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Liz Lemonism

March 26, 2010

If you haven’t already, get thee to Tiger Beatdown and read Sady’s fantastic post on Liz Lemon, and, as she puts it, “a particularly irritating brand of privileged semi-feminism” that she coins (so appropriately!) as “Liz Lemonism.”  Liz Lemonism is a kind of self-serving pseudo-feminism that enables privileged white ladies (a group I certainly belong to) to complain about our own experiences of sexism while simultaneously 1) being blissfully unaware of the ways in which others’ experiences of oppression function and are often directly related to our own privilege and 2) covertly deploy our own misogyny when it suits our needs.  Here’s one of my favorite parts:

The character of Liz Lemon is played by beautiful, successful, smart, funny, apparently happy person Tina Fey, and is meant to be unattractive, only semi-successful, smart, funny, and unhappy. It’s interesting that “smart” and “funny” get to stay in the picture, as long as the looks, the success, and the happiness are toned down; it tells you something about who you’re allowed to like. Cerie, on the other hand, is beautiful, unsuccessful (and unambitious), not smart, not funny, and very happy. And we simply aren’t meant to like her much.

The character of the “bimbo” isn’t a new one: lots of men, for obvious reasons, like to assume that a beautiful woman is deeply flawed, probably in the brain regions, because it makes her a less threatening figure. But the specific venom with which Cerie is drawn, in the show that self-described feminist Tina Fey runs, is a specifically and disturbingly Lemonist phenomenon. It comes across as something originating in the brain of a woman who is easily intimidated by other women, the sort of woman who does talk about “bimbos.” A hiss through the teeth, a whisper behind your back, a group of women drawing away with unexplained coldness, the phrase “do you really think anyone’s going to take you seriously?” That’s Cerie, the concretization of that anti-feminist, anti-girl mode of girl talk.

The twist of Lemon, basically, makes it possible for the hissing girls to cloak it in something political. Something about “beauty standards,” maybe. Or “raunch culture.”

I love this post because I have been a Liz Lemonist (and because, occasionally, I veer into disturbing moments of Liz Lemonism).  I have simultaneously claimed to be a feminist and treated other women as a threat to my own success (professional, sexual or otherwise), and pretended that my own experience of sexism in my world of vast privilege was all that mattered.  Liz Lemonism, however, isn’t feminism: it’s just white, hetero, upper-class privilege and internalized misogyny, rolled into a witty new package.

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