In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • Jewish Lesbian Identity, Feminist Antisemitism, and The L Word as a Site for Activism
  • Rachel Silverman (bio)

Love, Jenny

In the six seasons of Showtime’s hit series The L Word, opening montages were used to construct minor storylines, heighten the plot, or inform viewers about lesbian life. During the final season of the show, each of the title sequences was dedicated to revisiting one of the main character’s abhorrence of Jenny Schecter (Mia Kirshner), and each vignette offered a possible answer to the identity of her killer. Jenny was the character everyone loved to hate, and was rumored to be a fictional version of L Word’s producer Eileen Chaiken. Over the course of L Word’s six seasons, Jenny navigated an arduous terrain of Jewish lesbian identity, and her story offers a mediated example of feminist antisemitism that culminates in a mysterious death, one that left fans of the show wondering “Who killed Jenny?” This essay explores the symbolic nature of her life and death and reframes the question by asking, “Why kill Jenny?”

L Word was the first-ever television program to showcase an all-lesbian cast of characters, and the premise of the show was simple: it was a show about lesbians. The show was both lauded for its originality1 and criticized for being trite and mundane.2 Regardless of whether critics considered L Word revolutionary or complacent, they seemed to agree that it offered one of the best, televised examples of current feminist politics and contemporary lesbian identity.3 Moreover, L Word was not only the first show of its kind, but no show since has paralleled its diversity in representations of lesbian identity. While television has exploded with representations of gay men in the past few years (Glee, Modern Family, The New Normal), lesbians remain largely unseen, except in L Word syndicated reruns.

The primary characters of L Word purposefully offered a cross-section of identities: Bette Porter (Jennifer Beals) and Tina Kennard (Laurel Holloman), the central couple whose home set the stage for many of the group’s activities; Shane McCutcheon (Katherine Moening), the show’s untouchable and androgynous sexpot; Alice Pieszecki (Leisha Hailey), a quirky radio commentator and pop culture guru; Dana Fairbanks (Erin Daniels), a professional tennis [End Page 1] player who dies of breast cancer; Kit Porter (Pam Grier), Bette’s sister and owner of the Planet, the coffee shop where much of the show takes place; and Jenny, a fiction writer and the newest member of the core group. Her process of coming out and becoming a lesbian were central plot lines throughout the time the show was on the air.

Over the course of the six seasons, until her death in the series finale, Jenny navigates three stages of identity, and during each stage of her transformation, she remains an outsider from the core group of women. During the first two seasons of L Word, Jenny comes out as a lesbian and demonstrates how coming out can be culturally specific, in her case, specific to Judaism.4 In seasons 3 and 4, Jenny disidentifies from normalizing discourses of lesbian identity on L Word by performing a hyperbolic version of lesbian identity—one that is intrinsically and intricately related to her Jewish identity.5 And in the final two seasons, Jenny offers a mimetic character construction and storyline that works to demonstrate the necessary performativity of minority identity—in her case, both Jewish and lesbian identity.6 This article examines the role Jewishness plays in Jenny’s character as it coalesces with each stage of Jenny’s sexual transformation. More specifically, this article argues Jenny’s Jewish identity perpetuates and is integral to her outsider status on the show. And because The L Word was, according to critics, a feminist text that embodied both feminist thought and feminist politics, Jenny’s outsider status offers a mediated example of real-life feminist antisemitism. As such, an analysis of L Word reveals how Jenny’s character works to simultaneously expose and oppose the ongoing trend of antisemitism within feminism.7

The types of antisemitic discourses that exist within the feminist movement are best understood through the voices of two...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1946-2522
Print ISSN
1939-7941
Pages
pp. 1-18
Launched on MUSE
2016-04-21
Open Access
No
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