think she does see her self as Liz Lemon. The way she tells it, Jeff Richmond is the only relationship she has ever been in. In an interview she said that he is the only man she has ever slept with, and that before then “Try as I might, I couldn’t give it away in college”.

    I suspect that before she became the slim, well dressed and attractive Tina Fey of today, she spent a number of years as a chubby drama club nerd. You have to remember that when she tried out for SNL, she was looking for a job as a writer, not a performer. Getting asked to perform I have to think was a huge confidence booster for her, and probably changed her life social-life wise.

    I imagine that pre-SNL Tina Fey had a lot in common with Liz Lemon.

  40. Lauren B.
    April 13, 2010 at 12:10 am

    This post about reminded me of this episode of Weekend Update: Women’s News, also hosted by Tina Fey.
    This recently appeared in a collection on Hulu titled “The Best of Tina Fey” to publicize her appearance on SNL this past weekend. Sady, I know you’ve done some other posts on Tina Fey, so I hope this isn’t unnecessary repetition, but I found this segment to be really disturbing, and for the most part anti-feminist because Fey spends the entire segment bashing women. First, she makes fun of Linsey Lohan for “finding new ways to look old,” and then mentions that middle-aged women are having more strokes because “65 year old women are calling themselves middle-aged.” Seriously, what’s with all the “old” jokes? Then she makes a fat joke about Kirstie Alley. Then, when she’s defending(?) Hillary Clinton, she makes a jab that she’s not having sex with her husband. WTF?

  41. PrettyAmiable
    April 13, 2010 at 10:42 am

    “I suspect that before she became the slim, well dressed and attractive Tina Fey of today, she spent a number of years as a chubby drama club nerd.”

    Really? Because chubby drama club nerds can’t be expected to have relationships and/or sex? That’s linked to weight and interests?

  42. April 13, 2010 at 11:09 am

    Great post. I agree, while Fey’s being a successful female comic is good for women, the substance of what she says and does often isn’t:

  43. Niki
    April 13, 2010 at 11:50 am

    “You really can’t ascribe feminism to Tina Fey’s work.”

    Maybe not all of it, but surely some! I agree that the whole Women’s News bit was tasteless and reeked of slut-shaming. And I also agree that it’s not the first time I’ve detected slut-shaming in Tina Fey’s work.

    Fey isn’t perfect. She is, however, indeed a feminist who has many feminist themes in her shows and movies. They exist, they are there. Take the brownie husband bit – that WAS a feminist skit. She wasn’t making fun of single chicks who love chocolate. She was making fun of the way the marketing industry treats these women. Just like how, on 30 Rock, she makes fun of the way society views single women like Liz Lemon. There is subversion in Tina Fey’s work that I think many feminist writers often ignore.

    Really, I refuse to hate on Fey because of some tasteless, offensive, slut-shaming moments. I might disagree with her about them – and, if I ever had the chance to meet her and discuss her work at length with her (OMG could you imagine!) – I’d call her out on that, alongside my praise for other parts of her work. But it’s ok to acknowledge that one person can sometimes produce art and entertainment that is healthy and enlightened, and other times that same person can produce art and entertainment that is more negative.

    Feminism shouldn’t be a You Are Or You Aren’t issue, at least in the way we critique things; it’s just as full of gray areas as any other movement.

    • April 13, 2010 at 12:01 pm

      Feminism shouldn’t be a You Are Or You Aren’t issue, at least in the way we critique things; it’s just as full of gray areas as any other movement.

      Except I don’t think Sady is saying that Tina Fey is Not A Feminist, or that you are a Bad Feminist for liking Tina Fey. I think she’s saying that we should quit lauding Fey as The Feminist Comic. There’s a difference.

  44. Bruce from Missouri
    April 13, 2010 at 12:15 pm

    ***Really? Because chubby drama club nerds can’t be expected to have relationships and/or sex? That’s linked to weight and interests?***

    Evidently you don’t remember high school? I say this as someone who wasn’t exactly in the social mainstream myself. It’s not easy for the social outsiders. It’s well known that Tina Fey’s life changed after she lost a bunch of weight, and learned how to dress her new body. Self confidence will take you a long way, and I don’t think she had it previously.

