English 1102: Television and Feminism

Dr. Casey Alane Wilson • Georgia Institute of Technology

Author: Wendy Yao

What’s That I Spy? Character Growth

In this final blog post, I’d like to cover how New Girl flips the script on tropes regarding masculinity and femininity.  While Jess at first appears to be the epitome of the manic pixie dream girl trope, she is much more than a tool to get broody males to have more fun in their lives.  While the guys seem macho and aggressive at the beginning of the season, they have their own fears and insecurities that are not often portrayed on television.  Schmidt’s characterization in particular undergoes changes as viewers learn more about him and his flaws, from his douchebag jar to his body image issues.

Jess at her core: prepared to help

Admittedly Jess is quirky and childish, which somewhat fulfills the manic pixie dream girl trope, yet she is much more than that as a main character.  She is often the cause for more excitement and drama in the shared apartment, but she doesn’t solely exist for that purpose.  Jess has her own professional hopes and dreams as a schoolteacher and romantic goals in her search for a stable relationship so that her life doesn’t only revolve around her roommates.  In addition, Jess has her flaws with her eagerness to be helpful and is often seen as a pushover but grows as a person through becoming more tactful and willing to stand up for herself as the season goes on.  She goes from reluctant to confront Spencer, her ex-boyfriend, to standing up to Julia, Nick’s girlfriend, who puts Jess down for her bubbly demeanor and bright outfits.

When we first met Schmidt, he was arrogant and aggressively flirty to the point where he had his own douchebag jar for his inappropriate comments.  However, he soon reveals a softer side when he gives up his costume party to help a stood-up Jess.  Schmidt also ends up being the one who cooks and cleans, as revealed in episode 16, which are traditionally feminine roles that contradict his façade of traditional masculinity.  While Schmidt is often seen pursuing women, his actual relationships consists of him being in a more submissive role, as seen with his turbulent relationship with Gretchen and his later relationship with Cece.  In his relationship with Cece, Cece is the one with control, especially over the secrecy of their relationship.  While Schmidt acts affronted for having to be available whenever Cece calls, he bends to her demands and continues to stay in the relationship.  Their relationship dynamic differs from those often portrayed on television that have a power imbalance in which the woman lacks or has less control and influence in the relationship because of a difference in status or role.

Watching New Girl has been a highlight in my week with Jess’s quirks and the shenanigans that the characters get up to.  The show really succeeded in having characters that are genuine and unique in their relationships and flaws while inverting common tropes related to gender representation.

One-Night Stands and Messed-Up Plans

Even before watching episode thirteen of New Girl, I had planned to write a blog post about this episode because I was expecting changes in color schemes to match Valentine’s Day as described in the title of the episode.  While I was disappointed by the lack of festivity, there is still plenty to talk about regarding the visual design of the episode and the show as a whole.

When your night isn’t going as planned

New Girl continues to stay upbeat while keeping viewers up-to-date with the daily lives of the main characters.  The color scheme of the show generally matches the tone with warm hues that are comfortable and cheery and is usually shot with quick cuts, often shifting camera angles in line with changes in speakers.  For instance, there’s soft lighting and brown tones in the furniture and decorations when the camera is focused on Nick and his girlfriend Julia.  During Schmidt’s and Jess’s conversation about their Valentine’s Day plans, the camera angle switches to focus on who is talking in the conversation.  After the initial warm, earthy tones set in the shared apartment, the color scheme of the episode takes a darker turn to match the time of day and later, Schmidt’s dark mood at being forced to be the third wheel and driver for Jess’s one-night stand.

The darkness makes the abrupt transition to bright office lighting even more jarring as the episode transitions to focus on Nick and intern Cliff (and Julia, in between her phone calls with Ming).  While the surroundings are now better lit, the mood doesn’t change much as the lighting lacks warmth and hominess.  The only person somewhat enjoying Valentine’s Day in the group of four is Winston who has unwittingly joined Shelby and her girlfriends for a relaxing night in.  While Winston is initially disgruntled, he fits in seamlessly with the girls, which the visual design of the episode demonstrates through cheerful, festive lighting and colorful reds.  Before the cut to Oliver and Jess, the camera zooms in on Shelby’s face to show how impressed and touched she is with how well Winston has integrated with her girl group.

