On Race, Feminism, and Jodie Landon

By Guest Contributor Lois Payne, cross-posted from Geekquality

I loved MTV’s Daria growing up, which really isn’t that big of a surprise because who didn’t love Daria, right? At the time, the show was exactly what I needed to cope with middle school (and life in general). Daria was sarcastic, monotone, and aware of being too smart and self-aware to deal with everyone around her–a familiar scenario I empathized with deeply. As I’ve been rewatching the show recently, reminded of how perfectly it captured how I felt as a kid and still feel to this day, I noticed that this time it’s not Daria and Jane who command my attention. Instead, I found myself focusing on a girl just as intelligent and snarky as Daria, but even more fringe and alternative than either could possibly fathom: Jodie Landon.

Look at her. Gaze upon the one person who is even more aware of the irony and hypocrisy of the world than Daria Morgendorffer. This is the one person who has even more right and insight to call everyone out on their sh-t. Meet Jodie Landon–popular girl, homecoming queen, model student, and young woman of color.

I used to bask in the Daria comparisons. To be called “Daria” was considered an acknowledgment of your mental acumen, acerbic wit, and general allure as a disgruntled misanthrope. Now that I’m grown, I can’t help but think that however “Daria” I may be, the person I truly relate to is Jodie. In a sea of white faces, who couldn’t even begin to comprehend the term “privilege”–yet alone unpack it–she was the lone POC girl.

Daria is a feminist show with a feminist main character, with that teen angst telegraphed through sarcastic quips. Jodie isn’t really that different from Daria, except she’s black, more tolerant of her less-than-stellar classmates, and further out in the sidelines. Although it’s Jodie’s standing as one of the “cool kids” that makes her a secondary character, her marginalization is an accurate reminder of the real life standing WoC often have in feminist spaces.

It’s hard for me to know where to begin talking about some of the issues I have in regards to feminism and the limited spaces it offers PoCs. As of late, I’m more and more disappointed in my supposed allies when attempts to talk about my individual experience as a feminist of color go nowhere. This isn’t a new complaint, either. One of the repeat offenses of postmodern feminism is the mammoth failure to factor race and privilege into the ongoing dialogue. When you’re a person of color, there is no such thing as separating race and gender–it’s a package deal, baby. It shouldn’t be that great of a stretch to acknowledge that race is an enormous factor in how a woman lives and perceives her experience; it’s her race that sets the tone of how others will approach and treat her as a woman. If you get the urge to tell me that I’m wrong, you probably aren’t a person of color and you should just sit back down and pay attention.

I look forward to the few seconds or minutes when Jodie gets screen time. Besides comfortably going toe-to-toe with Daria, Jodie is point-blank about Lawndale’s almost blinding whiteness, and so freaking meta about her status as a token black character that it hurts. Daria may snark endlessly about buying into the patriarchal system and everyone’s general need to get a clue, but Jodie’s cynicism runs on a deeper level because she knows that she can (and most likely will) be collateral damage of the same system Daria may only marginally suffer. Daria can walk away relatively unscathed, or if she chooses to be continually vocal about her complaints, there is always some sort of sympathetic space for her as a white woman. The same doesn’t hold for Jodie.

But the beauty of Jodie is that she copes and works hard on her escape plan. Witness her greatness, as she nips Daria’s whining in the bud (S2E8, “Gifted”):

Daria: Look Jodie, I’m too smart and too sensitive to live in a world like ours, at a time like this, with a sister like mine. Maybe I do miss out on stuff, but this attitude is what works for me now.

Jodie: Then you’ll understand what works for me now. At home, I’m Jodie–I can say and do whatever feels right. But at school I’m The Queen of the Negros, the perfect African-American teen, the role-model for all the other African-American teens at Lawndale. Oops! Where’d they go? Believe me, I’d like to be more like you.

Daria, in one of her rare moments of sympathy, gets it, because she’s not a bad person and she is smart. I am not trying to single out all the white feminists out there, but I am calling out all you Darias: can you understand where Jodie is coming from?

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  • v.dot

    That image macro is amazing! :D

  • Anonymous

    Great article about a great character-I hadn’t realized or remembered that she had challenged Daria on the show at all (it’s been a long time since I’ve seen the series on TV.) I also love how she was so much unlike Daria and Jane, yet an equal to them, and with a more social aspect to her. I would love to see how she’s doing with Mac in college and in life generally.

    About Daria; of late, something tells me that Daria might have Asperberger Syndrome….that’s the reason (to me) that she acts the way she does compared to Jodie and Jane.

  • Anonymous

    Great article about a great character-I hadn’t realized or remembered that she had challenged Daria on the show at all (it’s been a long time since I’ve seen the series on TV.) I also love how she was so much unlike Daria and Jane, yet an equal to them, and with a more social aspect to her. I would love to see how she’s doing with Mac in college and in life generally.

