Who Is the Black Zooey Deschanel?

By Guest Contributor Tami Winfrey Harris, crossposted from What Tami Said

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?

Photo and image credits: What Tami Said

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  • Kate

    Thanks for this post. For defending the ‘uke and for defending crafts. As someone who LOVES homemade jewelry (good homemade jewelry, that will last–I’ve bought gorgeous sterling silver rings off Etsy, they’re made from antique spoons and/or simple silver stackable bands, hardly “childish” in design) I was actually really offended by this. I also grew up listening to me dad play guitar, and he’d pick up the ‘uke sometimes too–I definitely NEVER associated the instrument with kids, and was kind of shocked to read this.


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  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=520890694 Kyra Morris

    yeah, but a lot of these recreational uke players, while totally musiciany types, are not really getting in touch with the culture (great for ukes & props for the OGs, but bad for context). in my experience, it’s just a fad. and remember what hank hill said to bobby about jesus? that’s why it’s still an issue, i think.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=520890694 Kyra Morris

    sigh. will you be my friend?

    Ok, will you just translate everything for me and be my persona everytime I get ticked?

    For free??

    thank you.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=520890694 Kyra Morris

    dunno: you’re missing all the blipsters, I think. I don’t think too many of them read as ghetto. It might be more of the hip-hopness issue.

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  • Lovesquid

    I don’t know. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PqbmBM-z72s I feel like Asa comes pretty close to the quirky pixie thing. I think there are a couple others out there – though I’m stressed to remembering names at the moment. They made a list of women who were accused of  ‘doing white people music’.

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  • mo

    I noticed this trend before it became a trend, back when it was still just what all the girls my ex-boyfriend cheated on with had in common. I actually knew a lot of guys when I was in my early 20s (which was about 10 years ago) who had a fondness for young women who seemed more like helpless baby birds than human beings. The ones who were doe-eyed, kinda stupid (or pretending to be), and covered in the kind pink, sparkly things that my 8-year-old niece is really into.

    I don’t think Klausner is policing anybody or saying you can’t be into knitting, kittens or whatever. But I think she’s asking you to consider whether you’re REALLY into that stuff because it’s YOU, or because you’re unconsciously responding to the pressure to conform to the newest (white) wimpy feminine ideal.

  • Anonymous

    Actually, the trope might still fit her today: http://omg.yahoo.com/blogs/thefamous/mariahs-new-perfume-ad-creepy-or-cute/1535

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  • Lon

    There’s also the character of Grace in the latest incarnation of the UK Skins.

  • Guest

    “Thrift store clothing leads to a host of class assumptions.” 

    I don’t understand the connection of this sentence to any of the rest of the article. You’d think I have a lot more money that I actually have by the way I dress, and my girlfriend and I shop almost exclusively at thrift stores these days.

    • http://twitter.com/whattamisaid whattamisaid

      The point is that the “thrift store aesthetic” is read differently on different people. Some of the same second-hand clothes that are read as hipster stylish on women like Zooey Deschanel are received quite differently on women of color and often used to mark them as “low class” or the more racialized “ghetto.”

  • Anonymous

    I thought of Rosario Dawson too. More specifically, Mimi in Rent. Eccentric, offbeat, whimsical, womanchild. But it doesn’t fit in other ways- she’s sexualized more than the Zooey model of mpdg, and her ‘needing to be taken care of’ intersects with narratives of drug addiction/runaway teen/illness. MPDG from the other side of town, instead of next door. 

  • Anonymous

    Interesting…but I don’t get a sense of girlishness, womanchild, infantilization, pleasetakecareofme from her. Like you said, she’s ‘super cool’. The Zooey MPDG is awkward, a little weird, and childlike. Janelle Monae is way too put together. 

  • Anonymous Allie
  • Ugo

    I do not get it. I like “crafting” as much as the next person and although people consider it some kind of frivolous activity, I’m sure wool knitted sweaters and socks kept people from suffering hypothermia and frost bite. (funny how any activity considered womanly helps to preserve life and deemed irrevelent, go figure).

