Tina Fey: Not Feminist Enough?

I knew this was going to happen: Tina Fey hosted “Saturday Night Live” this past weekend and yesterday morning, our fellow lady blogs were all abuzz with complain-y posts. Bloggers I read and respect, including Sady Doyle at Feministe, Jessica Grose at Double X, and Irin Carmon at Jezebel, took to their blogs to react to Fey’s hosting gig. And I understand why women were watching, fingers poised to the keyboard: Whip-smart and witty Fey is a role model for millions of women and girls.

Still, I’ll bet Jude Law didn’t have to deal with being over-analyzed to death the Monday morning after he hosted. Irin Carmon over at Jezebel wrote that “maybe expecting such a mainstream figure to be a feminist icon was the biggest problem.” But of all the Tina Fey analyses on the blogs this morning, I most agree with Jessica Grose at Double X, who said almost all of Fey’s skits “denigrated single women in some way” but still conceded Fey’s humor on “SNL,” as on “30 Rock” in general, is meta. Grose wrote:

One way of reading Liz Lemon is that her storylines are a meta-critique of the spinster stereotype. By this, I mean that the ’30 Rock’ writers are showing the ridiculousness of the societal fear of single women by essentially making Liz into a Cathy cartoon.

But over at Feministe, blogger Sady Doyle tore Fey a new one. Doyle wrote 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!”

Oy. I feel compelled to just cut-and-paste the post I wrote a few months ago defending Taylor Swift’s schmoopy love songs from feminist criticism. But that would be too easy, wouldn’t it?

First up, the “Brownie Husband” skit. I loved this skit. Doyle did not:

“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 … even more common than slut-bashing in the comedic stylings of Tina Fey’s Feminism.

Now, maybe it’s just me, but I thought the humor in Fey’s “Brownie Husband” skit was meta. She wasn’t making fun of single women. She was making fun of us for assuming a single woman wouldn’t be happy without a husband (or a giant-ass Duncan Hines brownie). Wasn’t that obvious?

Doyle’s harshest vitriol was for the “Women’s News” skit during “Weekend Update,” about which she wrote, “according to Fey, the plague of male cheating is caused by hot sluts who let your man have consensual sex with them.” She continues:

… 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. … 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.’

I, too, was disappointed by Fey’s “Women’s News” skit, which trashed Michelle “Bombshell” McGee — slut-bashing the woman and letting the man off scot-free. It surprised me! (In fact, I tweeted about it during the show: “I love you, Tina Fey, but maybe you could have been harder on Jesse James instead of calling Bombshell McGee a whore and a skank?”) Michelle McGee isn’t the one with the marriage vows! Hello, double standard!

But I also read Fey’s “Women’s News” skit as similar to the speech she gives in “Mean Girls,” as a plea for sisterly solidarity. Remember the scene where she tells the girls in the gym, where Fey, as teacher Ms. Norbury says, “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!” In the “Women’s News” skit, Fey says there’s no “Oscar curse” that makes winners lose their husbands. No, “the curse is that there are women like Bombshell McGee walking around.” Of course, Tina, it’s also a curse that men like Jesse James are walking around. But I don’t think Fey meant “women like Bombshell” as in “sluts”; she meant women who hurt other women by sleeping with their husbands. As much as I didn’t like what I read as Fey’s slut-bashing, I didn’t disagree with her point that it’s not very feminist for women to help men cheat.

There are other skits Doyle and others find problematic: “Lolene,” where Fey pretends to be a 6-inch-tall prostitute with a stereotypical heart of gold, and “Masters,” where she pretends to be one of Tiger Woods’ conquests at the Masters Tournament. But I think you get the point.

I already unpacked some of my disagreements with some of the feminist criticism about Fey. But what I hate the most, I think, is Doyle’s use of the term “Tina Fey Feminism,” as if feminism can have malignant strands, like the flu. “Tina Fey Feminism” sounds like an accusation of “faux feminism.” And to be sure, there are faux feminists amongst us, like Sarah Palin. These are women who co-opt feminist values — like women’s leadership, women’s intelligence, women’s capability to handle responsibility — and twist them around to use for purposes that actually damage women. But Tina Fey is not a faux feminist. Not even close.

I believe feminism can and should have a big tent; the feminism I want to be a part of is welcoming and accepting to anyone with sincere feminist values, which Tina Fey’s body of work more than proves she adequately possesses. I hate the claim that “you’re not feminist enough!” (an insult I have been on the stinging end of), as if there is some kind of rule book somewhere we all have to follow. Feminists, like anyone who ascribes to any belief system (just as Christians, for instance), can send welcoming, accepting, loving, and embracing vibes to people, or they can bare their teeth and hiss at those who don’t possess the same rigidity of thought. We need to stop being so hard on each other. Feminism, to me, is about building up, not tearing down. And I don’t think anyone can be a “perfect feminist,” not even Gloria Steinem or Alice Walker or bell hooks or Jane Fonda, or any other women commonly cited as feminist role models.

To answer a question posed by Carmon at Jezebel, “So is it better to have a flawed Tina Fey than none at all?” the answer is yes. Tina Fey is only human. Let’s not put her up on a pedestal of the “perfect feminist” where no one could ever pass muster.

[Double X]