Monday, June 13, 2011

Who is the black Zooey Deschanel?


I had a great Twitter conversation yesterday with @AndreaPlaid, @AnnaHolmes and @Amaditalks. We were talking about Julie Klausner's recent post on Jezebel, "Don't fear the dowager: a valentine to maturity." Klausner's post, lamenting the trend of grown women adopting childish personas, is sort of a companion to all the similar pieces about modern men living in a state of perpetual boyhood. She writes:
There's so much ukulele playing now, it's deafening. So much cotton candy, so many bunny rabbits and whoopie pies and craft fairs and kitten emphera, and grown women wearing converse sneakers with mini skirts. So many fucking birds.
Girls get tattoos that they will never be able to grow into. Women with master's degrees who are searching for life partners, list "rainbows, Girl Scout cookies, and laughing a lot" under "interests, on their Match.com profiles. Read more...
Anna is quoted in a similar article from The Daily Beast about websites launched by Jane Pratt and Zooey Deschanel.
But when the site xoJane.com was finally unveiled a few weeks ago—minus Gevinson’s involvement (though she says she will be launching a sister site in a few months), the reaction was less than stellar. Writer Ada Calhoun, on her blog 90sWoman, called out the site for its incessant namedropping (Michael Stipe was mentioned nine times the first day), writing: “The chatty, best-friends-realness voice feels put-on and costume-y, like too-big heels.”
Perhaps part of that disappointment stems from the improbable goal of including 48 year olds and 12 year olds under one roof. The result is a seemingly permanent state of girlishness that any professional woman over the age of 30 should cringe at, but one that Pratt pushes with abandon.
“I actually blame Bonnie Fuller,” said Anna Holmes, the founder of Jezebel.com, referencing the former Glamour and Us Weekly editor, whose penchant for bright pink cursive handwriting scrawled all over the pages of her magazines and websites has nabbed her million dollar paychecks—and, unfortunately, permeated the lady mag and gossip set.
With such tickle-me-hormonal content online, it makes one wonder, where is the content for women who want the equivalent of GQ, with sharp articles about powerful women and fascinating trend stories, written by writers as good as Tom Wolfe or Joan Didion? Where are the fashion spreads that make you feel aspirational, not inadequate? Must everything be shot through with a shade of red or pink? And does everything have to end with an exclamation point? Read more...
The Klausner article generated a ton of push back on Jezebel. I suspect because the manic pixie dream girl persona is "in" right now and everyone wants to feel like they choose their own choices. In this case, that means that some women want to believe that their predilection for rompers and kittens and baby voices reflects their individual personalities and not some trend toward retro, non-threatening femaleness. But no one chooses their choices in a vacuum and certainly it means something that so many women seem to be finding this super-girlish, childish part of their personalities at the same time, while Katy Perry's sex and candy persona is tearing up the charts and actual little girls are being bombarded with pink, purple, princesses, tulle and sparkles.






Zooey Deschanel is the poster girl for this sort of womanhood. Frankly, I find a 30-something woman with a website called Hello Giggles and a penchant for tweets about kittens a little off-putting, as I would a grown man with a website called Girls Have Cooties and a Twitter feed about Matchbox cars. But then we find creepy in a man the kind of childishness we fetishize in women.



I also find it worth noting that the persona that Klausner writes about is bound by class and race. The cult of domesticity defined idealized womanhood centuries ago--and that definition included both perpetual childhood and whiteness. The wide-eyed, girlish, take-care-of-me characters that Deschanel inhabits on film are not open to many women of color, particularly black women. We can be strong women, aggressive women, promiscuous women...we can do Bonet bohemian and Earth Mother (as Andrea pointed out), but never carefree and childish. Even black girls are too often viewed as worldly women and not innocents.

Also, the affectations of the manic pixie are read differently on black women. A streak of pink in the hair goes from quirky and youthful to "ghetto" on a black body. Thrift store clothing leads to a host of class assumptions.

Am I wrong about this? Is there a black Zooey? A manic pixie Latina? Is this a persona that women of color can inhabit?

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