    I’m not sure whether I should be upset that this MPDG trope doesn’t include WOC or if the very notion of U.S. societal views of “femininity” usually fails to include WOC, in a positive light at least. The MPDG trope is obviously praised and prized in the media with the success of actresses like Zooey Deschanel, so I guess I can understand why the question is posed in the first place. The MPDG trope is another facet of womanhood, particularly “white womanhood” that again only compliments and accentuates their white privilege. Like a form fitting glove that only looks good on a small group of women who are cis-gendered, heterosexual, thin, white, young, and have an easy means of supporting themselves further aided by being uniquely attractive, but also have men fawn over them that they probably would not need to worry about supporting themselves as they could just as easily have their pick of the “marriage market,” and only seems distorted to onlookers when women who don’t fall under those characteristics wears the same glove.
    To me, this whole Katy Perry, Zooey Deschanel deal is an exercise display on white privilege, no different that the whole “White girl rapper” internet crave that’s been going on as late, with the likes of Kreayshawn and her “white girl mob,” that jezebel took note on about a week and a half ago. It seems as though, when white women are involved in these “trends” it gets mixed with the extra flavor of magical “privilege” and then BAM! instant popularity, people deem it another facet of “femininity,” people say it is a new “acceptable” display/expression of “womanhood” for all to see and everyone take note. WOC do not have that “extra flavor of magical privilege,” so yea, people are going to think and infer different things when we try on that “form fitting glove.” They’ll say “it just doesn’t look right” or “Its not even the same glove anymore.”

  • Vbnativelands

    I checked out Hello Giggles and I have to at least partially retract my defense of ZD. That website is REALLY whitey white syrupy. Would it kill her or Pratt to look outside of their iron clad upper middle class white comfort zone? Perhaps it would.  I know a half Jewish/Half Asian UCB grad who just landed her first job after two years of intern limbo-in Geology no less. I want to know what she’s going through not see a plug for Katy Perry’s video where she pretends to be a 15 year old having casual sex with every tired outdated video stereotype thrown in!!  There maybe no Zooey of color but many, many women of color, myself included love vintage, arts and crafts and yes the 50’s look. I can get my body to look good and be comfortable in reproduced 50’s clothing, I can’t in Citizens jeans.

  • Vbnativelands

    Great writing as usual Tami. There is no Black or POC Zooey because
    woman acting like little girls is now a major marketing ploy (actually a
    direct offshoot of raunch culture)  and in the media marketing on that
    scale is WHITE. I know as a woman of color in my world if a 25  old woman started acting like  a tweenybopper she’d be shut up really fast and a 38 year old dressing in cupcake pinafores and doing the stripper pole? If she was not charging by the hour than she’d be non existent because (and I generalize) our world is not that carefee and fluffy.  In my era only teens and little kids with no musical taste in their family listened to bubblegum music. The bubblegum audience grew up , moved on and the “artists” vanished. Now women over 40 flock to the Cyrus/Bieber/Gomez scene.

    In actually I feel Katy Perry is far more offensive than Zooey as
    she wields huge influence in the media now and over small children.   Few under 14s have heard of
    ZD while all know who KP is.  In the business of sexualising children’s
    imagery and aiming raunch at
    under age audiences, Katy Perry is out ranked only by Gary
    Glitter. Her falsely touted “DD’s” and “mega curvy body” are front and
    centre of her
    borderline paedophile agenda. A grown woman of color with truly
    large breasts and mega curves (Tocarro Jones,  Sofia Vergara etc)
    would never make it on to Mtv or children’s TV dressing in
    toddler motifs-parents would flip out. Her averageness, her ultra
    whiteness  gets her past
    the censors. Ironically Katy Perry who failed at commercial Emo and then
    was dropped from two major labels only succeeded when she lifted both
    Lily Allen and ZD’s images piece by piece.   But I digress, Perry is
    associated with acts over a decade younger  and she talks in baby talk.
    ZD’s twitters and photos may annoy but she does not talk nor perform
    like a stunted adolescent.  Perry on the other hand wallows in regressive
    adolescence. Backlash where are you?

  • http://profiles.google.com/rhiannonadmidas Rhiannon Admidas

     I actually wrote a blog post on Manic Pixie Dream Boys and Winston was definitely included!

