the ‘war on twee’ and other easy headlines;

I don’t engage with people who say my love of baked goods makes me less of a feminist. That’s all I have to say about that.

That was me, on Twitter, on Saturday morning. Except then a couple of people retweeted me, so it turned out I did engage after all, so I figured I might as well write it all down. Another day, another attack on (quote) “the sort of girl-wom[e]n who… wear kiddie clips in [their] hair and bake endless cupcakes that don’t even have any drugs in them”, this time from serial antagoniser and occasional journalist Laurie Penny. The article is another one of those tedious riffs against “twee” girl culture, given a topical twist in the form of some sort of review of new Zooey Deschanel-fronted sitcom New Girl.

Confession time: I am quite the fan of the doe-eyed Deschanel the younger. When it comes time for them to cast the Last Year’s Girl biopic, as they undoubtedly will, I’d be very pleased if they considered the actress for the leading role. And so, soon after her new show aired over in the States, I watched the pilot with Jehane (of similar tastes).

Honestly? I found it pretty tedious and lacking in the laughs you’d expect from something billed as a sitcom; and decided that I wouldn’t bother watching further episodes.

Zooey’s dresses were really pretty though.

The premise of New Girl is simple: girl discovers long-term boyfriend is cheating on her, moves into an otherwise all-male flatshare she finds on Craigslist, hilarity ensues. Or not. The presence of Deschanel, who has made her name as the kooky supporting character in various independent pictures with romance at their heart, as that girl adds an extra grenade to the reviewer’s arsenal for never have I seen an actress quite so divisive. As Jess, Deschanel plays a role she’s pretty much made her own over the years. She’s sweet and slightly clueless, wears a retro-inspired wardrobe and even sings the bloody theme song (during the pilot episode, while naked). Thanks to its leading actress articles denouncing New Girl not as a spectacularly unfunny sitcom with a hackneyed premise but rather as some sort of attack on ‘real women’ were therefore unsurprising, not least because it wouldn’t be the first article to rage against the sort of throwback girlish pastimes that have become increasingly trendy of late.*

You know, sometimes I worry that the feminist movement’s biggest enemy is itself.

Honestly? I am so, so sick of this continuous game of feminist one-upmanship. When something becomes trendy (whether it’s cupcake cafes, knitting or Lana Del Rey) it’s only going to be a matter of time before the backlash begins – that’s understandable. As humans, we want to be first or not at all; but some feminist commentators have gone further. Personally I think it is dangerous and divisive to write off certain activities as ‘bad’ because they are seen as being traditionally feminine. For one thing, why is the traditionally feminine of less worth? Aren’t we as feminists supposed to be arguing the very opposite?

sick bed

There'll be time to fight the patriarchy after your tea break.

You know what? Girls like myself and Zooey Deschanel are built to look cute in hooped skirts and lipgloss just like girls like Laurie Penny look hot as fuck when they’re doing the gamine thing with the Audrey Hepburn hair and a military-style peacoat. And guys, I like cake. This is no secret. I have been really, really sick these past few days and I thought some cake would cheer me up. Now I could have gone out and bought some but instead I whipped up some chocolate buttercream iced things. It took me twenty minutes and cost me 81p for some white chocolate stars because I had everything else in my kitchen already. Which is why I find it quite insulting to read something like this passage from Penny’s article:

It’s not just Hollywood that’s painfully uninterested in three-dimensional women with complex emotions. In a world where women and girls grow up negotiating a soup of stultifyingly gendered aesthetic cliche, sometimes the best way to tell the world you’re hurting really is to cry theatrically and watch Dirty Dancing on repeat. So, we dumb down; we prattle when we could speak our minds; we play retro-cutesy as if to apologise for the modernity and maturity that so often terrifies the men in our lives.

