Tina Fey makes Broadsheet’s day

The first female head writer of "SNL" wins a well-deserved award -- and her acceptance speech tackles workplace feminism, higher education and crying at the office.

Topics: Broadsheet, Saturday Night Live, Tina Fey, 30 Rock, Love and Sex,

I’m not sure how we got two months into Broadsheet without ever making reference to Broadsheet’s intense collective crush on “Saturday Night Live” head writer Tina Fey, but today has presented me with an excellent excuse to dive in.

I just got back from the annual New York Women in Film and Television luncheon, at which the organization hands out its Muse awards. Fey, the first women ever to lead the writing team for “SNL,” was one of this year’s Muse recipients, along with actor Julianne Moore, BET president and CEO Debra Lee and film editor Susan E. Morse (“Manhattan,” “Zelig,” “Hannah and Her Sisters”).

A clip reel was presented as part of Fey’s introduction. It included favorite bits of her writing, like the fake ad for elastic-waisted, ill-fitting “Mom Jeans” (“This Mother’s Day … Give her something that says, ‘I’m not a woman any more. I’m a mom.’”), her Weekend Update report that 66 percent of Americans believe that President Bush is doing a poor job in Iraq, while the other 34 percent “believe that Adam and Eve rode dinosaurs to church,” and her Weekend Update report on a study that found married women are less likely to develop cardiac problems, so “don’t worry lonely women; you’ll be dead soon.”

Fey and her husband, “SNL” musician Jeff Richmond, recently had a baby daughter, Alice Zenobia, and Fey began her acceptance speech by telling the audience that, as the mother of a three-month-old, “it’s an honor to be anywhere, actually, and a deep, deep privilege to be wearing a bra and shoes.”

Fey talked more about the rigors of new motherhood, including how every event — like running out of cereal, for instance — can feel like a disaster. “We’re out of cereal?” she whispered with weary panic. “What are we going to do? Do you think there’s some kind of cereal fairy who we can pay $1,500 a week to buy us more cereal?”

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What she needs, Fey concluded, is a wife. “I’ve built a man’s life for myself,” she joked, but that’s not so far from the truth. Fey recalled how she was warned about boys club tendencies everywhere she has worked, including Chicago’s Second City and “SNL,” but that she didn’t have problems being a woman at either place.

In fact, Fey said, she can attest that, sometimes, being the only girl is actually easier because you become the de facto authority on all things female. What’s harder, she continued, is to remember “to throw the rope down to other women and let go of your token status.” She congratulated herself on having hired the “younger, blonder and smaller” Amy Poehler as her Weekend Update co-host after the departure of Jimmy Fallon. “Either I’m a true feminist, or I have the worst show business instincts of anyone I know,” she said.

Revealing that one of her muses — early “SNL” writer Anne Beatts — advised her to never cry at work “about two years too late,” Fey warned that she might be about to lose it onstage because she’s “still got hormones” from pregnancy, and was about to talk about her mother.

“My mom …” was all she managed to get out before she did indeed start to bawl. Recovering, she told of how her “brilliant” mother had been surprised at 18 to learn that she would not be going to college because, as her Greek father told her, “that was for boys.” When it was Fey’s turn for college, her mother took an additional job to pay for it, and Fey said she now understands “why this was a point of pride for her.”

Fey said she hopes her mother derives satisfaction from the fact that her daughter has “found some success in [professions] that were just for boys.”

Rebecca Traister
Rebecca Traister writes for Salon. She is the author of "Big Girls Don't Cry: The Election that Changed Everything for American Women" (Free Press). Follow @rtraister on Twitter.

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