  45. Samantha b.
    April 13, 2010 at 12:28 pm

    Bruce from Missouri, so you’ve decided that because Vanity Fair et. al have decided she had no confidence previous to her weight loss, it must be so? Who exactly are you to decide what determines self-confidence, and, again, I’m still wondering why would you link it to weight? I can think of multiple high school friends I had who were in the social mainstream, and confided regular struggles with self esteem. And I can think of high school friends who were outside of the social mainstream and never did so. If you didn’t see that much, I am thinking it wasn’t because you were outside of the social mainstream, but it may have been because you were instantaneously judgmental?

  46. April 13, 2010 at 12:30 pm

    @Niki: Oh, LORRRRRRRRRD, Niki. For the record, I’ve written about 2.5 LENGTHY posts on Tina Fey and 30 Rock. One of them at this site. And guess what? I write a lot about Tina Fey, and 30 Rock, because I LIKE TINA FEY AND 30 ROCK. A lot. I find it really tiresome to be accused of “hating on” someone for whose work I have repeatedly professed affection, whenever I make a critique. Now: It is not your fault that you apparently didn’t read any of the rest of my work on Tina Fey. Maybe it was hard to find! Or whatever! However, you left the MOST RECENT comment in this EXTENSIVE vein, and so I shall address this quick recap of my Tina Fey critique to you:

    There are aspects of Tina Fey’s work that are somewhat feminist. They seem, to me, to be tied to a very specific and second-wave-based form of feminism that favors women’s individual advancement into positions of power normally held by men, and also to rejecting overt/”sexy” performances of “femininity” in terms of how one presents, physically.

    However, the feminism Tina Fey presents is tied, throughout her work (from “Mean Girls” to “30 Rock” to “Baby Mama”) to the perspectives of upper-middle-class or upper-class, white, professional, heterosexual women. Other women — working-class women, queer women, women of color and most particularly “slutty” women or “bimbos,” whom Fey continually deploys as characters to demonstrate the evils of traditionally sexualized femininity, falling into slut-shaming or traditional sexism more often than not in her presentation of them — are either excluded from her work, relegated to minor side characters, and/or presented as villains or figures of fun, receiving a particularly harsh, caricatural characterization that the women who tend to be the protagonists of Fey’s work (de-sexualized, not quite so traditionally feminine, upwardly mobile and successful in traditionally “male” fields such as math, comedy writing, and business) do not. Her protagonists are typically single, recipients of sexual rejection to greater or lesser degree, and (if they are adults) unwed and childless. Children, in particular, are presented as something her adult protagonists feel incomplete without: see “Baby Mama,” or the recurring “Liz wants a baby so bad she might steal one in her sleep or defraud an adoption counselor to get one” plots on 30 Rock. Men are something they lack, but are handed out as rewards (see “Baby Mama,” “Mean Girls”) or something that they feel incomplete without and lose touch with reality and decency to a certain — highly exaggerated — extent in the pursuit of (see all of 30 Rock, particularly the recent episodes “Anna Howard Shaw Day” and “Floyd,” available on Hulu). These women, despite being portrayed as incomplete and sad without men and/or children, receive substantially more sympathy than her other female characters: Regina George, Karen, Gretchen Weiners, Cerie, Jenna, or Amy Poehler’s character in “Baby Mama,” who was accorded more sympathy in the third act of the movie, after she learned to heed the advice of the upper-middle-class, upwardly mobile, desexualized character played by Fey and to — in effect — stop acting like such a big working-class tramp. (And it’s worth noting, in this movie, that “working class” and “trampy” were presented as inextricably correlated factors in Poehler’s character: The poor lady wears belly tees and idolizes Britney Spears, the rich lady wears sensible shirts and has sensible feelings about Britney.)