  • http://profiles.google.com/rhiannonadmidas Rhiannon Admidas

    I have seen lots of black girls pull of the manic pixie dream girl look. It’s not common, but it happens, and it’s nice. Interestingly enough, however, I have never seen a twee/hipster black girl with wild colors in their hair.

  • http://twitter.com/whattamisaid whattamisaid

    Two things I want to point out:

    – In many ways I think the Klausner post failed because it conflated quirky with childish. I don’t–especially as a, as my sister says, “weird” person myself. Klausner also equates everything trendy with childishness. And I disagree with that, too. I’ve always thought the resurgence in crafting was more rediscovering the skill and artistry of our foremothers than returning to kindergarten and finger painting. Being artistic or funky does not equal being childish. The trend of women adopting faux baby voices and young girls being assaulted with a barrage of pink and sparkles are very different things, I think, from women who march to the beat of her own drummers. There have always been quirky women. And I hope there always will be.

    – I am not suggesting that women of color cannot adopt the manic pixie persona…or any other, for that manner. We are individuals with as much nuance as every other woman. I am suggesting that we often don’t see this nuance reflected in the media and that society doesn’t recognize the existence of this sort of black woman. I am suggesting that black women have not historically been equated with this sort of innocent, childlike femininity. Indeed, black women are often positioned as the opposite of this sort of womanhood. Anyone who is interested should check out some writing about gender roles post-Civil War, the Cult of True Womanhood, and how black women and white women were positioned in American society.

    • Anonymous

      “We are individuals with as much nuance as every other woman.”
      To me, this is the clincher. Recognizing that individuality is  a threatening idea to those of us who benefit from reducing you to 2-dimensional people. That might force us to actually give you credit for your work etc.
      And we can maintain that illusion that black women (and other WOC) don’t have these nuances by telling ourselves that you ‘just aren’t interested’. Both mainstream and alternative media tell us all that there are apparently no black Zooey Deschanels; no black mommy bloggers, because parenting apparently just doesn’t interest them; and no black crafters because as we know, black women have never been interested in crafting for artistic purposes or even practical reasons. We can extend the list exponentially. This invisibility prevents white people from ever having to acknowledge black women’s rights to and ownership of such ideas and accomplishments and enables us to appropriate and plagiarize. It’s just another of white supremacy’s nasty little facets.

  • Their_child

    Lynn on Girlfriends is the closest thing to Zooey Deschanel I can come up with.

  • http://profiles.google.com/apaqdesigns Angel Harris

    A Black woman can never be a “kitten 50s wife” for reasons that are just too obvious to state. And even though we do enjoy every aspect of our varied personalities, we rarely (if ever) get to see it portrayed in the media. And I think people are more frustrated with the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope than Zooey herself. After all, she’s not the only perpetrator, even though it does look like she’s built her career around that character.

    As for this:

    “Why try to deliniate according to race?”

    You do know this blog is called “Racialicious”, right?

    • nirrti

      “A Black woman can never be a “kitten 50s wife” for reasons that are just
      too obvious to state. And even though we do enjoy every aspect of our
      varied personalities, we rarely (if ever) get to see it portrayed in the

      I’m so sick and tired of people telling me what I can or can’t be. It’s a crying shame that we are represented  in such limited forms and few choices on how to exist as black women. And if a black woman deviates one bit from the few roles that have been pre-determined by both the black community and white society, she catches hell from both sides.

      I’m not only a bohemian, I also dress in gothic lolita fashion both as a way of self expression and a subversion of what’s expected of me. It pisses me off when people try to pigeon hole me by using shame and the “black people don’t” excuse to make me conform.

      It’s like they’ve been so oppressed themselves that they can’t stand to see anyone else being free and they want validation that they made the right decision to hide their true selves.

      • Bridget

        I think Angel Harris is referring to black women in the MEDIA. Not everday women. YOU might be able to pull of the ‘manic pixie-girl’ style & attitude but black women in the entertainment industry don’t. Even if they try they are pushed into the hypersexualixed category. Example: Nicki Minaj who is looked at more from a sexual standpoint regardless of the ‘cute & quirky’ image she tries to take on (more people talk about her butt & breasts than anything else). Janelle Monae & Lisa Bonet were always more ‘tough-girl boho’ than ‘cute & innocent pixie chick’.

