xoJane recently published an article titled Hey Broad City, A Woman Doesn’t Have To Be A Hot Mess To Be Funny. It was labeled as an “unpopular opinion,” and rightfully so. In the article, Emily Gaudette complains about the way that Abbi and Ilana’s characters present themselves in Broad City as not having their love lives and careers as together as they should. The author felt uncomfortable by the lack of success and overall maturity of the characters. While it’s true that their lives are sometimes so messed up that it makes viewers cringe with secondhand embarrassment, what makes it so enjoyable and comedic is the fact that these women do not have their lives together.
As a woman in her early 20s, I can honestly say I don’t have everything together in my life and neither do any of my friends. Being in your 20s is a period of exploration and a journey towards self-discovery. I could not identify with a female character who has a perfect romantic partner and a job she loves, nor identify with a character who doesn’t stress out over things in her life. That’s just not realistic at all.
While the way these female characters are represented is usually problematic, such as Liz Lemon in 30 Rock, who is constantly mocked for her appearance and inability to find a proper romantic interest, they are still people I can easily relate to. Other characters such as Elliot Reid (Scrubs), Fran Katzenjammer (Black Books), Amy Santiago (Brooklyn Nine-Nine), and April Ludgate (Parks & Recreation) are great representations of women who deal with their weaknesses and insecurities while still attempting to find their place in the world.
Elliot Reid in particular played a key role in my life by being one of the very few female characters who was openly shown as someone who had anxiety and self-esteem issues. She helped me see that it was okay to not have everything in my life together and normalized this concept. She had plenty of bad luck with men, was socially awkward, and occasionally had mental breakdowns during her career. None of this meant that she wasn’t a strong, intelligent, and brilliant character who eventually achieved success.
In contrast to female characters, male characters in sitcoms are given more freedom to be “messed up” without facing all the backlash that female characters do. They’re allowed to be man-children like Nick Miller in New Girl and Jake Peralta in Brooklyn Nine-Nine, or romantically-challenged divorcees like Louis CK’s character in Louie. If they’re allowed to have plenty of flaws and not have their lives together, so should female characters. The truth is that nobody really has everything in their life together. While there is a need for more television shows to feature successful women—especially women of color— this doesn’t mean that female characters who lead flawed lives are any less valid or necessary.