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Liz Lemon, You Can Have It All!

I’m up for a pretty prestigious honor at my university, where I will be graduating in a few short weeks (gulp!). When I told a friend this news, he was pleased and happy for me. Then, curious, he started asking how I managed to do so well at college. So I answered a few questions, how I work hard and do the best I can–but then he cut me off. “Oh I know how,” he said. “You’ve never had a serious boyfriend in college.”

Tina Fey as Liz Lemon on <i>30 Rock</i>
Tina Fey as Liz Lemon on 30 Rock

Excuse me? Was he actually suggesting that women can never succeed while we’re seriously dating someone? Because, you know, having jobs and internships and hanging out with friends and casually dating — that’s nothing compared to what it would take for a woman to maintain the attention of a boyfriend? Why is it that our society thinks women can’t have it all?

And that’s how I landed on people like Tina Fey.

Now, I love Tina Fey. I love her shows, I love her movies, I love her intelligence, and I especially love her Sarah Palin impersonations. She is a woman who’s broken down doors in the guys-only club of comedy. But I hate the women she plays. The women she consistently plays in her movies and shows are extremely successful, intelligent women who have unbelievably dull, pathetic social lives. Think of her characters in 30 Rock, Baby Mama, and Mean Girls–they are all are professional women who are clueless when it comes to their personal lives.

This has become a media trend over the decades–portraying women as either one or the other. Think Ally McBeal (successful lawyer, emotional instability), and Cristina Yang from Grey’s Anatomy (most intelligent intern in the hospital, yet cold and hostile to others). These kinds of characters are interesting and funny, and they certainly contribute to the laugh track. But I’ve had enough of it.

It’s great we’re seeing women characters as successful lawyers, doctors, and writers. But why must shows and movies always fall back on the same old portrayal–“she’s successful, but she can’t keep a boyfriend!” or “she’s smart, but she sure is crazy”?

What message is this sending? You can be successful either on the weekdays or the weekends, but not both?

Phylicia Rashad as Clair Huxtable on <i>The Cosby Show</i>
Phylicia Rashad as Clair Huxtable on The Cosby Show

There are few examples of women in the media who do have it all–success and social lives. Phylicia Rashad’s Clair Huxtable on The Cosby Show was a loving, strict, successful, happy mother of five. I am also lucky enough to have grown up surrounded by extremely talented women who led happy lives, including my own mother. (I actually took an online quiz once to find out which TV family is most like mine, and it turns out we are the Huxtables). Why can’t we see more women who do have it all?

I have led the last four years of college socially and academically. Maybe I’ve never had a long-term relationship while in college, save for the couple month-long ones, but I have made some incredible long-term friends. But who’s counting anyway? And who’s to say any relationship of any kind would deter me from my goals?


Kate Elston is a senior majoring in Media Studies at the University of San Francisco. Upon graduation, she plans to work as a journalist or filmmaker. Kate wants to dedicate her career to media literacy and use the media to promote positive change.

3 thoughts on “Liz Lemon, You Can Have It All!

  1. I’ve been watching a lot of the Cosby show lately (I own the first season), and I’m consistently blown away by how “real” their relationship is. They both have stressful jobs, they get angry at each other, they make up, they kiss and snuggle in bed. But it’s none of this overdone overblown comedy that we see on sitcoms now. It’s what my life is actually like (or would be like if I were a lawyer and my husband were a doctor).

    Cosby was a genius, and I would love to see another clean, realistic show just like it on the air today.

  2. I am a huge Liz Lemon fan, and for all of my activist and awareness, I was shocked to realize that I never closely examined her relationship failures. Thank you for this post!!

  3. This was a really interesting blog. I can definitely see how it is a problem for women to be given the message that a successful career or education precludes being in healthy happy relationships as well. I deplore the idea that successful women cannot also be successful mothers and partners.

    But I’m not sure that the message is that simple. I am also opposed to the message that women can only be happy and considered “well-rounded” or “having it all” if they do have a man. What a simplistic idea of happiness and success! Some women are successful and career or educated oriented and make the choice to focus on those pursuits rather than relationships. Many women are perfectly happy being single and don’t feel that they need a man (or woman) to be complete. I think that is a powerful message that women need to hear.

    For example, Christian Yang (on Grey’s Anatomy) I think it s a good illustration of a women who doesn’t feel incomplete without a man. She is driven and focused and passionate about her career and that is satisfying to her. She does not avoid relationships – in fact, right now she does actually have a love interest, interestingly one in which she is NOT the crazy one; he actually has PTSD, it seems – yet does not seek them out desperately and indiscriminately.

    This is an important topic to discuss but I think we need to remember that sometimes successful women without relationships are actually a POSITIVE message.

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