What Fran Fine Taught Me About Feminism
This month our Rising Voices Fellows are examining how their Jewish and feminist identities intersect. Be sure to check the JWA blogeach Tuesday for a new post from our fellows—and check out the great educational resources provided by our partner organization, Prozdor.
I live in Vermont. There are no Jewish day schools here, no Jewish Community Centers, no kosher restaurants. I’ve been the only Jewish kid in class, having to sit and listen as a (non-Jewish) teacher explained that a mensch is someone who just “schleps through life.”
We have a Jewish community here—I am heavily involved with my synagogue and with Vermont’s branch of Young Judaea—but not a Jewish culture.
Then I accidentally found Fran Drescher’s show The Nanny while channel surfing at my Zayde’s cottage, and there it was, a culture I could take with me anywhere, as long as I had Internet or a DVD player.
The show is about Fran Fine, a Jewish woman from Queens, New York, and it showcases much of the Jewish culture of that area. My dad is from Queens, and watching the show makes me feel like I’m surrounded by my family. I love it because it represents my family in a way I don’t see anywhere else on television or other media.
But I also like it for feminist reasons.
Those of you who have seen the show are probably shaking your heads at me right now. On its surface, it doesn’t seem to be a feminist show, and that’s true in many ways. The show buys into beauty culture, with many jokes about women getting old or needing makeup. Many jokes are transmisogynistic (centered around hatred of transgender women) and the only gay characters are extremely minor, appearing for only one episode, and are used for comic relief.
Fran herself is fixated on getting married, wears makeup and earrings to bed, and lies about her age. (“The years are passing me by! Twenty-seven, twenty-eight, twenty-nine, twenty-nine, twenty-nine...”)
But Fran, like the show, is more than what she seems at first glance.
Sure, she spends a lot of time on how she looks, but she gets something out of that. She charms her way through any predicament she may get into. More importantly, she is one with her body. She holds herself with a confidence I haven’t seen a lot of. She loves sex, wants sex, has sex, but it’s not what her character is about.
Fran Fine has chutzpah. She is a woman who doesn’t take any nonsense, who makes her own choices. She is determined. When faced with a challenge, she plows right through and doesn’t stop until she succeeds. She is FIERCE. She sees the world through her eyes, on her terms, and she works to make it so.
I try to channel that same fierceness myself, especially in my feminism. I don’t want to settle for small victories, though I do celebrate them. Like Fran, I don’t want to give in that easy. I don’t want to live in a world saturated with misogyny, sexism, racism, transphobia, and homophobia, and I’m not going to keep fighting until all of those structures are gone.
I also try to keep a sense of humor, as Fran does. She laughs at herself, but doesn’t let other people make fun of her. She jokes about her nasally voice, and about how different she is from the rich British gentiles she works for.
I can relate to not fitting in, being too Jewish or too feminist or too queer. Sometimes I shrink into myself, become silent. But I’ve learned from Fran Fine that even if my voice seems funny, or out of place, that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t speak. Fran taught me that my opinion matters, and that I don’t have to just sit by and watch my life. I can stand up and shape it myself.