        Anyways, it usually has more to do with society’s perceptions on the innocence (or lack thereof) of black women than it does with the black women themselves.

  • anna

    Prior to the Chris Brown incident, I would actually say Rihanna was verging on “cute, quirky, innocent” girl territory.  I don’t know if she was in full Zooey territory, but I feel like any whimsical touches in her hair/outfits tended to be read as cute and individualistic.

    And I hate that I have to differentiate between pre- and post-Brown incident, but it did seem to change her public perception, which is a phenomenon that probably deserves its whole own separate post  :(

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=589819387 John Thompson

    Rosario Dawson circa “Clerks 2”!

  • Ladyguerita

    I actually like the manic pixie thing(heck,  jokingly call myself the Mexican American Manic Pixie girl). I use it as an excuse
    to dress up and show off my “hipsterness”. As a latina( who gets pegged
    white or Asian)  by dressing like a
    Manic pixie girl I almost saying an F— You to the media on what it
    deems acceptable for a woman of color to dress.   I know a lot of Latinas and African Americans that follow that hipster trend

  • Mickey Willard

    Actually, I did a comic strip series for my school newspaper involving a MPDG character type who was black… her best friend was Indonesian, like me, and her love interest was an alien…. but I don’t think that counts, seeing as that’s not exactly mainstream media.  oh well.

    • Anonymous

      That sounds so cool!! Have you shared the comic strip series online by chance? 

    • Anonymous

      I’d love to read your comic!

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_7JWX5P27VUFGZERORRIS7TMSH4 Elizabeth

    Thank you for defending the ‘uke.   I was infuriated by that.

    There is a thriving ‘ukulele community here in Paris. I am learning (again) to play and I can assure Ms. Julie that there is nothing childish about learning the music theory behind the fretboard.   

    There is one school of Hawai’ian culture in France and I play with them, as well as go to hipster ‘uke cabarets.  I am fine with both; anything that has people creating their own happiness is good.

  • that1b1tch

    Have you seen Sherri Sheppard from The View?  She may not love hello kitty, but she’s got that “wide-eyed, girlish, take-care-of-me” thing going on.

  • Lili

     Thanks wait a minute — I am Hawaiian and I play uke and I had exACTLY that reaction to Klausner’s choice of words. But I do agree that ukuleles have been appropriated by the white hipster set as a ‘cool’ (ironically of course) instrument of choice. I live in San Francisco, where on any given day you can walk to the Mission and see MPDGs lolling in the park playing ukes. Of course, you can be sure they are not playing real Hawaiian music – it’s all Florence and the Machine, cutesy pop songs etc. No Bruddah Iz for sure.

    Ukes are NOT childish. White USian Zooey-style appropriations of them are.

  • http://twitter.com/LordItsMarshall Marshall B.

    America Ferrera certainly has a much bigger range, but her “ugly betty” character (while not manic by any means), loved cute things, dressed young, loved butterflies, heck even had braces- and her race and class were also firmly part of the story line throughout – not bringing this up as inherently good or bad, just something that struck me as a pretty prevalent depiction of a Latina who could fit some of those descriptions-

  • mj_fromla

    Just off the top of my head…

    Last Saturday (6/5) a three person collective called “That Compton Hipster Thing” hosted their 1st “Urban Flea Market” at Roy Campanella park in Compton, CA.  The Afropunk Festival will be jumping off again in NYC this August.  Both events had/will have Black men and women that are living outside of the Black mainstream. 
    Persia White from “Girlfriends” and Shingai Shoniwa from the “Noisettes” come to mind when thinking about Black women who lean more towards the art/rock side of the spectrum. 

    As far as the “cute” or “kawaii” thing – I’ve seen a few photos of Black women at Comic-Con who are into the Cosplay/Anime scene, so they are out there…

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1130483506 Cleo Hines

      Shingai definitely has the manic pixie thing going, have you ever heard her in an interview? Also, I’d put V.V. Brown in the same category, but I think that it’s maybe important to note that as black Brits the both of them, the rules on the manic pixie inclusion may be a bit different.