    About Daria; of late, something tells me that Daria might have Asperberger Syndrome….that’s the reason (to me) that she acts the way she does compared to Jodie and Jane.

  • Anonymous

    I say that Jodie is doing pretty well, getting on with Mac, and getting in touch with her black heritage (there used to be fan art of Jodie dressed in clothing similar to 
    Erykah Badu’s, but I don’t know where the site is!) At least, I hope that’s how she is these days.

  • Anonymous

    I say that Jodie is doing pretty well, getting on with Mac, and getting in touch with her black heritage (there used to be fan art of Jodie dressed in clothing similar to 
    Erykah Badu’s, but I don’t know where the site is!) At least, I hope that’s how she is these days.

  • Anonymous

    Actually, they’ve changed that with this show somewhat.

  • Elle

    This is a wonderful article. I admit, I am one of those white Darias, and this was a great wake up call. I know I’ll never be able to say that I understand what it’s like to be held back because of race, but I’m glad I can learn about it.

  • Pumamoon

    Yes. Of course Jodie would have been treated worse than Daria if she acted like her; she pretty much had to be the more sociable rolemodel nice one. I’ve never seen that acknowledged in this other board I used to go to for reading fanfic. Race was just erased/dismissed and her problems were attributed to herself and her parents, without the larger context being applied. Thank you for pointing it out.  

  • Moudou

    Really enjoyed this post, thank you.

  • Anonymous

    Sweet memories…Thanks for posting!

  • Jamie Jeans

    This was a wonderful post and definitely something worth reading. I’ve heard much of what you’ve talked about, about the lack of safe spaces or even room for discussion on the experiences of WOC in feminist circles, not to mention some of the racefail that still happens.

    Heck, the slutwalk of New York City from last year comes to mind, where a white woman held up a card that said “Women are the N-words of the world!” How could anyone even consider someone an ally when they don’t even have the basic homework done?

    Great article and definitely food for thought. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

  • Anonymous

    Great post! I’ve always loved Jodie. Whoever wrote her character deserves kudos. I wish there had been a spin off of THIS instead of say…”Cleveland” from Family Guy.

    • Anonymous

      There wasn’t a spin-off featuring Jodie because:

      1) The channel wound down its animation block

      2)The animators and producers didn’t authorize or conceive of any spin-offs beyond Daria (keep in mind that this show was itself a spin-off of Beavis & Butthead)

      3)And the most obvious-there’s no link between the producers/animators of Daria and that of  The Cleveland Show.

      • Anonymous

        Ummm, all I was saying was how I would have preferred a mainstream Black animation show like Jodie to Cleveland. That is all. I think the rest of the people who thumbs upped my comment got that.

        • http://www.facebook.com/people/Neville-Ross/100002343524258 Neville Ross

          Cool beans on that. But it’s going to be up to somebody prominently black to come up with a show like it…and I haven’t seen anybody put forth any effort to do so yet.

  • Guest

    I haven’t seen this series since I was in middle school. It’s worth another look, I see. :) 

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  • Pere

    As a feminist of colour in a very Catholic country, I’ve been frustrated with the lack of connection between race issues and gender issues. Thank you so much for this…now I want to watch Daria again.

  • http://twitter.com/MalikPanama Malik

    One of the best posts I’ve seen anywhere in months.

  • Anonymous

    So much love for this post. So freakin’ much.

  • http://reeltalkonline.org/ Candice Frederick

    i love this piece! and love Daria

  • Tomás Garnett

    So much love.

  • Tomás Garnett

    So much love.

  • Tomás Garnett

    So much love.

  • Anonymous

    YES.

  • Anonymous

    YES.

  • Anonymous

    YES.

  • rebecca

    This is exactly I felt in my WGS class this morning when we talked about intersectionality but through a postmodern lens. The professor kept bringing up Foucault.  

    Also, daria and feminism = my two favorite things in life. great post!

  • Ada

    I always loved Jodie, and Jodie made me like the show more because the writers seemed willing to call Daria out on her shit more when Jodie was around. Daria as a character and show gets a lot of flack for being the whinings of a privileged white girl, but she did represent a novel female character, one with anger and mess in her head, as well as wit. 

    Jodie was ahead of her time, and I think she’s one of the reasons the show held up well (that and the fact that characters who weren’t as intelligent scholastically weren’t demonized, they were decent people). I think it would’ve been good to see more of her, she had a lot to say and wasn’t given many opportunities given her supporting role. Daria was very important to me during my teenage years, and I like the fact that there’s still life in the show from a critical perspective.

  • Jay

    Great post!

  • Medusa

    So much word.

    • Karin

       LOVE this post.  Thank you, from a fellow WoC “Daria” fan.

  • Anonymous

    Oh, I needed this post this morning.