Ann Friedman: The women of the Comedy Central show, which just finished its first season, exhibit imperfections without the self-loathing – which is a huge step forward
I will always go to bat as hard as I can for Broad City (and to a lesser extent, Pretty Little Liars, Girls and Parks & Recreation), and for unlikable female characters generally, because it is so incredibly rare to see a realistic depiction of a female friendship whose entire purpose is not to help each other figure out which dudes to fuck.
Because I hope maybe we’re on the cusp of a generation of women who won’t ever roll up the corners of their lips and dismissively sneer, “Most of my good friends are guys.” Who won’t follow that up with some bullshit qualifier like, “I just can’t relate to other girls, I don’t get along with other girls, other girls are stupid.” Women suffer because of that mentality, because of people who don’t feel like it’s worth the time or effort to invest in female friendships.
I don’t know what it is that makes so many women feel the need to say that. In many cases I’m sure they think it will make men think they’re “cooler,” and probably sometimes, if you’re looking to scrape out the bottom of the barrel of a bro bar at 2 am, that’s probably true. Or if you’re looking to fuck a bunch of losers who can’t stand the fact that women might come with an individual set of life experiences and strong relationships that have nothing to do with getting a dick stuck in them later, then yeah, that’s probably a pretty good dating strategy. But I don’t think it’s a very good life strategy. And here’s why.
Exhibiting very real imperfections and vulnerabilities in front of another human without fear of judgment (other than like, be healthy please) or ramification is what’s powerful about being able to be fully yourself in front of someone. And those kinds of powerful female friendships are possible because, I don’t know, they come with the assurance that there’s no need to fear that anything you do is going to make them want to stop fucking you.
Yo, here’s another big thing about that show, in a sentence from the Guardian article: “They are truly casual about sex, not just feigning detachment for the sake of empowerment.” Honestly, I’ve found that many of the women I know who are comfortable admitting the importance of their girlfriends and who value the importance of those relationships still enjoy having sex and looking attractive to men, but it’s never their driving force. That kind of accidental empowerment is portrayed much less frequently than the Samantha cliché of the liberated woman.
And really, learning how to build strong female friendships has made me more powerful in relationships with men. Knowing they’ll be someone there when you’re hurt is huge, sure. It’s made me give less of a fuck, because I know I have other people who love me. But also, seeing that the things you do are okay to do in front of someone else, that it’s fine and even important to always be who you are and demand what you want and say how you feel in front of people who purport to care about you is a valuable skill to bring to any relationship, whether or not it’s one structured around getting naked together.
But even more importantly, being a woman in this world is tough. Sure, so is being a person, but as a society, we throw a very unique set of challenges at young women and expect them to shrug them off in a way that’s both effortless and very exacting at the same time. It means that as they grow up, young women find themselves in more and more situations where they’re expected to have fewer and fewer people to whom they can relate, because they’re supposed to keep quiet about their pain, about their struggles, about their rage.
Recent depictions of women in comedy have come a long way toward reassuring us that even if we can’t have it all, we should at least have a really good partner in crime. I’ve heard some women argue that their boyfriends are their partners in crime, and that’s great. But their boyfriends have never given protesters the finger on the way into Planned Parenthood. They’ve never met the pharmacist’s judging glare with a smile while they’re buying the morning after pill with alcohol breath. They’ve never sat in a meeting and listened to someone question their abilities because they’re “a girl.” They’ve probably never even ordered a large pizza and had the deliveryman ask them if this is “all for you.” The more you grow up, the more you realize that there’s some stuff that will very quietly and routinely happen to you that your dude friends, no matter how awesome and fun and chill they are, won’t be able to relate to.
What I’m trying to say is that even in 2014, stakes for girls can be pretty high, even in everyday life. And it makes it a lot easier, a lot less painful, to be able to look across the room and raise your eyebrows at someone else who gets it. All of it. Abbi and Illana showcase that kind of very real, very mundane friendship. They presumably do all those things and then go get stoned and forget about it.
When your life is falling short in every way you never expected, girlfriends are a rock to rely on. They’re the ones making 73 cents to every dollar with you. They’re the ones gaping in horror at the disgusting men hitting on you at bars. They’re the ones swapping similar war stories of horrible sex and embarrassing experiences and sitting with you while you wait for your STD test results. They’re the ones helping you attempt to assemble age-appropriate work outfits at discount teen stores to stretch your clothing budget. They’re the ones telling you if what you’re doing and thinking and feeling is okay. They’re the ones getting really drunk with you in the face of the fear that it’s not. Because at a time when everyone’s self-confidence is constantly eroded and tested, having to gauge the approval of another human being who you’re trying to start banging is sometimes a daunting prospect, and just, like, too much. Because it’s much more fun to watch a show about two people trying to figure that stuff out together, with the abstract goal of becoming a cool person, rather than the tangible, finite goal of becoming the kind of polished person who can secure a husband.
If these shows and movies tell us anything, it’s that maybe there’s no such thing as the female fuck-up. It’s that maybe instead of becoming fuck-ups, women just fuck up. They make mistakes, just like all people, while they’re on a convoluted path to figure out what they need to do to make their lives make sense. And when they do, they rely on the support of people whose approval they never feel like they’ll have to earn to assure them that even if it’s not going to get better, it’s normal, whatever that means.