New Girl has always been about gender. It’s right there in the title.
When the show first premiered in 2011, its premise put the battle of the sexes at the forefront. Light-hearted, skirt-twirling, knitting needles-toting Jess moves into a loft with three brand new roommates after answering an ad and thinking she’s found three “nice girls” like herself. To her surprise, she moves in and finds three masculine archetypes living in the rooms next to hers. And thus, we’re set up with a series about a bunch of dudes and this quirky and feminine new girl, and we get to see how they interact.
When Zooey Deschanel, who plays Jess, got pregnant, it left the writers with a chunk of time during which the show would be Jess-less while Deschanel was on maternity leave. So, how did they solve the issue of having New Girl without their girl? Well, by introducing a new new girl, of course. Earlier this season, while Jess was sequestered in a hotel for jury duty, the guys of the loft solicited a new roomie to sublet Jess’s room. This narrative trick was an obvious one; the writers obviously wanted to invoke the show with some additional female energy while Deschanel was gone. But, the introduction of a new character did more than just solve the issue of Jess’s disappearance. It brought a whole new gender perspective to the show, mixing things up in a really exciting way.
The answer to the writers’ conundrum and the guys’ sublet ad came in the form of Reagan, as played by Megan Fox. Reagan couldn’t be more different from Jess: She shies away from emotions, she has no place in her wardrobe for ribbons, and she never sings. Reagan is tough, a girl who can really act like “one of the guys.” The audience has spent the last five seasons watching the guys learn how to act around a woman who deeply values femininity, and so Reagan serves as a real spark of energy mixing things up.
Jess is the show’s main character, and with Reagan as the true anti-Jess, it would be easy for the writers to prompt the audience to hate her and pine for our true New Girl back. I’ll admit that when I first saw Reagan, I was prepared to defensively dismiss her. Yet, the writers don’t do that. Instead, Reagan is given just as much respect and attention as Jess would normally receive. Jess and Reagan are completely different types of women, one frivolous and the other tough, and yet the show makes it clear that they are both worthy of regard. It’s a subtly strong feminist statement.
One of my favorite New Girl lines comes from Jess in an earlier season: “I brake for birds. I rock a lot of polka dots. I have touched glitter in the last 24 hours. And that doesn’t mean I’m not smart and tough and strong.” The line calls attention to the feminist point that a woman can be both feminine and strong. With the introduction of Reagan, the show calls attention to the feminist point that a woman can also be both tough and lovable. New Girl continues to call attention to gender and shows how multiple New Girls can be feminist in different ways.