Personally I see no reason why my love of the ‘retro-cutesy’ and my considerable intelligence cannot coexist; why I cannot keep my herbal teabags in a ceramic cupcake on the desk at my job with a major international law firm. Would it perhaps please the makers of this line of sneering argument to live in a world where there are whole professions full of women terrified to act like anything other than Margaret Thatcher for fear their bosses smell placenta on them and officially fuck their careers? I do not know what Laurie Penny does for a living to supplement her freelance income, although she certainly seems to spend way more time in New York than I can afford to, but I’m pretty sure that it wouldn’t come as a surprise to her that she already lives in that world.

I have worked in those environments and they are never the ones that you would think. I’ve had the boss who seemed to assume she (yes, she) had the prerogative over her staff’s biological clocks; I’ve had the giggly schoolboy co-workers who couldn’t risk a knowing wink when I rushed past them to vomit before heading to the shop floor. It was an iron deficiency, and the treatment turned my poo black. Oh, I’m sorry – was that too much information? It’s just that you seem to think my health and my body exist for popular discussion, just because I’m in my late twenties and new(ish)ly married. How’s the sperm count? Tick, tick!

That’s the reality. And personally, I’ve seen one too many identikit if well-acted dramas centred around a strong, confident female doctor/lawyer/politician in a man’s world juggling career and childcare and philandering husband. Perhaps they are better role models, but I don’t tend to identify with those women. Forgive me for saying it but even though Jess is a complete tit I identify with her… and at least by the end of New Girl’s pilot episode it wasn’t painfully obvious just which member of the cast she was being set up to ultimately shag at sweep season.

Maybe I’m wrong. As I said at the start, I’ve only seen the show’s pilot episode and perhaps by midway through the series Jess becomes part domestic slave and sex toy for her three male flatmates. Which, you know, if it’s consensual is totally cool but is liable to make it even less my kind of a show.

For now, I might just watch the second episode just to piss off the people who say I shouldn’t.

Oh, and here’s a picture of me and a Hello Kitty thong just for sheer lols.

*There was one particular article I had in mind here, from over the summer, but neither myself nor Lola can remember who wrote it or where. Still, it’s not as if ranting unsourced has ever stopped anybody else writing for the internet.



  1. January 16, 2012 / 9:31 pm

    “You know, sometimes I worry that the feminist movement’s biggest enemy is itself.”

    I think you have a point here.

    Watched a little bit of New Girl, and was totally turned off by the writing. It was so bad I was unable to watch with the sound off.

    Is Two Broke Girls airing over there? Kat Dennings actually makes cupcakes.

    • January 16, 2012 / 9:36 pm

      I haven’t seen any advertising, but that won’t keep me from snagging the pilot. I do like Kat Dennings, although Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist was even worse than New Girl.

  2. Lisa-Marie
    January 16, 2012 / 9:53 pm

    I like cakes. And cute stuff. I’m certain I am still a feminist, and I am definitely still intelligent. I think it’s called ‘enjoying life and not being a miserable git’. Laurie Penny spouts judgemental, cliched drivel (and she is a hypocrite). She is the sort of ‘feminist’ who gives the movement a bad name . The sort who thinks you are doing it wrong unless you do it her way, thereby removing the choice that is THE WHOLE POINT OF FEMINISM.

    I found New Girl quite bland, but I like Zooey Deschanel, so I’m going to give the second episode a chance.

    I could say more, but I shall save it for another time.

  3. Fafa
    January 16, 2012 / 10:29 pm

    We’ve had this conversation before, so sorry if I repeat myself. Feminism is about choice, and of course women can choose to be twee, cutesy and domesticated. I love baking and doing my make-up and all that shit, and I have no problem with other women wanting to do so – it’s our right to be “feminine” AND have a kickass career. However, I do have a problem when a girl, or even a young woman, decides that she wants to spew 100 kids and bake cakes while her husband is out there earning a living because it’s fashionable. My worry is that, because twee is in right now and has been for a few years, it’s almost all that impressionable girls are being exposed to. If they genuinely love wearing tweed, riding bikes and listening to Belle&Sebastian, fair enough… But if they do so because they’re emulating the only approachable role models that society has been fabricating for them, I’m not so sure. xxx

  4. Stringer
    January 16, 2012 / 10:35 pm

    I think the two LM’s have said everything I could say, but better, so i’ll just say “this.”

