Diane Nguyen from ‘Bojack Horseman’ taught me how to be a happier feminist.
For those of you familiar with Raphael Bob-Waksberg’s hilariously melancholic cartoon, this sentiment might come as surprise. Diane is a very sad character who sporadically finds happiness between episodes about other sad characters.
She wants to be a serious writer but finds herself wrapped up in a gossipy publication that extends their activism to click-bait and takedowns of problematic celebrities. She loves her (now ex) husband Mr Peanut Butter but can’t stand how different and unmatched they are. She tries to practise her feminism in her own life but consistently fails to set boundaries with Bojack, a character who repeatedly does horrific things to the women around him.I am not an activism generating-machine. Click To Tweet
In other words Diane is a human character.
For this reason alone she makes it easier to be a feminist. Where representation is usually only a stereotypical trope who wears suits and bosses men around, it is a refreshing relief to see feminists on TV as regular, nuanced people with feelings and desires outside of bra-burning.
I have identified as a feminist since Sylvia Plath introduced me to the radical notion that women are people when I was 16. The ideology has empowered me and taught me more than I could ever say. But my dedication to it has often meant that practising my feminism became more important than anything else. Whilst this was often necessary it was also regularly harmful to different aspects of my life.
Not because feminism is harmful, but because people are just not supposed to be producing activism to the extent we are being forced to do so. I accept my responsibility to work hard at changing things but I am not an activism generating-machine.The standard set for women to behave and execute activism perfectly, instantly, without faltering, regardless of its effect on our lives and emotions is dehumanizing. Click To Tweet
Diane illustrates this perfectly. Her passion for feminism is consistently obvious and the standard she attempts to hold herself to is almost painful to watch. Yet, she repeatedly messes up. She regularly goes on trips in efforts to run away from her problems. She gets wasted when she’s sad. She sleeps with her ex-husband while he has a girlfriend. She allows her feminist reputation to be used to justify sexism on the show, Philbert. She helps Bojack pretend to be a male-feminist to take down other actors and most significantly, she enables Bojack throughout the show.
She delivers a social-justice-perfect speech to #MeToo inspired character Vance Waggoner’s publicist about how she is complicit in Waggoner’s abhorrent behaviour towards women. “When you, as a woman, give awful men the cover of your friendship when you work for them — first of all, they’re not gonna get better, and second of all you are then complicit — no, you’re culpable for the terrible things they do.” She since realizes that she has fulfilled this role in Bojack’s life and struggles more than ever with their relationship.
My point is not some Philbert-inspired message that since Diane fails to practise feminism where she should that we should let ourselves off the hook when we fail to do it. But rather that she shows us that it’s okay if it’s hard sometimes. That the standard set for women to behave and execute activism perfectly, instantly, without faltering, regardless of its effect on our lives and emotions is just as sexist and dehumanizing as all the other double-standards feminism is at war with.Diane Nguyen from Bojack Horseman makes space in feminist representation for our humanness. Click To Tweet
Diane also shows that feminism is tiring. In the episode ‘Bojack the Feminist’ Diane becomes exhausted at the effort it is taking not only to teach Bojack about feminism but to try and make him even care about what she is saying in the first place. She eventually tells him to use some buzzwords like “intersectionality” and he’ll be named feminist of the year.
This was particularly relatable for me because after the uncountable hours I spend on my writing, I often don’t want to discuss or debate feminism with people who try and instigate these things with me in social situations. I would almost always feel guilty for ignoring sexist jabs or choosing not to deal with problematic ideas about feminism because I was too tired.
Diane made me a happier feminist not because she absolves me of responsibility, but because she shows me that it is normal to struggle with my feminist responsibility. She makes space in feminist representation for our humanness. She validates my need to give things time before I act, my desire to give myself a break, and to understand that struggling with feminism in my personal life isn’t indicative of a lack of commitment or passion.