In this episode of New Girl, the color scheme and lighting match well with the plot of the show and the mood that the show is trying to convey.  The visual design provides hints for the audience regarding when things are going well or poorly for the main characters and various experiences with romantic relationships during the evening of a day focused on romance and love.  As almost always with New Girl, the episode ends optimistically, though with suspense, showing a scene of the morning after when Cece has hooked up with Schmidt while Jess had narrowly dodged that bullet (and awkwardness) the night before.  The audience is left wondering what will happen next as it appears to be the calm before the storm.

The New Girl Feel

While New Girl highlights significant matters regarding gender and relationships, the series rarely dwells on a particular topic for too long or with too much depth.  Like Jess, New Girl has been lighthearted and optimistic throughout each episode so far.  While the episodes have touched on issues such as body image and gender roles, there are merely threads of these issues, rather than ropes, maintained through the episodes.  Part of New Girl’s charm is that there is no real overarching plot or end goal that the characters are trying to reach.  As a result, each episode has little continuation from the one before except the same main characters and their daily lives.

Elizabeth Meriwether is the creator and executive producer of the show, while Luvh Rakhe is credited as the writer for the most recent episode I watched.  Meriwether’s most notable works include New Girl and No Strings Attached, a rom-com starring Natalie Portman and Aston Kutcher.  Luvh Rakhe is known for It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, New Girl, and A.P. Bio, a new comedy TV series released this year about a philosophy professor teaching AP Biology.

Dialogue in New Girl episodes generally flow pretty well with little pauses or silences except when to prove a point or to generate some awkwardness.  The writers often include flashbacks to fill in the backstories of characters or explore the lives of the guys before Jess came to live with them.  In episode four, there was a flashback to a chubby, young Schmidt in a bunny suit trying to get his mother’s attention, which highlights his desire for attention and warmth, as well as his body image issues that have continued into adulthood.  Episode seven’s flashbacks regarding Nick’s handyman role hints at a socioeconomic difference between Schmidt and Nick through their views on when to spend money and when to put in the work yourself.

Nick fancy-fixing the toilet

With the series set in modern times and meant to feel relatable to its audience, it makes sense that the writers include snippets of witty quips and pop culture references to appeal to its young adult audience.  With the main characters in about their thirties, though, some of those references admittedly go completely over my head.  Regardless, part of what makes New Girl entertaining and relatable across generations are the situations that the main characters find themselves in and how they interact to solve those problems.  For example, Schmidt and Nick provide models for problems of class and financial discord in relationships, while Schmidt’s characterization magnifies issues of self-confidence and gender roles.

Unlike shows with more drama, such as Jane the Virgin, New Girl draws in its audience with quirky Jess and its more or less realistic experiences and struggles of four(ish) young adults trying to figure their lives out.

Cookie Pouches and Feeling Sticks

As I mentioned last week, New Girl often flips the script on traditional gender roles.  Episode 4 of New Girl centers around Nick’s issues with his body image, an idea traditionally associated with girls and their eating disorders.  Hardly ever do we see men in media feeling insecure about how they look or their weight.  In this episode, Nick is “delicate like a flower” and incredibly self-conscious about his body weight and image after Jess points out his cookie “pouch” where he keeps his extra cookies.

Jess being oblivious, Nick being sensitive

Throughout the episode, Jess is the person in an aggressive/assertive role, trying to get Nick to talk about his feelings, while Nick is generally on the defensive and avoids the conversation topic.  Nick is also passive in that he doesn’t act until he is forced to when someone else acts.  This situation flips the power dynamic in which men are the ones who are aggressively pursuing something while the women are either passive or defensive, just like how Nick only talks to Jess when confronted and finally shows aggression by breaking the feeling stick when Jess gives it to him.  However, there is little to no initiation from Nick to act until Jess corners him to talk about feelings, and he then just tries to escape the situation as fast as possible.

