Monday, February 6, 2012

On Murphy Vs Zooey

I'm working my way through my next "2011 in Review" entry, but this post over on got me thinking today.  Below is a slightly-edited version of the reply I left on the original post.

I've been watching The New Girl fairly casually (mostly because Community is on hiatus right now, sigh), so while I love Zooey, I haven't followed much of the press about the show.  I hadn't heard this divide articulated as Murphy vs. Zooey, but I think that encapsulates it well.  This is something I've struggled with myself over the last decade and a half, and as I'm nearing 31, I think I finally have a good handle on it.  Maybe.

I spent most of the last decade working as a video game designer (until taking a chronic-illness-induced sabbatical about a year ago).  It's a very male-dominated industry, with about 90% of designers identifying as male, and about 95% of programmers.  There's not a lot of interest in or patience for anything twee, and being too girly can get you mistaken for the receptionist, rather than taken seriously as a creative professional.  Having an influence on the creative process at all requires that you speak loudly, clearly, and with a good dose of sarcasm and wit.

Those are things I've never had trouble with.  I've always been loud and sarcastic, despite being small in stature and easily injured physically -- I was the one child in the school play who was told to speak quieter instead of louder, and the girl who when offered $5 to eat a relative's Thanksgiving corn kernels, countered with $10.  Like I said in my intro post, I chose the moniker "GlassCannon" because my outward appearance and physicality often doesn't match my internal feistiness.

For years, I tried to make my exterior presentation fit with the idea of a tough, snarky video game designer who can keep up with the guys.  After wearing my hair long for a few years, I went to a salon and actually said the words "I need something edgier, my hair is way too sweet for me."  The hairdresser cut it into a style inspired by Reese Witherspoon in Sweet Home Alabama, proving that not even my request for "edgy" was taken seriously.  But I spiked it out and got progressively shorter, edgier cuts.  I wore sarcastic tshirts and big Doc Martens and shrugged off colleagues' comments that I was "dressed up" when I wore even a jersey skirt with my sarcastic Ts and combat boots.  And beyond that, I focused on my designing and writing and pushed hard to be taken seriously by the male-dominated industry.

But early in my career, I came down with a chronic illness.  As it got worse, I stopped working full time in offices with other designers and programmers and started working more from home.  I would still carefully construct professional-but-edgy outfits for in-person meetings, but when working from home, I didn't really give it much thought.  I stopped worrying if a tshirt accurately expressed my inner snark while papering over my outer girliness.  I grew my hair back out.  I took the plunge and got Zooey bangs, even.

And somewhere along the way, I realized I don't have to walk around in a tshirt that says "snarky video game designer" to be one.  I don't have to wear my profession on my sleeve -- or my politics, my sexuality, my geek-cred, or my snarkiness.  I like to make my own clothes, and I don't have to save those skills just for making geek-themed cosplay to retain my geek-cred.  I can wear vintage-inspired dresses that I designed and sewed myself, I can wear my hair long and curly with Zooey bangs, and it has absolutely nothing to do with my ability to design video games just as well as a guy can.  It also has absolutely nothing to do with my standing as a feminist.

So when Virginia said "I find this exciting, because it means we get to decide which aspects of these narratives apply to our own lives", I think she hit the nail on the head. We get to choose, for ourselves, how much of Zooey we want to incorporate into ourselves, and how much of Murphy. And we get to change that ratio whenever we want. They aren't mutually exclusive, and I think calling women out on choosing to be girly is going against everything the Murphy Browns of the world fought for. Forcing women into a Murphy stereotype is just as bad as forcing women to be homemakers. Isn't feminism about choice?

Personally, I like being snarky and tech-y while wearing petticoats and winged eyeliner. Retro femininity is something that feels good on my body, that works with my body type rather than against it, that makes me feel good about how I look. But my personality isn't Zooey, much less Jess -- maybe Zooey a la Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy, sarcastic and adventurous and likely to shoot a guy (with an empathy gun, probably -- maybe). But I shouldn't have to act like Jess to defend the fact that I dress a bit like her, any more than I should have to dress like I stepped off the set of Hackers to defend my geek-cred.

And I agree with Zooey's comment in the NYMag article about New Girl: "I think the fact that people are associating being girlie with weakness, that needs to be examined. I don’t think that it undermines my power at all."

As far as the end of the latest New Girl episode, with Julia coming over and joining in on crochet time, I didn't feel like it was a slight against the Murphys of the world. To me it said that it's important to accept each other and support each other as women regardless of our Zooey dresses or Murphy Brown pantsuits. Feminism shouldn't be dependent on what we wear, and it certainly shouldn't be used to dictate what other women wear. To me, that was the lasting message of the episode.

But this Pintrest thing? That I still can't quite wrap my head around. ;)


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  2. I've always thought that feminism was about being able to *choose*. Not about stereotypes or changing ourselves to fit someone else's idea of who or what we should be. Well said.

    1. Thank you. :) That's what I've always thought as well, but as women we seem to always find new ways of telling each other that we're not being women in the "right" way. It's something I have to consciously remind myself not to do at time. I think the Murphy vs. Zooey divide is a great example of how no one way is better than any other.

      Thanks for the comment. :)