    Fey’s expressed feminism, in its exclusion of women of color, working-class women, and queer women, and its focus on the advancement of individual middle-class/upwardly mobile/white/straight women up and into traditionally male hierarchies, corporations, and positions of power, reiterates many of the major flaws of a certain brand of mainstream second-wave feminism. It also shares with that brand of feminism a hatred of what it would probably call “patriarchal body standards” or “raunch culture” or “mandatory sexualization,” with the crucial problem being that this translates into either harsh, snide, and cruel jokes (in the case of her character-based comedy) or overtly hateful attitudes (in the case of the Women’s News segment) towards “sluts,” “bimbos,” and particularly sex workers. These attitudes lead to those women being excluded from feminism as well, or in some cases (as in Fey’s Women’s News segment) being set up as “the enemies” of “real women,” women’s advancement, or feminism. Which has also been a flaw of the brand of feminism Fey’s comedy seems to mirror. Furthermore, its focus on the plight of unmarried women, which is sympathetic while still portraying singlehood as somewhat pathetic and to be cured, and its open advocacy of motherhood as a goal for women, is a bit heteronormative and more than a little based in pre-feminist or non-feminist attitudes.

    To conclude this highly academic, hopefully un-misreadable recap, I believe that the fact that Tina Fey Feminism is, in effect, Privileged Feminism, with all of the flaws intact, is the reason that, whenever you criticize Tina Fey or Liz Lemon, literally dozens of feminists (often, in my experience, white and privileged ones) will file into your comment section or write posts on their own blogs about how mean you are and how much they identify with Liz Lemon/Tina Fey, and say that a little open hatred of “sluts” and “bimbos” is a small flaw (which in NO WAY reiterates the way that feminist discourse has historically openly shamed and excluded such women) and she’s a good enough feminist for THEM (the privileged feminists) so LET’S NOT HATE because really they are SO LIKE HER.

    Any questions?

  47. shakahi
    April 13, 2010 at 12:45 pm

    Really, I refuse to hate on Fey because of some tasteless, offensive, slut-shaming moments.

    I’ve felt that way ever since I saw Fey on a talk show a few years ago bragging about how she had coined the pun “The Last Call Girls” for the female employees of the “Last Call with Carson Daly” late night show. Apparently, the women at SNL had to (Gasp!) share a bathroom with them. But now the cringe worthy moments are coming too often to ignore just because she’s funny. She’s no where near Bill Maher yet, but I’m afraid she’s going to get there soon.

  48. PrettyAmiable
    April 13, 2010 at 1:38 pm

    “Evidently you don’t remember high school? I say this as someone who wasn’t exactly in the social mainstream myself. It’s not easy for the social outsiders. It’s well known that Tina Fey’s life changed after she lost a bunch of weight, and learned how to dress her new body. Self confidence will take you a long way, and I don’t think she had it previously.”

    OIC. Being chubby and having interests outside of the mainstream mean you don’t have self confidence. You obviously can’t like yourself when you’re like that.

    It may be true that Tina Fey got more self confidence after she learned to conform to society, and maybe you did too, but don’t suggest that being fat and being interesting mean being low on the self confidence scale, and that losing weight and going all Tina Fey is the way out of a self-worth deathtrap.

  49. April 13, 2010 at 2:07 pm

    I’m with you until the second clip, which struck me as making fun of existing tropes rather than perpetuating them. It’s not funny any other way.

    I thought it was interesting how you were discussing the concept of humor and feminist comedians. As a big fan of stand-up, I’ve always tried to evaluate how to draw the line between off-color and unfunny. This applies to race issues as much as feminism (in case you consider the two to be unrelated.) It’s tricky and as is the case with Tina Fey, more often than not you can have a lot of good mixed in with some moments were the person is absolutely bombing in your eyes even as they’re getting laughs from the rest of the stage.