A similar power dynamic is seen with Amanda, his coworker at the bar who Nick has been trying to hook up with.  At one point after another frustrating attempt by Jess to talk about his feelings, Nick shuts her down by saying that what he wants is “meaningless sex”.  When Jess disagrees, Nick insists that he does because he is male (that is, because he has a “bing-bong and chickadees”).  Yet when Nick tries to do so with Amanda, the one who wants to take it slow is the guy with Amanda asking Nick almost derisively about wanting to cuddle.  In traditional portrayals of women in media, they’ve been the people who want to slow down the relationship because it’s going too fast with the guy pressuring them into something they’re not ready for, while the guys have been the ones unsatisfied with mere cuddling that has romantic rather than carnal connotations.  In Nick’s case, he’s the one who is insecure and shy, such as when he’s awkward about taking his shirt off before sex, while Amanda is confident in her body and is going after what she wants.

While presented with the classic New Girl humorous flair, this episode brings up important issues about how body image issues shouldn’t be gendered, and New Girl helps to dispel this stigma and the more general problem of confining gender roles.

Gender Representation (or Lack of) in TV Advertising

Ember, Sydney. “For Women in Advertising, It’s Still a ‘Mad Men’ World.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 2 May 2016, www.nytimes.com/2016/05/02/business/media/for-women-in-advertising-its-still-a-mad-men-world.html.

While my group’s research question is centered around gender representation in international television advertising, this article provides insight into the people behind the scenes who are responsible for the advertisements that broadcast on TV and includes testimonies of women who are starting out in the industry and of the scant few who have reached the executive level.  Sexism continues to exist very prominently in the advertising industry, which has its influences on the gender representation in advertisement.  These advertisements reflect their creators, which are usually white men.  While there have been some improvements over the years in the industry, the article ultimately ends less optimistically, noting that there is still a lack of collective action taken to correct gender bias or even completely address it because of how deeply entrenched and aggravating the issue is in the advertising industry.  The lack of gender representation in the advertising industry translates to the lack of gender representation in the actual advertisements because of the lack of female voice in the process and development of the advertisements.


Peer reviewed sources:

Luyt, Russell. “Representation of Gender in South African Television Advertising: A Content Analysis.” Sex Roles, vol. 65, no. 5-6, 2011, pp. 356-370. ProQuest, http://prx.library.gatech.edu/login?url=https://search.proquest.com/docview/880032319?accountid=11107, doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s11199-011-0027-0.

Luyt uses data from the study to support the hypothesis that there would be differences in gender portrayals in South African television advertisements that reflect the traditional societal roles.  South Africa provides an interesting environment for the study because of its long-standing racial inequalities that intersect with other social constructs, such as gender.  Luyt found that males were presented as dominant and the primary focus, while females were subordinate and often sexualized.  However, the author also points out that the data and current trends point to a gradual shift in the status quo that would require additional research.  Some results I found interesting were that females in the advertisements were often young adults, while males were often on the older side.  In addition, in comparison to males, females were more often portrayed as middle or upper class, as well as white.  The article presents a strong, evidence-based argument about the gender inequalities present in South African television advertising that possibly contributes to the preservation of societal norms about gender roles.  As a result, the article ties in nicely with our research question regarding gender representation in international television advertisements, both in comparison to each other and to the United States.


Michelle, Carolyn. “Co-Constructions of Gender and Ethnicity in New Zealand Television Advertising.” Sex Roles, vol. 66, no. 1-2, 2012, pp. 21-37. ProQuest, http://prx.library.gatech.edu/login?url=https://search.proquest.com/docview/912293673?accountid=11107, doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s11199-011-0067-5.

This source presents information about the stereotypes in New Zealand television advertising regarding both gender and ethnicity.  One of the reasons I chose this paper was because of the intersectionality it presents with gender and ethnicity in New Zealand television advertisements.  Much like most other countries, New Zealand has its share of ethnic conflict and diversity.  Through the study, Michelle presents evidence that white people dominate advertisements and are often overrepresented, with gender affecting the type of advertisement, fitting with stereotypes about traditional societal roles.  While Maori/Pasifika men were stereotyped as athletes and sales workers, Maori/Pasifika women and Asians overall lacked representation in these primetime television advertisements.  While the study had some hypotheses supported, such as women being underrepresented as main product representatives, the data shows that overall gender and ethnic stereotypes remain prevalent in New Zealand television advertising.  The results from the study indicate how stereotypes continue to reflect traditional social hierarchies in New Zealand.