  5. The teuchter one
    January 16, 2012 / 11:29 pm

    New girl is pish. Cupcakes are not. Zooey deschanel is adorabley irritating. None of the above views either espouse or denounce feminism. It’s about time that women stopped attacking each other and realised that we come in all shapes and sizes and have differing iq points (considerable) and preferences for baked goods (red velvet cupcake, chocolate icing) – some of us choose to wear cherry hair clips while kicking the arse out of the legal media world, others choose to rip the piss out of other women while sporting an audrey crop, the main point is that we are all here, using our talents (or otherwise) to the best of our abilities, however suspect. That’s feminism.

  6. Fiona
    January 17, 2012 / 12:21 am

    It will be obvious after a few more episodes. I like Jess. Her glasses are like mine. I also like baking. People are too prescriptive on their ideas about feminism sometimes. It’s silly.

  7. James
    January 17, 2012 / 12:32 am

    I like Zooey. And if people love her fashion sense, so be it. But the show itself is UTTER craphola. I have heard it gets better but that’s not enough to convince me to watch it any further. Damon Wayans Jr who appears in the pilot but then shipped over to Happy Endings made a much wiser decision. That show is actually quite funny and sharp.

    • January 17, 2012 / 12:19 pm


  8. Robbie
    January 17, 2012 / 10:03 am

    Two Broke Girls is dreadful.

  9. January 17, 2012 / 10:08 am

    I like knitting, eating chocolate and having a good cry at shitty rom-coms with the girls but I also like playing video games, drinking beer and talking about chebs with the boys. Why can’t we just like what we like without it having to mean we’re being less/too much of a feminist? I am a woman and I am who I am, in my opinion that’s all that matters.

  10. P
    January 17, 2012 / 12:30 pm

    I hate cupcakes. But that’s because for me they’re overpriced buns with too much goo on, and I was never big on cake to start with. This is a food preference, and in no way is a stick to beat other women with. Just like I love electronic music and can’t abide Bruce Springsteen, and yet Lis and I are still friends. Feminism is about choices, freely made. People sometimes seem to miss both parts of that.

    • P
      January 17, 2012 / 12:30 pm

      And I totally need a new avatar as this one is not nearly blonde and curly enough.

    • January 17, 2012 / 2:56 pm

      I like your hatred of overpriced buns about as much as I like said buns.

  11. Jim
    January 17, 2012 / 12:41 pm

    I like cakes, I don’t particularly like Deschanel.

  12. January 17, 2012 / 1:53 pm

    It’s not a new observation, but something that’s increasingly bothering me about Penny’s brand of feminism (this new wave that’s getting all the attention right now), is that it seems to be mostly based on young middle class women with fairly little life experience condemning other women. Whether it’s for liking cupcakes or the ways they dress or the decisions they make about their bodies. Please don’t get me started on the ridiculousness of that bloody Muff March thing recently. It’s all still to do with the surface idea of what a woman is, and they’re obsessed with it.

  13. January 17, 2012 / 9:44 pm

    A fine example of “will this do?” journalism.

  14. January 22, 2012 / 8:28 pm

    I’ve been thinking about this a lot, and I’m going to sort of contradict you, I think. Not your central point, which I am absolutely fine with, but your characterisation of what people do and do not like about Zooey Deschanel and her ilk – more specifically most of the characters she plays, I suppose, rather than anything about her herself – is a little wide of the mark. Well, for me anyway, I am sure it fits with a lot of people.

    It reminds a me a little of the dawn of the FHM era, albeit just a little. FHM turned into a misogynistic, shallow, xenophobic, boorish wank rag pretty quickly, to the extent that I almost find it misandrist in its stereotypical, one-dimensional, idiotic attitude to the make psyche. Or at least I would if we didn’t collectively go out and prove their insults to be entirely accurate by not only buying the fucking thing, but providing a healthy niche for even more cartoonishly unpleasant shit like Nuts and Zoo.

