Broad City’s Representation of Real Life Feminism
Broad City debuted on Comedy Central at the beginning of this year. Adapted from a web series, it involves the daily life of Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer. The show centers on their struggles of living with a low income in New York City. Far from being serious however, these women demonstrate a comedic take on what life is like for many young adults who set out on their own.
While the show is clearly from women’s perspectives and displays an accurate representation of two normal women struggling to get by in a big city, it does so in a pretty unconventional way. Unlike many shows with women protagonists, Broad City doesn’t focus on the same kind of struggles other women in television have had in the past. Unlike Mary Tyler Moore, Ally McBeal or Sex in the City these two characters are not made out to be “struggling in a man’s world”, a characteristic that is attributed to today’s representation of feminism on TV (Dow). Their happiness doesn’t depend on the way they balance their personal and professional lives, in fact they seem to have no kind of professional lives at all (Levine). Instead these two represent a more unruly type of feminism, a type of feminism that seems to be much more relatable than their more romantically driven and professionally successful counterparts.
The supposed “feminist” characteristics such as being white, straight, single, and professional are thrown out the window (Dow). These women are not professionals, with Abbi being a janitor at a gym and Ilana slacking off constantly at a sales company, these women are clearly not what many would consider successful. As for being straight and single, the lines are also pretty blurred. The two women’s love lives are never a dominant characteristic of the show. It only seems to be relevant for a comedic effect as opposed to developing their characters or story lines. Abbi seems the typical type, obviously straight and having an obsession with her neighbor Jeremy, but she never seems to be able to hold on to a guy for longer than one episode. As for Ilana, she is much more sexually liberated. She has a pretty physical relationship with their friend Lincoln, but she clearly states that it is all simply physical. This is a clear deviation from the past representations of feminism on TV, where the woman’s plotlines revolved around the idea that relationships are the key to happiness (Dow). She also has an infatuation with anything that has to do with Abbi and strongly hints at the fact that she may have romantic feelings for her. In the end though the two always end up back with each other as best friends, solidifying the notion that they care more for each other than they do about finding someone to be romantically involved with.
Abbi and Ilana’s unruliness does not cause them to be self-loathing women who are on a journey to make a better life for themselves. They seem to be content with their low income, constant pot smoking, and simple lifestyle. They just want to get by and relish the simple things like going out for birthdays and having Abbi’s artwork hang in a gallery (which actually turns out to be a sandwich shop, but Abbi is proud of herself all the same). This type of feminism display can be more attributed to the feminist styles of Grey’s Anatomy and Roseanne.
Grey's Anatomy seems to ignore the obvious political and social surrounding’s of the women and minorities in the show. It displays a kind of utopia where sexism and racism is as irrelevant a topic as a typical straight couple representation (Levine). For much of Broad City there seems to be no political or social context in the background of the script, it’s just the way things are. For example, one night Abbi and Ilana clean a man’s house in their underwear in order to get money for concert tickets. Other shows like Girls, to which Broad City has been compared, might address the degrading aspect of how the scene demonstrated how we live in a world where women’s bodies are scrutinized by the (creepy) male gaze (Tabyrs). Instead, however, the two turn it into a comedic scene where they freak out about not being paid and end up trashing his place and walking out with some of his stuff as payment. The two also do some degrading of their own. Standing outside a basketball court and guessing the size of the men’s penises is not seen as a typically feminine quality. But in reality these kinds of situations happen, and real life situations are not usually turned into obvious political or social statements.
Roseanne has clashed with the typical feminist ideal in other ways. The character of Roseanne, and her in real life, represent a woman that clearly does not try to coincide with the high beauty standards of modern television actresses. While other feminist shows try to represent women in positive ways, it is still deemed necessary to have them conform to the typical thin and good looking beauty standard put on all women in the media (Karlyn). Through this representation, these shows do not combat this prejudice. Like Roseanne, Abbi and Ilana represent the typical body types of real life women, and their eating and drinking habits clearly show that they do not attribute happiness to shaping up to that ideal. Another characteristic of Roseanne is her unruliness. She transgresses from the typical female representation by being loud and at points acting outrageously and even “un-lady like” (Karlyn). Abbi and Ilana do the same. Shows like Mary Tyler Moore, Ally McBeal, Sex in the City and others display the ideal that women should be calm, cool, and collected. It is seen as failure to lose control and have moments of weakness. Abbi and Ilana are constantly in and out of outrageous situations though - whether it’s getting high or panicking when a toilet get’s broken, these two are the farthest thing from having their “shit” together.
Unlike the typical feminist shows from the past, Broad City represents a more realistic representation of young women in the real world. Although much more exaggerated, these two are just trying to get by and deal with whatever life throws at them. Through their trials and tribulations, they symbolize a type of feminism where women can be who they are and not depend on professional success or romance to help further the feminist cause. By displaying unruliness and not turning everything into a politically significant event, these two portray the real “politically incorrect” realities of feminism in American society.
Dow, Bonnie J. "Ally McBeal, Lifestyle Feminism, and the Politics of Personal Happiness." The Communication Review 5.4 (2002): 259-64. Print.
Friedman, Ann. "The Genius of Broad City: At Last, a Comedy That Speaks to My World." Theguardian.com. Guardian News and Media, 14 Apr. 2014. Web.
Karlyn, Kathleen Rowe. "Roseanne: Unruly Woman as Domestic Goddess." N.p.: n.p., n.d. 250-61. Print.
Levine, Elana. "Grey's Anatomy: Feminism." N.p.: n.p., n.d. 139-47. Print.
Tabyrs, Jason. “Broad City Series Premiere Review: Is This the Anti-Girls?”. Screen Rant. N.p., Feb. 2014. Web.