Zooey Deschanel: Adorkable or Alienating?

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Zooeymania has officially swept the nation. Zooey Deschanel, the quirky, doe-eyed actress who stole Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s heart in 2009’s sleeper hit 500 Days of Summer, and in the process became the preeminent object of hipster desire, has hit the big-time with a shiny new sitcom on Fox. New Girl is positioned in Fox’s most coveted spot, Tuesday nights after Glee, which means if the network sticks with it, Zooey’s will be a household name. But lately her name has been on people’s lips for another, less fluffy reason: Ms. Deschanel has become a lightning rod for a heated debate about what it means to be a feminist. 

The main criticism levied against her is that she plays the cutesy infantilistic card a little too much. In case you’re unversed in the magical, butterfly-laden landscape of Zooeyland, she has a website called Hello Giggles (with a subcategory called Cuteness) and according to her band’s Myspace page, She and Him occupies “an alternate universe where the saddest songs feel as warm as sun showers.” She also got a lot of attention for Tweeting that she wished everybody looked like a kitten back in June. This stream of sugar-coated unicorn fluff has an alienating effect on some women who feel, as Jada Yuan of New York magazine put it, that Deschanel plays into the “male fantasy that women are only attractive when they act like girls.”

In many ways, it’s hard not to see the merit in this perspective. A woman acting like a girl seems to be the appeal Fox is banking on with New Girl. Jess, the unlucky-in-love lead character, is disarmingly kooky (or “adorkable” as the network would prefer you to call her) and so far, she appears to have the emotional intelligence of a ten-year-old. But it’s primetime TV; none of the guys in the show are geniuses either. And what about the underlying assumption that girliness and power are mutually exclusive? As Deschanel told New York magazine, “I think the fact that people are associating being girlie with weakness, that needs to be examined.”

Maybe she’s right. Maybe cupcakes and rainbows don’t diminish our power; maybe that’s a relic from reactionary feminism of the past, and those of us who call ourselves feminists don’t need to fear the cute. Or maybe we’re treating Zooey a little too much like Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character treated Summer with our overblown expectations of pure feminist virtue and alt-indie perfection, and we’re unreasonably disappointed in her for being her own person with opinions that don’t perfectly align with what we’ve imagined her to be. Whatever the case may be, we’re interested to see how her adorkableness pans out.

What do you think? Is Zooey’s girlie persona too much for you, or do you find her whimsical ways simply adorkable?


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