There are probably few conservatives who have not witnessed, perhaps experienced first-hand, the vitriol of radical feminists. Intolerance, man-hating and angry protesting became stereotypical of the second wave, making the job of the third wave that much more difficult. It’s a wonder so few want to identify with the crazies.
If feminists are looking for the honey with which they can catch more flies, they ought to head over to Netflix and check out this years’ new sitcom from Tina Fey and Robert Carlock called Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. Conservatives could learn something too. An attentive viewing of just a couple episodes of the witty, endearing and at times outrageous show reveals is that it is peddling a feminist message in a palatable, disarming way.
The title character, Kimmy, is one of the “Indiana mole women” who was kept in a bunker by an apocalyptic preacher reminiscent of Harold Camping, who led them to believe that the world above ground had been wiped out. Happily, the bunker was found, the women rescued and Kimmy – who has no familiarity with the world of the past decade and a half – decides to leave her memories of Indiana behind and start her life over in New York City.
Kimmy must prove to herself, and then the world, that her experiences in the bunker have not broken her as she looks for a place to live and a job. A variety of liberal premises find their way into the plotting and the characterization, with feminism being the most prominent. From the show’s theme song, we are reminded that “females are strong as hell” – a fact that no sane person, liberal or otherwise, would deny.
All of the female characters in the show are either strong and independent or they are set on the path to becoming so. By contrast, the male characters are either some combination of weak, manipulative and chauvinistic or they are a member of a minority group, such as Kimmy’s gay roommate Titus or her friend Dong, who is an illegal immigrant from Vietnam.
In spite of all of this, I, a conservative, enjoy the show. The reasons it works provide lessons both for radical feminists that are running out of bras to burn and conservatives, who debate the efficacy of their messaging after every losing election.
First, the show is funny (as sitcoms are supposed to be, but often aren’t). Humor is disarming. It also makes people and ideas look ridiculous. In Rules for Radicals, Saul Alisnky recommends using ridicule against political enemies, arguing that it is more powerful than facts and logic.
For example, in one episode, Titus, an aspiring actor, takes classes so as not to appear gay, a not-so-subtle jab at gay-to-straight conversion therapy. But the scenes are hilarious and driven by the story, so they don’t come across as preachy.
Second, the viewers are made to sympathize with the characters. Whatever else they are, Kimmy is trying to figure out life in a big city, Titus is chasing his dreams and Jacqueline – Kimmy’s employer – is trying to learn not to rely on her image and money. They are relatable. Both radical feminists and conservatives could do a better job of relating their ideas to people’s real experiences.
The clearest analogy in the show is Kimmy’s past. As the theme song plays, she is shown emerging from the bunker hatch into the sunlight, as though she is climbing out of Socrates’ cave into enlightenment. She was held there, kept in the dark, by a man – a religious man – no obscure symbol of the supposed oppression of women in male-centric, religious cultures.
But Kimmy is far from benighted – even if she can’t recognize any songs recorded since the 90s. She is wise in ways contrary to conventional wisdom; she doesn’t play by the world’s “rules.” This is the kind of freedom the Left flatters itself that it supports: freedom from convention, tradition, norms. Ironically, of course, liberals wind up attempting to force freedom on us using the power of government.
Kimmy, though, uses her independence to encourage others to find their strength. She tries to persuade her employer Jacqueline to divorce her rich, unfaithful husband, even though Jacqueline is insecure without steady income and access to a luxurious lifestyle.
Not only does Kimmy seek independence in finding a place to live and a job, she looks to finish the high school education she never got in the bunker by getting her GED. It is in one of her classes that she meets Dong, who helps her with her math homework. He is in the United States illegally, working while earning his high school education.
This plot point is pro-illegal immigration, of course. Kimmy would lose her friend to the enforcement of immigration law. The audience is meant to feel for her and Dong and not the faceless governmental authorities who would export him.
Perhaps the main reason Kimmy Schmidt works is that, for all its liberalism, it does make politically-incorrect and even stereotypical jokes. Tina Fey is a veteran in the comedy industry and she is quite aware – even if her other uptight liberal colleagues are not – that humor must push boundaries and even when dealing with serious subjects, you have to be able to laugh at yourself.
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is made up of none of the off-putting elements of the radical feminism with which we are most familiar. Instead disarming humor, sympathetic characters and story-driven action allow the show to convey ideas without beating its audience over the head with them. Far left feminists and conservatives alike could learn something.