Mwangi, Mary W. “Gender Roles Portrayed in Kenyan Television Commercials.” Sex Roles, vol. 34, no. 3, 1996, pp. 205. ProQuest, http://prx.library.gatech.edu/login?url=https://search.proquest.com/docview/1308098639?accountid=11107.

This paper has an interesting departure from previous results with there being roughly equal numbers of women and men as main characters in television advertisements, as well as equal numbers of women and men depicted with occupations.  These characteristics are generally seen with the television advertisements of more developed countries, which provides a unique comparison with other African countries and with other countries that are culturally and politically different as well.  However, the advertisements still displayed confined, traditional gender roles for men and women.  Once again, women are more likely to voice-over advertisements for household products and are presented as more passive.  Women were also confined to four choices for jobs that reflect the traditional and ideal occupations for educated Kenyan women and tend to have an absence of men in these occupations.  As mentioned before, these results reflect those of developed countries in which television advertisements have increased their number of women as main characters but still largely confine them to traditional gender roles.  As with other studies in this annotated bibliography, the author stresses the importance of advertising, especially on television, in the formation and perpetuation of stereotypes and barriers to gender equality.


Nassif, Atif, and Barrie Gunter. “Gender Representation in Television Advertisements in Britain and Saudi Arabia.” Sex Roles, vol. 58, no. 11-12, 2008, pp. 752-760. ProQuest, http://prx.library.gatech.edu/login?url=https://search.proquest.com/docview/225368430?accountid=11107, doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s11199-008-9394-6.

This paper covers a comparison of gender representation in television advertisements from Britain and Saudi Arabia.  This study fits well with our research topic because of the intercontinental comparison of two countries that vary vastly in political climate, social norms, media freedom, etc.  A trend with the studies is that women in these television advertisements are often younger and generally portrayed in domestic roles or related to household items.  These stereotypes are seen more prominently in Saudi Arabia’s television advertisements, although they are still present in British advertisements to a smaller degree.  As with Kenya, there was not a significant difference in the proportion of lead roles held by men versus women across both countries, but stereotypes cropped up when it came to roles, such as occupation, as well as the type of product being advertised.  These differences are more evident in Saudi Arabia’s advertising, partly because of the male-dominated society in which women are seen as in need of guardianship.


Nelson, Michelle R., and Hye-Jin Paek. “Cross-Cultural Differences in Sexual Advertising Content in a Transnational Women’s Magazine.” Sex Roles, vol. 53, no. 5-6, 2005, pp. 371-383. ProQuest, http://prx.library.gatech.edu/login?url=https://search.proquest.com/docview/225366068?accountid=11107, doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s11199-005-6760-5.

While this article covers differences in female representation in Cosmopolitan magazines across countries instead of differences in television advertising, the study provides interesting data about the role that culture and politics play in the representation of women in media.  The study covers seven countries, Thailand, China, Brazil, U.S., India, Korea, and France, that range in their political culture and social norms, which influences the representation of women, especially their sexuality.  The East Asian countries, China and Korea, had the lowest percentage of nudity, likely reflecting traditional Confucian values, while Thai and French advertisements had the most.  The results for Thailand were a surprise for the researchers because of the authoritarian regime and prominence of religion, though the openness of Buddhism toward feminine sexuality, such as including prostitutes, likely contributes to the unexpected results.  Western models featured in magazines from the other countries were also generally portrayed with more sexual imagery, while domestic models were more likely to be associated with products more closely related to the domestic sphere, such as household products.  With Cosmopolitan being a Western-based magazine that has now spread because of globalization and the subject of the study, there can be conclusions drawn about how these different variables are interacting in this world that is becoming increasingly smaller because of these interconnections among countries that lead to homogenization while also enforcing cultural differences.

Suppress the Jess?

Suppressing the Jess

Jess’s awkwardness and eccentricity is what makes her unique and more relatable as a character because of her multifaceted personality.  She isn’t perfect, and her flaws and insecurities often mirror what we see in ourselves.  While the other roommates’ lack of full acceptance had been hinted at in previous episodes, their expectations for Jess are more thoroughly explored in episode three.