  • Alpha

    I don’t think there is any kind of big new trend of women turning themselves into little girls.  I think there has always been a subset of women who do that, and Zooey Deschanel is just following in the footsteps lots of other white actresses who deliberately market themselves in this way, including I Love Lucy, I Dream of Jeanne, Crissy from Three’s Company.

    I think the idea that there is some kind of dangerous increase in the number of women doing this borders on concern trolling.  Using websites as proof of some kind of trend is really valid, since the internet can make one person in pajamas seem like thousands of people.  There will always be some (white) women who play up a naive persona.

    Plus, I think that this is also representative of a generation reaching that scary point in their development, around mid-twenties and early thirties, when they start figuring out how hard it is to be an adult.  Some respond by going hardcore into nostalgia.  When I was a kid, I remember news stories about baby boomers in that age range snapping up every Howdy Doody lunch box they could find to put on their shelves as decoration.  Now the millenials are doing that, and one way some do it is to do the whole hipster woman-child thing.

    Now, the question of whether there is a black Zooey Deschanel is a very good one, very revealing.  So I’m glad that was the main focus of your post.  Was Lisa Bonet kind of like that?  I feel like she was always a flower-child kind of character.  But I also think I’m kind of stretching on that one.  Other than her, I got nothing.

  • guest

    rashida jones

  • jessica

    not that i’m defending zooey or anything, but she only wrote that kitten tweet because comedian Ben Schwartz tweeted her this: http://twitter.com/#!/rejectedjokes/status/77087546424819712 and she replied http://twitter.com/#!/therealzooeyd/status/77088096579104768

  • kris

    “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.”

    So hugely important!! This is something I’ve been thinking about for a while now. Quirky black girl (website notwithstanding) is not an accepted archetype for us. The manic pixie dream girl and the recent cult of twee is absolutely bound by race and class. Black women can be boho, we can exotic and weird (Grace Jones, etc…). But cute and irreverent? Not so much.

    As for examples of a black Zoeey D, Aisha Tyler is FUNNY (in a non-Queens of Comedy Way) and seen as non-threatening. But that’s different from prosh and adorbs. Janelle is out there, in a way that does not explicitly feel boho to me (which is why I stan for her), but she’s more aliens and Metropolis than fuzzy kitties and Etsy.

    The irony of course is that there are tons of us who have gone much of our lives as genuinely quirky weirdos. But where’s our parade? The great thing about the essentialization of black womanhood is that we are rendered invisible OR we’re automatically lumped in with the manic pixie set and seen as tryna act white. But you know what, I’m a black girl who was making silly DIY crafts long before it became a thing and I loves me some K Records-style indie pop. But I’ll be damned if I’m manic pixie anything. I also respectfully refuse to put a bird on *anything.*

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=520890694 Kyra Morris

      yeah: I am so OBVIOUSLY rocknroll to classy, but people will talk to me about hip-hop and call me “girlfriend”. Mostly out of respect for my “in touch/music appreciation” and being of color, but I’m like “Dude. DUDE. I JUST SAID DUDE.  I know black people are allowed to say that now, but not when *I* started saying dude, ok?”

  • himelfau

    There are certainly Asian “Zooey’s” out there. If anything, it seems that Asian women are often limited to this innocent, giggling, Hello Kitty persona.

    • frannychoi

      I agree that Asian/Asian American women have greater access to this cute/innocent persona, but I think these characters are also generally reduced to caricature. They’re given this specifically Asian, techno-Orientalist bizarreness and highly fetishized for it. But it seems Asian cute women characters are not (generally) afforded the hipster-intellectual-quirkiness that Zooey Deschanel and other white Manic Pixie Dream Girls are; AAPI cutegirls stay flat, foreign, and helpless. 

      At the same time, I think it’s important to understand that cuteness (a.k.a. “kawaii” or “kiyopta”) takes on a specific cultural form in the Asian context. It can be problematic, but Asian cuteness is bigger and more complicated than straight sexist infantilization. Actually, I’m wondering how much white female cuteness is actually borrowing from and fetishizing Asian cuteness.

