So Zooey Deschanel is not the first actress to go for the doe-eyed, so-naive-it's-adorable routine. Women have been undermining their own intelligence for decades. And for as many empowering images of strong, intelligent women, there are images that reinforce that to be beautiful, women also have to be just a little bit dumb.
When I was a kid, it was Chrissy from "Three's Company." She was kind, sweet, and, well, completely clueless. For anybody who has seen the show, there was no limit to her naivete. In one episode, she talks about how difficult it is for her to think--so much so that she can't be expected to think and walk at the same time! Her smart (and brunette) friend and roommate is a nice contrast to Chrissy, but let's not be fooled regarding who is the more desirable in the household--Janet is the smart one, and Chrissy is the sexy one.
In an interview, Suzanne describes playing her character as being able to relive her childhood. A little odd considering Chrissy was an adult. "What I found in her was the opportunity to be the child that I never had the opportunity to be...I think that's what endeared her to the public, that she wasn't threatening. She might have worn those little shorts and things, but she had no idea that she looked good and she was just not threatening to anybody."
There are two troubling thoughts in that description. The first is that to be non-threatening, a woman has to be dumb or naive. The second troubling thought is that part of that non-threatening behavior is to be oblivious to one's sexual agency. That is a dangerous combination. A woman who is naive and innocent, and simultaneously unaware of her sexuality, is vulnerable to a range of objectification.
However, the "dumb blonde" schtick has been so overplayed, we'd like to think that we have overcome those stereotypes. Unfortunately, the dumb-but-adorable typecast seems to be going strong.
Deschanel's character Jess in "The New Girl" may not be as sexualized as Chrissy, but her overall cluelessness is really what people mean when they say "quirky." Because without her wide-eyed innocence (literally), Zooey's character is just another beautiful girl who sings well and wears glasses at her convenience. Zooey may not be baring as much skin as Chrissy, but she is gorgeous. And yet, her character is sexually very naive. As a grown adult woman, she can't even say the word "Penis." And for young women watching, that's problematic.
When both these actresses speak about their character, they talk about how virtuous and unique they are. I'm sure neither of them intend or even believe their characters to be playing into the same old stereotypes. And it's true, there are great and wonderful things about these women. What is important to distinguish is that these characters are not problematic because they are overly feminine. The problem is that, for some reason, feminine and dumb seem to go hand-in-hand. Where are the very feminine, intelligent women in television? We have images of strong, intelligent women-but who are not very feminine. And then we have this other polar opposite.
At least Deschanel is breaking stereotypes in one regard; It's not the same old "dumb-blonde" routine, it's an equal playing field.
EMPOWERTAINMENT aims to take a critical look at media in regards to how gender and women/girls are portrayed. From popular articles, videos, and websites, to original submissions, we want to not only examine the media and its relation to gender, but help shift it.