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This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at U Mich chapter.

I am one of the few people who still doesn’t have Spotify® Premium, so I’m constantly subjected to ads for Nationwide Insurance® and Cinnamon Coca-Cola®. One ad that I kept hearing over and over and finally gave into was for the new Hulu series Dollface. 

Using different tropes of women, Dollface asks us to reevaluate our assumptions about what women’s empowerment can look like. Whether intentional or not, the show can easily be seen as a representation of the feminist movement’s foray into mainstream culture starting around the 2010s, possessing several contradictory messages of what feminism is that came out of bringing a heavy topic like feminist theory into the social media age. The characters on Dollface attempt to push the bounds of depictions of different feminist types, but sometimes they fall flat. On its face this could be read as a filing on the part of the show’s creators. But if pushed further, one could ask if the point the show is trying to make is that they will fail to encompass everything that a 21st century feminist is supposed to be because there’s just too many boxes to check! When looking below the hood of Dollface, I began to wonder if the show itself was acknowledging the complicity of the entertainment industry in first creating the stereotypes feminists work so hard to fight, and then second, the stereotyping of those fighters and their message for their own gain. 

The show centers around the post-breakup life of Jules Wiley (Kat Dennings), a Homebody Girl who realizes that, during her 5 year relationship, she let all her friendships with women lapse into disrepair. Her life guide, a literal cat lady, explains that she’s going to have to make up with her old friends Madison Maxwell (Brenda Song), a Type A Career woman, and Stella Cole (Shay Mitchell), a Cool Girl, to move through this emotional break up. This is the central goal of the 10 episode season. A show with 5/6 women writers and 4/5 of its episode directors being women is certainly going to influence the lens through which the three main characters’ stories are told. 

This show is unapologetically about women’s empowerment…ish. It centers on a specific brand of empowerment that is often considered a compromise in the real world between hardline feminists and the status quo. Jules, for example, has a STEM job, but she gets to avoid confronting the harassment women in her position usually face because she is insulated from men at an all-women company. Yay!…unless you don’t have the option to work for a company like this and do face unequal treatment. So, yes, these women are empowered, but the show points out the limitations of this empowerment even in a domain dominated by women. 

Dollface also confronts lighter, everyday issues like finding a balance between an independent social life and a codependent social life while in a relationship. Often seen as a women’s issue not applicable to male friendships, Dollface succeeds at depicting the awkwardness of rekindling girl friendships after a partnership has been allowed to take over. Dollface begins with the abrupt and poorly thought-out decision made by Jules’s long-term boyfriend Jeremy (Connor Hines) to break up with her. In an effort to reassure herself that she is not alone, she attempts to reconnect with her old best friend Madison who sees right through her casual conversation to the real reason for her visit: she’s been dumped and she needs emotional support. Slowly but surely, all three of them make room for each other in their lives again. There are, of course, hoops that Jules has to go through to prove her loyalty, like going to a boring work event for Madison and giving Stella advice when she and Madison argue. They end up resembling the typical girl group, drinking white wine while watching The Bachelor and using feminist rhetoric to rationalize casual sex.

The show identifies some of the superficial ways women are told they can reclaim their power from a man by allowing certain characters to support these opinions and using Jules to counter each in turn. During a scene in which the three go to Girl Church, aka brunch, Stella and Madison get into an argument about how Jules should rebuild herself in the wake of her breakup. Madison encourages her to throw herself deeper into her career and spend luxuriously on herself in the form of a new apartment with ALL the amenities. Stella suggests she take a trip and explore a part of the world for herself. Both these narratives are common solutions that women are told will make them feel better. One claims that materialism is an emotional salve and the other encourages escapism. Both imply that the person seeking emotional help has the economic freedom to purchase some sort of experience, and neither are actual solutions to her deeper emotional troubles.

This can be interpreted as a critique of the new wellness market that peddles self-care products to women as superficial solutions to deeper issues that may stem from job insecurity, cost of living concerns, or unaddressed mental issues. Jules ends up demonstrating for the audience how neither will make her happy, but choosing her own path will. She ends up taking the healthy step of moving out of her ex’s apartment and creating her own space to live alone. Her friends’ disagreement is resolved by the end and they help her decorate her apartment, having fulfilled their roles as advocates for false solutions to Jules’s deeper issue of needing a physical and mental space to make her own. 

Dollface also does not shy away from poking fun at certain “types” of women that have formed into hardened stereotypes in a contemporary society slowly getting used to women being more empowered. One of the most interesting supporting characters is a Gwyneth Paltrow stand-in named Celeste, played by Malin Akerman. She is CEO of Wöom, a woman’s lifestyle magazine, and checks all the boxes of a White Corporate Feminist: she has her all-female team participate in goat yoga, the workspace is always stocked with green juices, and her site sells healing crystals that also function as butt plugs. You laugh at her because this type has been the source of many jokes about how women’s empowerment has gone too far because people like her now have so much influence. Her success, albeit made within the coded feminine self-care industry the show critiques, is made into a joke because it is threatening to the status quo. But by the end even she is personalized. 

Throughout the show, we get to know this facade of what a good boyfriend should look like in Madison’s older beau Colin (Goran Visnjic), a doctor who empowers Madison to be successful at her PR job and allow herself to give up some control to enjoy life. He seems to be the foil to Jeremy, a man-child who rarely wears anything dressier than a flannel and avoids conflict with women at almost all costs. Yes, he’s dating a woman about twenty years younger than him, but we want to root for him anyways because we have few other mature men to compare to him. But even his character must come crashing down so that we can empathize with Celeste. In a shock twist, we find out that the supposedly soon to be ex-wife Madison has heard horror stories about from Colin is actually our powerful CEO, Celeste. She represents the older generation of women who tried to do it all like a man: leaning in, starting a company, and balancing a perfect marriage. We get mad on her behalf because she is the epitome of corporate success and yet she’s still cheated out of an emotionally stable relationship with a man.  

Dollface is not perfect, but it never claims to be. There aren’t any identifiable LGBTQ characters and, though two of the three main characters are Asian and Latina, there are few other people of color on the show. Class is not addressed though there is ample opportunity to discuss it as the divide between Celeste and her employees must be wide, Madison has a well defined job whereas Stella seems to float around parties and we never really learn how she has an income, and the show takes place in Los Angeles, one of the cities with the highest income disparities in the United States. But it is better than some of its predecessors that have tried to deal with serious women’s issues like agency over one’s own body (see Insatiable). It’s light and offers comedic relief where Girls is dark and wallows in its characters’ misery. The show presents us with a distillation of numerous compromises between feminists and the system as it asks with a twist of disbelief, Is this enough for you? The answer for some could be yes, but to the diehard feminist, it will be no. And to those viewers, the show is a reminder not to settle for approximations of empowerment and bubbles of comfort. 

Sara is a feature writer for Her Campus. She is a senior at the University of Michigan, studying French, Art History and Political Science. She is interested in international law and competes on the University of Michigan's Mock Trial team. In her free time, Sara explores Ann Arbor looking for new foods, specializing in tacos and noodles. She loves immersing herself in a good book from Literati and traveling to learn about different cultures. Sara loves the feeling of walking around a city with nowhere to go, headphones in, observing the hustle of everyday life. If Sara could do anything in the world, she woud be a travel and fashion writer exploring with a camera, a journal, and an empty stomach. 
I'm Melanie Stamelman, a junior at the University of Michigan. I am the Campus Correspondent of UMich's chapter of Her Campus and am incredibly passionate about lifestyle journalism.  I follow the news and lifestyle trends, and am a self-proclaimed Whole Foods, spin obsessed wacko.  Thanks for reading xoxo.