The television show, New Girl, reinforces hegemonic ideologies regarding women and the ways in which they lack agency, power, and independence. These ideologies are most strongly reinforced by the protagonist, Jessica “Jess” Day, portrayed by Zooey Deschanel. Throughout the show, Jess is seemingly depicted as independent and resourceful; however, upon closer analysis, it becomes apparent that Jess is constantly a damsel in distress–whenever she is faced with any form of hardship, she is ultimately rescued by a male character. To further problematize this depiction, Jess’ immediate reaction to conflict is to actively seek the help of men around her. This juxtaposition of female weakness and male saviors in mainstream media is extremely dangerous because it deepens existing power differentials between men and women. The photos we have selected clearly illustrate the ways in which Jess depends on the men around her in order to overcome adversity and conflict in her own life.
In the popular television show, New Girl, Jess (Deschanel) is depicted as a strong, independent woman who claims authority and agency. Through her career as a teacher and vice principal, Jess often expresses her autonomy by acting logically and maintaining her optimistic spirit.
In addition to her independence and power in her professional life, the show also characterizes Jess as independent in social, emotional, and personal contexts, standing up for herself when needed. This scene shows Jess (in the first episode) reclaiming her possessions from her ex-boyfriend’s home. This is a clear example of Jess’ agency and intentionality in taking charge of her own life.
While Jess’ efforts to act in an independent and strong manner are highlighted throughout the show, this idea often falls short in the idea that Jess constantly relies on her male friends, consciously and unconsciously, to save her from her worries and problems. She often formulates logical and creative ideas, especially in regards to figuring out her own personal problems, but these ideas often backfire and result in some problematic situation in which only “the guys” can help her.
In this episode, Jess struggles with coming to the realization that her long-time boyfriend has cheated on her, moved on, and failed to return any of her belongings. In addition to relying on her newly found male roommates to convince her to stand up for herself and reclaim her belongings, she also is too terror-stricken to act on her own, prompting her male friends to come to the rescue and stand up the the old beau in her stead; this characterizes Jess as a character in need of male saviors.
This idea of a male savior is highly visible in the narratives of each of the episodes, often resulting in a formulaic depiction of Jess and her abilities, or lack thereof, to “fend for herself.” In this episode, Jess faces potential (although later revealed to be nonexistent) trouble with drugs, to which she immediately consults her three male housemates for assistance; she ultimately involves them fully in the drama of attempting to dispose of the drugs, which exemplifies her active search for help in men.
In this scene, Jess, who was initially unable to reach her desired destination due to the lack of availability of flights at the airport, is eventually allowed to board her desired flight–all thanks to an airport employee who is willing to bend the rules for her. This kind of depiction illustrates how Jess’ conflicts are resolved even by men she is barely acquainted with, and her reliance on their unquestioning charity.
Despite its best attempts at portraying a strong and independent female protagonist through the character of Jess, New Girl ultimately reinforces the hegemonic ideology that characterizes women as powerless, without agency, and constantly in need of male saviors. The subtle representation of this kind of hegemonic ideology in this show is particularly harmful because it supports covert sexism, hiding behind the guise of the seemingly progressive depiction of the characters in synchrony with the show’s narrative–a common theme seen throughout mainstream media and ultimately reflected in society and its expectations of women.
Wesley & Hannah
Photo Essay Project