  50. Christy
    April 14, 2010 at 12:39 am

    I find it odd and disturbing that so many commenters keep harping on the fact that Tina Fey can’t feel like Liz Lemon because she’s been married for so long, or because she’s been in a relationship since she was 23. This argument in itself seems to imply that her relationship with a man would obviously fulfill her and give her confidence. Could it be that half the joke of Liz Lemon or Brownie Husband is how little impact a husband–or any other person–has on one’s sense of self and confidence? Other people can’t make you love or hate yourself, not even a spouse. Additionally, it was only after she lost 30 lbs that Fey was included in the performing cast of SNL. I think Fey knows Lemon, is Lemon, and it strikes me that a lot of that “sad single white lady” humor is a feminist joke (I guess you could say “meta” ugh), though maybe of the “inside” variety.

    That said, I did cringe when she called out McGee alone–though she called out Tiki Barber in the same rant. But not calling out Jesse James doesn’t make McGee any less culpable. Yes, he would have cheated (and did cheat) with someone else if Michelle McGee hadn’t been involved, but she was and that was her choice to carry on an affair with another person’s spouse. Oh and then only come forward about it a year later when that person won an Oscar. That, my friends, is called a “dick move.”

  51. The Coca-cola Kid
    April 14, 2010 at 12:01 pm

    SNL hosts don’t write their own material. Given the production schedule, Fey’s publicity rounds and her saying in the opening monologue that 30 Rock had wrapped on Tuesday I’d seriously doubt she’d contributed more than a few ad-libs. This reminds me of when she was on the cover of Vogue and some blogs criticized her for how she was styled – again something no one except the editors of Vogue has any control over.

  52. Kristin
    April 14, 2010 at 12:36 pm

    I have never really found Tina Fey particularly funny in the first place. I was pleasantly surprised by the election-year Palin impersonation (which, by the way, wasn’t nearly as funny in this recent SNL episode. It’s lost its novelty and just seems bland now.).

    I agree about the cheating stuff, but I’m not clear on whether or not she has ever identified herself as a feminist.

    In any case, I tend not to expect a great deal from her. Her years as head writer of SNL were its *worst* in terms of writing.

  53. Niki
    April 14, 2010 at 12:38 pm

    Sady, I have read your other critique of Tina Fey (the one on this site), and I wasn’t actually suggesting that you yourself are “hating on Fey,” so much as I was responding to the general conversation that’s playing out here and in the feminist blogosphere in general. As in, I was just piping up and giving my take on things. However, I take it that you thought I was responding to you directly – understandably, seeing as how this is your blog, and I did pull one of your direct quotes – so I apologize that I didn’t make my phrasing clearer. I kind of veered off from talking about that specific quote throughout my comment and I guess there’s not really any way someone could have understood that was my intention, since they aren’t in my head. So due to poor editing of my own comment, I fucked up. I’m sorry.

    However, I don’t really think your response to me was fair. My comment wasn’t rude or aggressive, and I don’t think it merited such an attack from you when I was simply trying to engage in the discussion you started. I’d like to continue in that discussion too, but am feeling a bit threatened now that anything I say will be met with more personal attacks, which is unfortunate since I generally love this site and your posts. We can talk about whether or not Tina Fey deserves to sport the “feminist” title, and we can disagree on that, but I hope at least that we can agree to not attack one another personally, can’t we?

  54. Miles
    April 14, 2010 at 2:27 pm

    Sorry if this is out of place, but, do you have anything that is not Hulu? It makes for a somewhat confusing post if I can’t see the thing you’re discussing.

  55. Alison
    April 15, 2010 at 12:35 pm

    Awesome, awesome, awesome analysis of Tina Fey! I was horrified by the “she’s a whore!” skit but most people I know thought it was hilarious and even feminist. So I appreciate that there are others who agree with me!

  56. Morgan
    April 16, 2010 at 4:01 pm

    Hilarious AND feminist: Margaret Cho. But yeah, that’s all I got.

  57. April 16, 2010 at 4:31 pm

    THANK YOU! I have been perplexed by the feminist shield around this woman… more often than not I am just disappointed that she took the low road. I really, really want her to come through and live up to the accolades she has already received. This was very well-argued… keep up the good work!

  58. RD
    April 19, 2010 at 12:48 pm

    Unfortunately, Margaret Cho is also a “trannyboi” chaser.

Comments are closed.