  • http://twitter.com/whattamisaid whattamisaid

    One problem with the Klausner article was that she lumped in a bunch of popular trends with only the barest connection to childishness. For instance, I always thought of crafting as more reclaiming some of skills and artistry of  our mothers and grandmothers not returning to kindergarten.

  • Filmisevil

    Aisha Tyler.

    • Ellington

      YES! She is great and I admire her, I adore Aisha Tyler and Zooey Deschanel! 
      and as for looking for  a Black Zooey Deschanel I would have to say that fits me to a Z! But hey I never had a name for it, so now I do and I am kind of jazzed about  it!
      We all have the right to be comfortable in our own skin, with our hobbies and likes, and no one should try to shame anyone for it!

  • DCasp79

    I can’t think of an equivalent personality, besides maybe Freddie Brooks on A Different World.  But she was maybe more of the bohemian now that I think of it…Interesting. I do think though, that it isn’t necessary for women to take themselves too seriously…to the exclusion of having any sense of child like wonder. Maybe that is what people are searching for–

    • http://twitter.com/amaditalks Amadi

      One of the people Tami and the others and I discussed in the entry that spurned this post was Lisa Bonet, who also cultivated/cultivates that boho thing, (I’d suggest that the same costuming ideal that held for her character on Cosby/ADW held for Freddie) and whose sartorial choices remain the stuff of mockery and insult to this day.

      There’s definitely a difference between the loose-fitting, comfort-first, chunky shoes and careless hair, bare-faced, color-unconscious bohemian aesthetic and the carefully color-coordinated, intentionally sexy, rompers-or-miniskirts, sleeveless top, teetery high heeled, intentionally artful messy hair, carefully made up pixie girl thing.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Sharon-Cullars/100000096143598 Sharon Cullars

      Also Sinclair from Livin’ Single was a refreshing break with stereotypical norms. A virginal, wide-eyed and in many ways naive personality who always saw the good in people and circumstances. I guess others wouldn’t have considered her pixieish because of her size.

  • Anonymous

    Mariah Carey?

    • http://twitter.com/amaditalks Amadi

      Absolutely not. When she went to the cutesy clothes, giggly demeanor and “everybody have a popsicle” (rather than a lollipop) she was widely derided, mocked and presumed to be on drugs or on the verge of a mental collapse. In fact, I’d bet you can find the most obvious examples of her attempt at black cutesy girl in lists of “notable celebrity breakdowns” to this day.

  • Coiltesla

    How is Klausner’s rant not a big steaming pile of ageism and social policing? How is it feminist to declare what’s acceptable for other women based on rigid social concepts which are largely rooted in a sexist society?
    How is this any different than telling someone they are acting too gay, too white, too black, etc?

    Since when is crafting – i.e. knitting, making things, etc. – the exclusive area young? It seems like the main trend in this thinking is to shame people for doing what they enjoy.

    Aggressively dividing up culture in to rigid demographic boundaries is marketing, and allowing advertisers to exploit social status anxieties.

    It also allows individuals pretend shaming and exclusion is somehow justified, rather than an indulging one’s need to act superior to someone based on dubious social cues.

    It’s also important to note that Klausner’s writing career is largely based on a persona of the superior braggart. It’s unwise to take anything she writes seriously.

    • Ladyguerita

      My own grandmother embroiders and her daughters sew, knit, and paint. It is a way expressing themselves and maintain their cultural/family  heritage.   A lot of people feel a connection of their family/cultural heritage  when they do these kinds of crafts. I know this sounds cheesy but I feel it is true.

    • Anonymous

      “How is Klausner’s rant not a big steaming pile of ageism and social policing? ”  Bingo.  Do I need to go through my wardrobe and toss out anything with flowers?  Lose the trapeze dresses?  Start wearing stilettos?   Stop playing the ‘ukulele?    What the hell?  

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=520890694 Kyra Morris

        i hope you meant *stop* wearing stilettos…”sensible shoes” would make more sense, considering.

  • http://theblacktongue.wordpress.com/ Black Steve

    Z. Deschanel may be the modern day poster child for the woman-child trope, but this trend of women being associated with “girl” goes back far. It’s really explicit (pun intended) in the teen porn market where consumers (guys) get off on grown women acting and looking like 18 year olds.