    But for a brief moment in its very early days it was quite an empowering magazine, funnily enough. One which, after the politically correct pussyfooting of the eighties seemed to say to young men that hey, it’s okay to be a blokey bloke. Liking football, hanging out with your make friends and even fancying attractive women doesn’t necessarily make you a bad person. There are parts of the male stereotype which are harmless and can be enjoyed without being anti-anything or harmful to anyone. Of course FHM and the like took that way too far and became massively offensive almost immediately, but there was something there, in the beginning.

    It reminds me a little of the issues you have with other people telling you what feminism is. In fact my wife, who is to all intents and purposes one of the most decisively feminist women I know, used to be very wary of even referring to herself as such. Her feminism stemmed from just wanting to get the fuck on with her own shit, and not have anyone fuck with her, which is of course the very essence of equality in a way, but she didn’t like being co-opted into anyone else’s movement.

    The issue I have with most of the characters Zooey Deschanel plays, and the reason I think they are bad for feminism, is not the visual aesthetic of the products they buy, but the fact that they are almost invariably incredibly shallow, undeveloped characters. Their defining characteristics seem to be emotional unavailability, a certain level of self-absorption, and a kind of naivety which borders on learning-difficulties. And that’s about it – there never seems to be any real character development during the film or emotional depth to the person she is playing, which is why I think her characters are bad for feminism – they make women more into a stylistic statement than an actual, complex, flesh and blood human being.

    My theory about these characters is a bit cynical, but here you go: I think they are the construct of socially awkward young men who never had the confidence or the social status to feel they could really approach the beautiful women to whom they were attracted. Consequently, they apply some sort of fantasy personality to the character, which has to incorporate the fact that the people they are basing the character on acts as if they don’t even know they are there, and yet also has to somehow see the light and fall in love with them at the end. Inventing a character to do both things is almost impossible to do, so we end up with these female characters who are made stylistically perfect, but at their hearts are neither realistic nor fleshed out with any depth, because the author is basing them on people they never knew well enough to write about believably in the first place.

    So I always feel these characters are written by the kind of man who complains that women don’t like nice guys, but at heart are the kind of nice guys who are kind of passive-aggressive, a little bit insular and self-obsessed themselves and who actually don’t want to know much about women beyond the fantasy they construct and apply to the next passing pretty girl with a sense of style.

    So whilst there are plenty of twee, girly girls who are certainly bright, aware feminists, these are rarely the sort of people Zooey Deschanel ever portrays, although they might look very similar from the outside. So I think her characters are bad for feminism, because they never represent any exploration of the female psyche, just a socially awkward male’s fantasy. There should be a lot more to real feminists than this.

    Feel free to tell me this is all shit. Or that it’s way too long and hence you didn’t bother to read it 😉

    • lis is on her phone
      January 22, 2012 / 9:41 pm


      I absolutely see where you’re coming from though – although perhaps less so with regards to Jess from New Girl.

      In Laurie Penny’s original article there’s a point where she brings up the “manic pixie dream girl” style characters that Deschanel often plays. When I was drafting this in my head I went off on this whole tangent about the difference between that type of character and Jess – how the manic pixie dream girl exists, as you say, as this kooky (ugh) one-dimensional shadow of a character who helps the male lead to figure out something about himself (think 500 Days of Summer, Garden State, Elizabethtown) whereas Jess – at least from what I have seen – is already much more defined than that. But I forgot the point, and the post was going on too long, and everybody seemed to agree with me anyway 😉

      So far, I reckon the most offensively portrayed character in the show is Schmidt, one of the flatmates; who’s pretty much the oafish FHM-style thicko.

      • Teuchter Blonde
        February 3, 2012 / 10:43 am

        “it is sunday night and I want to paint my nails”

        Now THAT was a Zooey moment if there ever was one! 😉

    • odette
      July 8, 2013 / 6:17 am

      this is dead on.