The premise of episode three is that the roommates will be attending a wedding.  However, the issue is that Nick’s ex-girlfriend Caroline will also be attending.  Through various flashbacks, we understand that Nick is still deeply attached to Caroline and can’t seem to let her go.  His attachment is borderline unhealthy and imitates the trope of a clingy (ex-)girlfriend who constantly wants some sort of attention and can’t seem to move on.  Jess is brought along as his date, but Nick refuses to let her be herself, which Jess reluctantly agrees to, jokingly stating the phrase, “suppress the Jess”.

The theme of the episode is how Jess preserves her eccentricity and continues to be herself in face of judgment and lack of support from those close to her.  Schmidt wants to hook up with Brooke, Nick wants to reconnect with Caroline, and meanwhile Winston gets into a competition with a child.  Each of the guys wants something different from the wedding, but Jess doesn’t have the ability to accommodate them all and nor should she have to.  She becomes just a tool for the guys to achieve their desires, yet they blame her when things fall through.  This situation is especially evident when Jess tries to fix Nick’s renewed fixation with Caroline but ends up scaring off Brooke from Schmidt.  One girl can’t do it all, and Jess finally realizes that in a symbolic move when she takes her fake teeth back to finally have fun at the wedding, which was all she wanted out of the event.  Besides being a symbol of her eccentricity, her fake teeth also represent her autonomy and power as a person since we lose them when we are not fully able to care for ourselves.

Intertwined with the main theme of the episode and interspersed throughout other episodes are threads of traditional masculinity versus femininity.  Schmidt’s characterization is often the most blatant portrayal of flipping the script on what is traditionally considered masculine versus feminine.  Schmidt used to be “Fat Schmidt,” with body image issues often being portrayed in media as solely an issue for women.  While coming on too strong in his conversations with Brooke, Schmidt has an entirely different relationship with Gretchen with her being assertive while he is more submissive.  In fact, he is essentially being used for his body like women tend to be portrayed in media with Gretchen having little interest in pursuing an actual relationship with him.

Pobody’s nerfect, and through the events in episode three, Jess grows as a person to reach self-acceptance and fulfillment, which redefines her future relationship with her roommates.

New Semester, New Girl

Hi, my name is Wendy Yao!  I’m a first year majoring in chemical engineering, and like most other freshmen, I hope to graduate by 2022 … but we’ll see.

Me in 2022 when I’m supposed to graduate

English has always been one of my favorite classes, though they’ve generally been “traditional” English classes filled with reading quizzes and poetry discussions.  My high school English classes were generally chill because strict memorization was less important than synthesizing creative arguments or debating the virtues of Shakespeare’s antagonists, though there were still assessments to worry about.

Out of all the categories for communication in WOVEN, my most favorite would be written, and my least favorite would be oral.  After all these years of practicing my writing skills, I’d like to believe that they’re at least semi-decent.  I enjoy using written communication because of its permanence and because of the time I’m given to compose and collect my scattered ideas.  Even when writing this blog post, I’ve been jumping around, writing some sentences first before going back to fill the gap.  As a result, my issue with oral communication is that I like having time to gather my thoughts, whether it’s presenting a coherent response to “How may I help you today?” or contributing thoughtfully to a group discussion.

English 1102 is my first and last English class at GT, so it’ll definitely be memorable, especially because of the course theme.  I grew up watching some TV in the form of PBS Kids and CW4Kids shows, such as Clifford the Big Red Dog and Yu-Gi-Oh.  At some point in my childhood, TV just kind of faded away to a distant past.  One constant in my life, though, has been Chinese dramas.  Wuxia dramas were integral in my upbringing, and I still manage to find the time to fit in each remake that happens every few years to bask in the nostalgia, unless, of course, the remake is terrible, in which case I just binge my favorite version, all 60 45-minute episodes.   Now, besides c-dramas, I’ve also added Korean dramas to the mix, which tend to average at about an hour long for each episode, so procrastination occurs whenever I’m sucked into the productivity-eating vortex that is Asian dramas.

When you think you have enough time to finish your homework after binging a drama

I’ve chosen to review New Girl, which is a sitcom that finished airing on Fox this year about a zany teacher named Jess in Los Angeles who suddenly moves in with three guys because of a break-up.  I chose this show because the premise and the first episode seemed cheerful and quirky, and I’m interested in learning more about how the relationships among the main characters will play out.  Once I get into a TV series, I can’t stop, so the 20-minute episodes and the definite ending to the show are going to be a blessing.

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