How to Be a Woman, Liz Lemon, and the repackaging of Choose My Choice Feminism

A SYTYCB entry

As a rule, I don’t write in books. Maybe it’s because of my deep reverence for my library, maybe it’s because I’m constantly lending out books to friends, boyfriends, and strangers, and would rather not distract them with my notations. Maybe it’s out of spite towards one particularly annoying high school English teacher who would grade us on our marginalia. Whatever the reason, I rarely ever make any mark except the occasional bracket or underline. Until I read Caitlin Moran’s How to Be a Woman. I hate notated my way through that book with surprising enthusiasm. The margins of my copy are filled with scribbled phrases ranging from “shaming” to “citation needed” to “who the fuck asked you.”

For the past month, it has felt like I couldn’t spin around without seeing another glowing endorsement of How to Be a Woman. Excerpts were published on Jezebel and the book was picked for the site’s book club. The Hairpin published an interview and the comments were filled with accolades. Reading the excerpts, interviews, and reviews, I thought I knew what to except: a brash, potty-mouth, manifesto for the modern feminist. Instead I found a familiar face: Liz Lemon.

Now, don’t get me wrong, 30 Rock is one of my favorite shows, and my copy of Bossypants has a prized place in my bookshelf. But I think we can all agree that Liz’s views (and by extension Tina Fey’s) are at best problematic. Liz is the sort of person who thinks that one of the main goals of feminism is fatter dolls, and that she can absolve her hipster racism by voting for Obama and tipping well. Sady Doyle at Tiger Beatdown says it best:

I have, for some time, been referring to a particularly irritating brand of privileged semi-feminism as “Liz Lemonism.” I associate this brand of feminism with a certain variety of white, coastal-city dwelling, fairly well-to-do heterosexual cisgendered woman, a woman with a comfortable white-collar job that is so very comfortable and so very white-collar that she is free to spend her spare time yearning for, and semi-believing that she could attain, something with more “meaning.” … She doesn’t do anti-racism, disability activism, or trans ally work to any huge extent, but she does do “body image” (and oh, does she ever do body image, without taking much note of the fact that as a white, abled, cis person she conforms to the “beauty standard,” and benefits from conforming to it, in more ways than she will ever let on.

I was surprised to find that Caitlin Moran had seemingly sat a fictional character down, interviewed her, transcribed it (adding some curse words and slurs, of which there are an almost an absurd amount and variety), and packaged it as a new sort of feminism. What Moran is advocating is simply the same old white, cis-centric, privileged, second-wave feminism Liz Lemon typifies, and that we’ve left behind. It’s Choose My choice Feminism all over again.

What is Choose My Choice feminism, you may ask. It is a form of feminism that believes that since women now have the ability to make choices for themselves, there are certain choices they shouldn’t choose. These are the feminists who shame women who choose to be stay-at-home mothers and sex workers, ignoring insistence from those women that they actually want to be what they chose to be (nary a season goes by without Liz making a comment implying that all strippers are pathetic and outright stating that Tracy and the TGS writers are disgusting for frequenting strip clubs). Choose My Choice Feminism is replacing one oppressive structure with another one, one that trades in the language of empowerment. Both the patriarchy and choose my choice feminism say that all women must do things a certain way, or be an embarrassment to all women. According to Moran:

  • Anyone who goes to a strip club hates women, except when I do it and have a great time. (page 164)
  • I find burlesque sexy, but any woman who is a stripper is Ruining It For The Rest Of Us. (pages 163 & 166)
  • I used to wax my bikini line, but I don’t any more, so anyone who does is both playing into the fetishization of children, and also, Ruining It For The Rest Of Us. (entirety of Chapter 2)
  • Women should have nice underwear, unless it’s the kind that I find uncomfortable, in which case, you’re Ruining It For The Rest Of Us. (pages 90-91)
  • Because I don’t particularly want cosmetic surgery, women who get facelifts are grotesque and, once again, Ruining It For The Rest Of Us. (pages 282-283)

Considering how many women are ruining things for the rest of us, I imagine the patriarchy must be in the middle of a centuries long vacation.

Moran’s litmus test for if something is ok for women to do is: are the men doing it? Since men drink, smoke, sleep around, and bitch, it’s ok for you to do so, Moran argues. Men don’t, however, shave their genitals (obviously Moran and I hang out with different sorts of men), wear uncomfortable shoes, or get plastic surgery (has she seen Bruce Jenner lately?), so women shouldn’t either. Not only is this metric based on Moran’s limited observations of male behavior, it perpetuates sexist policing of women’s behavior. Women must check every action, every decision, but men get to do whatever they want, be whatever they want, without it being seen as a betrayal of their gender.

Reading How to Be a Woman is like listening to Moran bloviate at the pub, as she gets progressively drunker. She doesn’t have any proof to back up what she’s saying, but goddamn she feels it strongly: “There’s no way strip club patrons can love their wives, mothers, or daughters”; “I’ve decided I’m against women wearing burkas” (someone call all the women who are being persecuted for exercising their religious freedoms and tell them some white British woman told them to pack it all in); “prior to the 1970s, no women were as successful as men in anything, and anyone arguing differently is lying to themselves.”  Moran seems to not have done a whit of research for this book, passing off her unsupported generalizations as absolute fact. At least Liz’s misguided opinions on women are consistently proven wrong on 30 Rock (“TGS Hates Women” is one notable example). There is never that moment of comeuppance for Moran. She spews close-minded falsehoods, and gets a book deal out of it. Basically, Moran is this guy, in a dress:

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