MTV’s Girl Code is the female version of the previous hit, Guy Code. The show hilariously explains the “code” or guidelines that girls live by (or should be living by) in different situations. The girls (and a couple guys) on the show cover just about everything from purses, pets, and nails to the more serious(ish) topics of contraception, STD’s and virginity. On MTV’s website (mtv.com/shows/girl_code/), they describe the show as a “strong and smart female driven comedy series bringing millennial viewers a new, hilarious how-to-manual full of over the top tips to push the envelope and open the dialogue about the wonders and woes of womanhood.” Not only is the content of some of the discussions these women have productive in challenging stereotypes and gender norms, but women (and women comedians) openly talking and making jokes about some of these topics is itself pushing against gender norms and stereotypes. On the other hand the show also participates in reinforcing certain gender norms and stereotypes through its emphasis on stereotypical topics and through some of the show’s design and cast choices.
A majority of the women on Girl Code are heterosexual. This skews the shows message and makes reinforces the idea that heterosexuality is the norm. In the 8th episode of season 2 the ladies talk about boyfriends. They go through the types of boyfriends and the best and worst things about having boyfriends. When they shift to the one lesbian on the show, Quinn Marcus, the only things she contributes is that boys pay for everything (hello gender norm) and says that was one of the things she missed about dating boys and one of the things she considered when she was thinking “do I really wanna be gay?” The other thing that jumps out and blatantly reinforces stereotypes and gender roles is that all of the women wear make-up and have their hair done nicely, except for Quinn. This reinforces the ideas that heterosexual women are supposed to wear make-up to be feminine and that lesbians aren’t feminine because they don’t wear make-up. Feminine stereotypes also show up on the backdrop. The show is filmed in front of a green screen so they could easily put anything behind them but it’s oftentimes very girly. They include gemstones, jewelry, paper doll cut outs, purses and ridiculous key chains (like puppies and hearts, practical things…not). These feminine stereotypes are also present in the topics they discuss.
There are three to four topics per episode and usually at least one can be interpreted as being stereotypically feminine such as purses, nails, being scared, being insecure, texting, wine, dieting, being needy etc. While these topics can be seen as stereotypical on the surface, and sometimes that is all they are in discussion as well, they are sometimes challenged by what the girls have to say. The first topic of the 8th episode of season 2 is purses. They all generally come to the conclusion that they don’t judge a girl if she doesn’t have one of the really expensive purses, but that it isn’t worth it to spend that much money on a purse which goes against the stereotype that girls are obsessed with expensive purses. Many of their discussions do end up challenging the stereotypes and gender norms in this way. An article about the motivations behind the show says that the show “isn't afraid to dive into perennially sensitive notions about the gender gap” (Zeitchik, 2013). The show discusses many potentially embarrassing topics (which are embarrassing to women because women have traditionally been held to different standards and are policed more intensely than men by society) such as being gassy in the 3rd episode of the first season. The women are all really opposed to talking about it at first but then they dive right in and their casual conversation about it makes it seem normal, which it is. The fact that the women are so open about so many things especially sex goes against the gender norm. In their book on sexuality, Strong, Yarber, Sayad and DeVault (2008) talk about sexual scripts which are the “acts, rules, and expectations associated with a particular role” and are a part of gender norms (Strong, Yarber, Sayad, & DeVault, 2008, p. 143). They say that traditional male sexual scripts focus on “sex over feelings” while the female sexual script “focuses on feelings over sex, love over passion” and the traditional female sexual script includes the ideas that “sex is for men,” that “it’s not okay to touch themselves ‘down there,’” that sex is bad in a “casual or uncommitted relationship,” and that “women shouldn’t talk about sex… because they are not expected to have strong sexual feelings” (Strong et al., 2008, p.144-5). The topic of sex (almost always heterosexual sex) is covered in some way in most of the episodes. The women say that there is nothing wrong with it and they encourage women to do what they want to which blatantly goes against this traditional sexual script. Not only do the women discuss these topics but they make jokes and discuss them in hilarious ways which also goes against gender norms.
In her article on Tina Fey’s comedy stardom, Patterson (2012) says that “the notion that women are not funny has been steadfast cultural myth in U.S. society, masculinizing comedy as both vocation and industry” (Patterson, p. 237). Hole argues that comedy “places women within traditional patriarchy as the butt of the joke, or the passive respondents of humor” (as cited in Patterson, 2012, p. 238). The fact that most of these women are stand-up comics and that all of them are constantly making jokes on this successful TV show goes against these norms. They successfully turn every topic into comedy and while they sometimes might be making fun of themselves (reinforcing that women are the butt of the joke) they always portray confidence and refuse to let the stereotypes make them feel bad about themselves.
If the women on this show did not reinforce some of our gender norms and stereotypes, we would have a hard time recognizing them as credible women and we would not be able to relate which would have an impact on how humorous we find their jokes to be. The show is filled with a constant back and forth between asserting a new understanding of what it means to be a woman, and portraying the traditional stereotypes and gender roles of womanhood. While most of the women that appear on the show are conventionally attractive and reinforce heteronormativity in their discussion of relationships, the fact that women comedians are able to talk openly about a wide range of topics including sex does a lot to challenge the stereotypes and gender roles of women.
Byrne, D., Ricci, P., Ling, R. (Producers). (2013). Girl Code [Television Series]. New York: MTV.
Patterson, E. (2012). Fracturing Tina Fey: A Critical Analysis of Postfeminist Television Comedy Stardom. Communication Review, 15(3), 232-251. doi:10.1080/10714421.2012.701991
Strong, B., Yarber, W.L., Sayad, B.W., & DeVault, C. (2008). Human sexuality: Diversity in contemporary America (6th ed.). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.
Zeitchik, S. (2013, April 24). With 'Girl Code' and 'Guy Code,' MTV deciphers a franchise. Los Angeles times. Retrieved from http://articles.latimes.com/2013/apr/24/entertainment/la-et-mn-guy-code-girl-code-andrew-schulz-mtv-mtv2-20130424