TIME Television

New Girl’s Feminist Lesson

On last night's episode, Jess leaned in

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Spoilers for last night’s episode of New Girl below

Have New Girl‘s creators been reading Lean In?

Though the Zooey Deschanel sitcom usually sticks with silliness, last night’s episode showed its heroine learning one of the most often restated messages of Sheryl Sandberg-style feminism: nobody will give you a promotion if you don’t ask for it. In this case, Jess wants to be promoted to vice principal of the school where she’s a teacher; after she helps Coach get a job as the school’s new volleyball coach, he realizes how much extra work she takes on and advises her to stop silently accepting additional duties and just ask for the job she wants. She’s illustrating a pretty basic-level modern-workplace-feminism nugget, that one of the reasons women don’t get promoted more is that they — unlike men — are uncomfortable asking for it. As Sandburg put it in Lean In:

Women are also more reluctant to apply for promotions even when deserved, often believing that good job performance will naturally lead to rewards. Carol Frohlinger and Deborah Kolb, founders of Negotiating Women, Inc., describe this as the “Tiara Syndrome,” where women “expect that if they keep doing their job well someone will notice them and place a tiara on their head.” In a perfect meritocracy, tiaras would be doled out to the deserving, but I have yet to see one floating around an office. Hard work and results should be recognized by others, but when they aren’t, advocating for oneself becomes necessary. As discussed earlier, this must be done with great care. But it must be done.

Sandberg also cites a Google procedure whereby engineers get promotions by nominating themselves. When women were told that men nominated themselves more often than their female colleagues, the number of self-nominations from women increased. Other research has shown that men ask for raises more often — in 2008, that figure was as much as 85% more often — and that they negotiate less, too.

So what happens to Jess? She asks for the job and gets it, at which point she’s forced to confront another professional bugbear, the matter of work-life balance: she has to fire a friend and later falls asleep surrounded by all the extra paperwork of her new job. But, because this is a sitcom, it all basically works out.

In the real world, however, Jess’ job troubles may have been more difficult to deal with. Though her story arc perfectly illustrated the ask-for-it promotion, some research conducted since that axiom came into play suggests that the story is more complicated: one late 2011 study found that, in the business world, women were asking just as much but not getting as much in return. And notably absent from New Girl is any discussion of Jess’ salary changing with her new duties. Then again, maybe Jess doesn’t really have to worry about her negotiating skills. After all, the characters can afford pretty much the nicest loft ever on the combined salaries of a bartender, a would-be cop, a now-broke marketing guy, a volleyball coach and a teacher — er, make that vice principal.

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