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January 30, 2013 - 9:31pm

The Feminist Critique: 30 Rock and the third-wave


“Sure. I got you. New York third-wave feminist, college-educated, single and pretending to be happy about it, over-scheduled, undersexed, you buy any magazine that says "healthy body image" on the cover and every two years you take up knitting for... a week.” Ever since Jack Donaghy’s spot-on characterization of Liz Lemon in 30 Rock’s pilot episode seven years ago, her continual struggle with the essential problem birthed by feminism – can women have it all? – has been entertaining viewers and inspiring blossoming feminists.

I think this was the first instance I had ever heard the term “third-wave.” At the time – my sophomore year of high school – feminism seems to me a thing of the past, one of those crazy social movements of the 1960s back when everything was cooler and people cared about things like society and equality. But, as Tina Fey’s portrayal of Liz Lemon has taught me, this is definitely and thankfully not the case.

While Liz correcting Jack’s use of “history” to “herstory,” and her objections that it’s not okay to be a “human woman” because “It's the worst! Because of society!" No episode better explored the intricacies and pitfalls of feminism than TGS Hates Women. Because TGS was crafted as a comedy show for women by women, Liz wanted to add a female writer to the staff (not tokenizing at all…). She proceeded to hire Abby Flynn, who according to Salon article is a “pneumatic, infantilized, thumb-sucking trampoline jumper” that happened to be very attractive. Attempting to elevate the status of all womankind, Liz confronts Abby about her sexualized persona assumedly aimed at the male demographic, only to find out that Abby uses her calculated appearance to conceal herself from her abusive ex-husband. Liz’s well-meaning intervention backfires, cleverly counter posing second and third-wave ideology while simultaneously demonstrating the hazard of assumptions based on appearance.

A 2012 episode called “Unwindulax” addressed a personal feminist tick of mine. At the end of a Mitt Romney fundraiser, Liz retrieves her jacket from the coat check. When tampons fall out of her pocket, eliciting some uneasy looks, to which she responds, “Those are tampons — deal with it!” Amen. I hate it when I’m at Sam’s Club with my mom buying a box of 96 tampons and she whispers “feminine hygiene products.” Mom! Do you think people aren’t going to see this box? Do you think they don’t realize I’m a woman between the ages of 12-50 and thus probably use tampons? Seriously, if our fellow shoppers can’t deal with the word “tampon,” it’s their problem — and I’m sure Liz would agree.

As 30 Rock comes to a close on Thursday, so does my introduction to feminism. Bearing in mind the lessons I learned from Liz — “white guilt,” the danger of assumptions (Tracy can’t read?), and most importantly, the value of a good sandwich — I look forward to charging along the path that Liz Lemon, like so many other unapologetically ambitious women, has paved.

Emma Maniere can be reached at