New Girl as an Autistic Cipher For Women

Okay, I don’t want to perpetuate the idea that autism just makes you quirky or “adorkable.” That’s not at all what I am saying. This is about me. So, take that disclaimer with everything that I am saying…

New Girl, the Zooey Deschanel show on Fox that came out almost ten years ago, is one of my favorite shows. When I started binge watching it by the third season, I kept yelling at my television, “WHY ARE YOU WATCHING ME?! AM I BEING PUNKED?” That is because I AM Jessica Day. I know, I know. Every girl thinks they are the hero of their favorite TV show, but no- I AM Jessica Day.

(I have to have another disclaimer here. My sister is way cooler than me. She told me to watch it like two Thanksgivings before I started when she told me she named her parakeet “Schmidt.” And I was like, “the beer?”)

For those of you that were like me, so obviously uncool. Schmidt is one of the characters on the show. There is also Winston, Coach, and Nick Miller. Interestingly, I am also Nick Miller. More on that later.

If you need some evidence on my Jessica Day-ness, here is a picture of me BEFORE the show ever started…

Okay, I know bangs aren’t Zooey Deschanel specific-
but I rocked those bangs PRE-New Girl folks. I also rocked a lot of polka dots.

There are a lot of things that I have in common with the character of Jessica Day (and yes, I know, she’s fictional.) BUT despite the probably seventy pound weight difference, we both love a skater dress (cute little vintage numbers that are modeled after figure skaters.) We both ADORE patterns and bright colors. LOVE, love, LOVE cardigans. Colored tights and flats, yes! Shorts with tights, yes please! We love crafts and teaching children. WE’RE both super awkward. WE hate conflict. And just want everyone to be happy. (I might have projected the last one.)

It made me an INSTANT fan. And of course, that might be the universal appeal that New Girl has- she’s the cute and awkward “IT girl.” But there’s more to it.

Now that I’m post diagnosis, I wonder if Jessica Day had just enough of the autistic traits that I had to make me feel that blue streak of recognition.

Still not convinced?

She has obsessive interests, like books, and crafts, and knitting. She often doesn’t understand social cues. She has terrible balance (She falls down from just standing there. That’s me and my proprioception, all the way.) She’s inappropriately empathetic and compassionate (She breaks for birds.) She over prepares for social situations. It’s easier for her to be friends with the opposite sex. And finally, she uses escape tactics to get away from uncomfortable situations (that Christmas episode where she runs into a large glass window, and says she feels like a bird. I’ve done, literally, that.)

I’m not totally sure that she’s on the spectrum. (Because, obviously, she’s fictional!) But she really resonated with me, mostly because of the LACK of autistic girl representation. And if they are female characters, they often present in a more typical male representation of Autism, like Bennet on Dollhouse, or Elise on The Tunnel, or even Dr. Brennan, Zooey’s sister, on Bones. All male presentations of autism, dressed in a skirt. Metaphorical skirt, that is.

Don’t take my word on it, just check out this 2013 blog post written about three fictional characters that the author deemed likely to be on the spectrum. Almost proving my point, they denied Jess, and went with two men, and a cartoon. And even went back on their own idea, saying that cartoon Tina was too “normal.” Still showing the weird gender bias in diagnosing women autistics. I should give the blogger credit in that Abed Nadir from community is the best portrayal of Autism I have ever seen. So yeah, good point there.

Speaking of, I’m super excited that there is NOW a show on Freeform with a teenage autistic girl living with her gay brother. It’s like my worlds combined! It’s called “Everything’s Gonna be OK” and I haven’t watched it yet because I want to binge it when the season is over. (My ADHD won’t let me watch episodes one at a time.) BUT-BUT- there is actual autistic collaboration in the writers, and the actress herself is on the spectrum! BADASS REPRESENTATION! She’s still a child, but YEAH! STILL! GETTING BETTER!

Anyway, back to New Girl-

I’m also honestly, a little bit Nick Miller. And this does actually have to do with the autistic thing. Again, I am not diagnosing a fictional character. But I had SO MUCH in common with him as well. As the obvious love of Jessica Day, he has some similar neurodiverse traits, perhaps a little more ADHD but he has- intensive interests that change quickly, misunderstandings about interpersonal relationships (you gave me cookie, I got you cookie), immature (you don’t wash the towel, the towel washes you), anger issues, and problems following through (law school, the zombie novel. I also have an unfinished zombie novel and I’m a college drop out.) Oh! And seriously into masking (the thing with Russel where he literally starts mirroring everything that he says. That is a thing, people!)

Now all these traits were exaggerated for comedy purposes, of course. And I haven’t seen any of them really stim, or have intense sensory issues that require accomodation, but still it was interesting. And with Nick, they always portray these traits as just being “manly”, but that is how you end up with the idea that only men are autistic, and boys more commonly have ADHD.

I don’t know. It just blew my mind.

Perhaps it’s that thing when you are so starved for representation that you start adopting characters into your tribe just because you have some need to. Or maybe it’s because pink wine does make me slutty.

Either way, I still rock a good polka dot.

For a REAL cipher on autistic women, read this article on how Women with autism Hide Complex Problems with Masking. Yes, they use person first language but they also admit right away that it’s just a style choice. It’s still a great article, with great information.

4 thoughts on “New Girl as an Autistic Cipher For Women

  1. This is really interesting! The representation for women with Autism and other neurodiverse conditions is painfully poor (in fact, I’m planning on doing a post on that matter very soon, and have published a paper on it). The one place I would say it’s done relatively well is in Channel 4’s ‘Hollyoaks.’ Though there are problems with any representation of a condition which varies so widely from person to person, the show benefits from having cast an Autistic actress in the role. I recommend checking it out if you haven’t done so already!


  2. I’ve thought the same thing with tv characters, including Jessica Day. I don’t have a diagnoses and turning 34 soon. I have been looking into autism for years. Both of my sons are on the spectrum and have ODD, OCD and ADHD diagnosis’ as well. Those all seem to run in my family. I love that you included Abed as I related to him so much and he’s my absolute favorite character on Community. I’m like him in that I get really nerdy about movie and tv shows. I relate a lot to Jessica Day, too. In fact, I often get told I dress like a teacher. No joke, a group of kids at a park asked me if I am a teacher…and I’m not lol. So glad I found this article while looking up if Jessica Day is supposed to be autistic haha. Schmidt shows traits, as well.


  3. Hello i don’t watch all the show but…
    You’re Right about the person only writing (?) about boys and cartoon being on the spectrum.
    But the thing that Nick does with the sweat-shirt and the hood It must be a sensory issues idk i’m not on the spectrum.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s