The Jessie Spano Effect: Why We’re Still Afraid of Feminism

Blogging Molly
The “Jessie Spano” Effect: Why We’re Still Afraid of Feminism in 2010
By Molly Knefel

If you’re anything like me, you’ve spent much of your adulthood recovering from the disappointment that life is not like Saved by the Bell said it would be. Nerds aren’t best friends with cool kids, caffeine pills don’t get you high, and Mark-Paul Gosselaar’s hair isn’t even blonde. But I was born in the 80s and grew up watching the show after school, and I was too young to know any better.

Recently, thanks to the miraculous series of tubes that is the Internet, I went back and watched the show again for the first time since childhood. Despite the fact that SBTB got it wrong on a few things (caffeine pills, especially), I still think it’s a fantastic show. But there was one aspect that stood out to me this time around. In the 15 years since I last watched, I have learned a lot. One of the things I’ve learned (besides caffeine pills don’t get you high) is this wacky idea called Feminism, which is basically just the idea that all people should be treated equally regardless of gender, race, or class. And there is something more important than caffeine pills that Saved by the Bell got wrong. Her name is Jessie Spano.

Jessie, as you may remember, was a feminist. She was also an egghead, a sometimes-cheerleader, and Slater’s girlfriend. Jessie was a relatively progressive character; she used words like “chauvinist,” she thought women should be valued for intelligence rather than looks, and she cared about the environment. This reminds me of how, in high school, any time I would advocate human rights I would be called a “tree-hugger”– anyone crazy enough to love humans or women must REALLY love trees, too. But, I digress: my point is, Jessie was pretty right-on, and it’s cool that the writers of the show were willing to articulate such issues. Right? Right… except for one problem. Slater.

A.C. Slater, with his Hammer pants and neon muscle shirts, was the chauvinist target of Jessie’s feminist rage. Every time Jessie would say something about not objectifying women, Slater would call her “momma” or “sugar lips,” and Jessie would melt and surrender (maybe this makes me especially angry since I never thought Slater was hot). It was only acceptable to have a feminist character if she was continuously foiled by a man. Slater’s character doesn’t just provide a comedic opposite to Jessie– he actually completely undermines her.

I was recently on a podcast hosted by three guys, and I off-handedly mentioned I was a feminist. Panic struck, and after come nervous collar-pulling and sweating, they asked me what that meant. I said that all feminism means is a belief in equality, and that they were probably all feminists too. They started to get defensive, giving me responses to the f-word I’ve heard before, claiming that that it’s about women being better than men (“the word ‘feminine’ is in there,” they argued). Once I assured them that I wasn’t going to punch them in the crotch or burn my bra in their studio, they relaxed. I plan on getting each of them a “This is What a Feminist Looks Like” t-shirt for Christmas.

Because of years of Jessie-like representations of feminism, our society still hears the word and sees the stereotypes: ball-busting, man-hating, and threatening. Because characters like Slater are always there to undermine the Jessies (see “The Ugly Truth” for a recent example), we still struggle to find a way to explain the merits of identifying as a feminist. I hope we start to move past the Jessie Spano representation of feminism. And it doesn’t mean we have to stop liking Saved by the Bell.

Molly Knefel is a stand-up comic and writer living in Brooklyn.  She co-writes and co-stars in a web series with her brother called John and Molly Get Along, which can be found at


  1. So true, Molly. I always point out that it is simply one of the few words with the word “fem” as a pretext and that freaks everyone out. But words like “mankind” and “human” don’t. Really, they all just are secretly in love with Slater and know you’re onto them.

    Remember when Zack and Kelly broke up at prom?

  2. This post makes a lot of sense !

  3. I do agree with all the ideas you have presented in your post. They are very convincing and will definitely work. Thanks for the post.

  4. This is an great site, I will definitely be sure to add this blog to my list!

  5. This is a great post.

  6. This post is great.

  7. I found this information usefull.

  8. Superb weblog, keep me personally through searching it, I\’m truly serious to know much more about it.

  9. Good blog site, keep me through checking it, I\’m really interested to know more about it.

  10. All I can say is maintain it up. This website is really required in a time when every person just really wants to talk about how many folks someones cheated on their wife with. I mean, thanks for bringing intelligence back towards net, its been sorely missed. Good things. Please keep it coming!

  11. Yes, I like what you said, but not with all of it. Still, it’s all good content. Good stuff!

  12. Hi! Well done. That was a interesting comment. I am interested in hear more about this particular line of information. Will be in touch. Greetings from France.

  13. Cool. It’s the same here in Wellington. Can be very annoying, but that’s life in our world.

  14. 第一次看到博主的博客 感觉挺不错 收藏了

  15. Thanks for sharing your story, my blog is to share my story to make money on the network for free. You are welcome to read my story.

  16. Pretty good post. I just stumbled upon your blog and wanted to say that I have really enjoyed reading your blog posts. Any way I’ll be subscribing to your feed and I hope you post again soon
    Felix Goga

  17. I cannot thank you enough for the blog article.Thanks Again. Will read on¡­

  18. my girlfriend love your blog very much , she let me read this

  19. Good points¡­I would note that as someone who really doesn¡¯t write on blogs much (in fact, this may be my first post), I don¡¯t think the term ¡°lurker¡± is very becoming to a non-posting reader. It¡¯s not your fault really , but perhaps the blogosphere could come up with a better, non-creepy name for the 90% of us that enjoy reading the posts.

  20. Wonderful illustrated information. I thank you about that. No doubt it will be very useful for my future projects. Would like to see some other posts on the same subject!

  21. Hands down, Apple’s app store wins by a mile. It’s a huge selection of all sorts of apps vs a rather sad selection of a handful for Zune. Microsoft has plans, especially in the realm of games, but I’m not sure I’d want to bet on the future if this aspect is important to you. The iPod is a much better choice in that case.

  22. We just couldnt leave your site before saying that we truly enjoyed the high quality information you offer to your readers¡­ Would be back often to check up on new stuff you post!

  23. I think if you can start adding some videos your visitors would really appreciate it.

  24. I think if you can start adding some videos your visitors would really appreciate it.

  25. This is a good post, I stumbled across your article while looking for song downloads. Thanks for sharing, I¡¯ll be sure to recommend this site to others.

  26. This is a great article thanks for sharing this informative information.. I will visit your blog regularly for some latest post.

  27. It seems that as same as i thought.

  28. Very cool site and I just bookmarked ya too!

Speak Your Mind