Wednesday, June 14, 2017

"Females Are Strong As Hell"

I've written before about this experience I had in seventh grade: I had a boy at my school who was way too nerdy for his own good. His name was Keith. (A quick Google search indicates he's currently a physicist and not in prison like a different nerdy boy from my junior high school.) One day Keith saw me reading Don Quixote. He said, "They say the first time you read Don Quixote you laugh and the second time you read it you cry."

I said, "Shut up, Keith," because I was in the middle of a laughing reading and I didn't appreciate that he was trying to kill my joy. Then as I kept reading, I could see what he meant, and that got me even angrier, and eventually I had to stop reading it.

These days, I think one would express Keith's idea by speaking of the Straussian reading of Don Quixote. Well, today I want to write about the Straussian viewing of The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.

The first time one views Kimmy Schmidt, it's a show about a naive woman acting foolishly because she is a teenager in an adult world. It's a step up from Napoleon Dynamite, where it's never quite clear if we are supposed to identify with Napoleon or feel superior to him (I lean towards "identify with" because otherwise the movie is too mean-spirited), because Kimmy isn't behaving this way due to stupidity or arrested development, she's merely transported past several years of development (like 13 Going on 30 or Freaky Friday; don't hate me because I've seen a lot of teen-girl-comedies).

The show, though, is not about a naive woman acting foolishly. It's about women and their relationships with each other, with men, and with themselves. And it becomes obvious that this isn't just a case of a show developing a message when you re-watch the first episodes. The message has always been there.

I was going to call Kimmy Schmidt the most feminist show ever, but that would be using the term "feminist" differently from what it commonly means. Feminist shows are shows like Rhoda or Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, where a woman's not a person until she can kill a baby same as (presumably) any man can. Instead, Kimmy Schmidt is female positive. Kimmy doesn't have to give up heterosexuality to be a "true" woman. She doesn't have to eschew nurturing. But she also doesn't need to have those preferences or traits to be a woman, either. She's a woman because she is one, and there's no one way to be a "true" woman, because the women on the show are varied and all authentic women: Jacqueline and Lillian and even Mimi are women just like Kimmy. Some of the women make terrible choices, and they are usually terrible because they place a man's happiness before their own, but these women are still women, too.

I try to be as female positive as possible (I enjoy lecturing on the economic implications of Days for Girls) and I appreciate the female positive nature of The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. But I'm not yet prepared to forgive Keith for killing my joy regarding Don Quixote. That was just unnecessarily cruel.

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