    You mentioned that men that act like children are seen as creepy. I disagree with that. The central premise of the Hangover films is that those men, especially Galifinakis, act like children and that that is entertaining. Media is full of man-children.

    But to answer your question, no, there is no Black Deschanel. This child imagery is undergirded with the notion that women are innocent and non-threatening, so Black women could never occupy this role because they are “inherently” oppositional. There’s a reason Kanye’s monster video is filled with dead American Apparel models and not dead Jet Beauties of the week. Is this bad? Yes, because it means that Black women are limited in their self-expression and media representations because of some preconceived notions. However, whatever. I think Black women have more important images to create and oppose.

    • Val R.

      “…because it means that Black women are limited in their self-expression and media representations because of some preconceived notions.”

      I think there are a lot of Black women, especially young ones who are either not aware of these preconceived notions or just don’t care. I read several Tumblr blogs by Black women who fit roughly into Deschanel category. Although they have their own unique personal take on it.

      Here’s an example;  http://bonjournikkie.tumblr.com/

    • RJ

      I want to take issue with your last two sentences; I think there’s more at stake here. The idea that black women, and even black girls as the post mentioned, can never be innocent plays neatly into the idea of black women as being always sexually available and therefore “un-rape-able.”  After all, “innocent” is often used as a euphemism for “virginal.” I would even go so far as to put forth the idea that this recent fetishizing of girlyness might be related to the abstinence movement and its promotion and fetishizing of female virginity, from which women of color are also generally excluded. This is pretty potent stuff, as we see every time a white man (or men, as in the infamous Duke case) are charged with assaulting a woman of color.

  • http://www.retaildj.com Retail DJ

    i totally agree. “quirky” for black women can be interpreted as either a) signs of class/social position (i.e. “ghetto”) or b) racial infidelity (of the “you’re trying to be white” variety). for latinas, i think it depends all on your color (Are you a white latina? a white latina living among college-educated hipsters? asian latina? black latina? how do these things change depending on what race you belong to according to the outside viewer?). 

    black women (And girls) are rarely given the option of innocence, and while that can be fine when it comes to being viewed as responsible and mature (read: job interviews, life experience, agency, etc), it’s not as positive when you just want a break from all the BS. we want to have fun too and be (or at least appear to be) girlish and free sometimes too, but it’s rarely an option. 

    • Maria Burgos

      I am a light skinned Latina and I find it hard to pick up a carefree childlike gender expression when I kind of want to! Especially when i am being witnessed by a few friends who are white girls and who have that never growing up persona nailed. I feel like they cornered that act. That it is theirs. Weird! And I feel too serious, like I could never be as pure and innocent and “open”.
      So even if I can pass in some contexts for white, it still doesn’t feel like a point of view that I can occupy. Unless I am trying to pass to myself. And hell no.

  • nerdette

    This would be my short list of pixie free spirited women of color: Janelle Monáe, India Arie,  and under the category of “not famous yet” – Kathy Cano-Murillo http://thecraftychica.blogspot.com/p/about.html, as well as myself (@nerdette:twitter ) and my microfamous twitter friend @emokidsloveme:disqus

    I also came across 2 books on crochet recently (I’m an avid crocheter) – check out Afya Ibomu – http://www.nattral.com/about-nattral/about-afya.html and her books:  http://www.amazon.com/Your-Crochet-Hats-Cool-Caps/dp/1561588504 and http://www.amazon.com/Tops-Funky-Flavas-Your-Crochet/dp/B00375LNF6/ref=cm_cr_pr_product_top

    I think there are pixie freespirited women of color out there – we just need to find them and shine a sublime light on them and their work. 

    Great post :)

    • Drhiphop85

      I don’t think those two women fit under the Maniac Pixie Girl trope. India Arie is seen as bohemian (she actually crafts music that is empowering to women) and doesn’t portray herself as a woman-child. Janelle Monae is a tricky one. However, as someone above you stated, when Black women do come off as free-spirited, their sexuality and race is called into question. There is much said about Janelle Monae being a man or not being “really black”. 

      I would say Nicki Minaj is an attempt at this trope but because she is Black, she hypersexualizes herself, while at the same time having to maintain an air of “I can still kick your ass”. 

      • Anonymous

        Nicki Minaj is the perfect example of it. I don’t think she hypersexualizes herself much with her clothing choices. I think that’s how she’s read because she’s black (or maybe I just need to pay closer attention, which is also possible).


  • Erica

     “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.”

    Respectfully disagreeing here. Most ladies I know who veer towards retro/handmade/MPDG styles–myself included–do so with the knowledge that they’re part of a greater cultural trend. A gal friend recently posted a picture of her vintage owl collection, but not without a self-deprecating joke about how Unique she is.

    The problem is, Klausner insults women who don’t dress or act the way she does by saying they’re doing it for “the peen.” That’s so sexist I have a hard time wrapping my head around it. Women dress and act different ways for all sorts of reasons, but ascribing this trend to “wanting peen” is misogynistic–and heteronormative to boot.

    It’s the same sort of shaming I noticed in her book, I Don’t Care About Your Band, when she called someone immature for still having Target “dorm furniture” in their apartment. Hello, classism! It’s fine and dandy if you live your life in J Crew pencil skirts and all your furniture is fresh from some boutique in Manhattan. But that’s your prerogative. Why the need to bash on women who do things differently?

    • Ladyguerita


       I had a friend who was African American and a
      Goth. I recall her getting bullied for trying to be ” white” and
      for  enjoying heavy rock bands. It was saddening since I  knew that that
      was the way she was, she liked dressing in all black and loved rock and punk

      I often find myself dress in “cute’ ’or  “girly” style in order to desexualize
      myself. I noticed that dress like that I’m less likely to get the unwanted
      attention since it gives the impression that I’m 16 and not 21.


      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=520890694 Kyra Morris

        also,  not what really happens to minority women. The women she’s talking about have to go back to PRE-pretween stage to get the equivalent effect. Brown and black and asian bodies are sexualized a lot more differently than your own.

        • Ladyguerita

          Ummm, I’m a Women of color. 

    • http://www.thechicktionary.com Lena

      As someone who might be described as embodying some of the traits
      Klausner criticizes, I actually really appreciated her post and Tami’s
      analysis. I wrote a longer response on my blog
      but for the sake of brevity, here’s the short version:

      I consider myself rather feminine, but I concur with the
      sentiment that society tends to reward proper ladylike behavior, while
      devaluing those who don’t fit into that particular image of womanhood.
      Think about the type of cultural archetypes that are even available to
      most women who aren’t white and middle-class. Hand-knitting mittens is
      trendy when you’re young, upwardly mobile, and financially well-off
      enough to participate as a consumer in the increasingly lucrative
      crafting industry. But if you’re a single mother sewing clothes because
      her kids can’t afford department store wardrobes, that’s not
      celebrated; it’s looked down upon.

      The problem is that the acts authentic to one woman’s preferences are
      not always what’s authentic to another, and not everyone embracing
      these activities does so with full political awareness of the history
      behind domestic labor. To be fair, many third-wave feminist crafters
      see their art as inherently anti-capitalist (because crafting allows
      one to obtain goods without resorting to mass production), but the
      political intent behind their hobby is only possible because of their
      economic privilege. So while choosing DIY and cooking isn’t always at
      the behest of the patriarchy, choice itself is also a luxury … Those who engage in traditionally domestic
      activities as a matter of necessity (and in addition to working class
      day jobs) likely scoff at the concept of “choosing” femininity.

      • Sara Ahern Sawyer

        Actually a lot of hipsters are hella broke and make their own stuff and shop thrift stores because they have to prioritize their expenses, they can’t have an i-phone and prada shoes.  So have the i-phone and chucks instead.  They can’t afford gas and nice cars so they have a beater and ride their old bike everywhere else. Whats wrong with making what you can afford look cool? Maybe I live in fantasy land (Portland), but hipsters of all races, genders and sexual orientations look cute in chucks and vintage dresses with hand knitted hats.  Truly, truly, typing this as I can see it out my window.

        • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=520890694 Kyra Morris

          um, they *still* have the iPhone…and live in a neighborhood where it’s safe and economic to own a bike (and have it be full-sized and to not have to buy a new one at least once a month). Keep pulling back on that lens, there…