The girls of Broad City show sex-positive women being sex freaks… and loving it. Kristen Cochrane dissects why they’re such great role models.
The question of being a megasexual woman and whether it’s empowering or not has been plaguing women’s movements since second-wave feminism started in the 1960s. Shortly thereafter in the 1970s, films with naked people intending to turn viewers on were becoming full-fledged, feature length films, ushering in the Deepthroat and Debbie Does Dallas era. There’s even a cinematic reason that the money shot is so prevalent in our current porn economy, much to the chagrin of women who do not want that on their faces. (It’s okay, we can admit it, and it doesn’t make us any less ~chill~.) Thankfully, however, Broad City has returned as a beacon of sexual light, reminding women that we can be chill, sexual, and weird, and that these things don’t need to exist in a binary of whether they’re “empowering” or not.
Broad City had its season three premiere this week. In the show, creators and stars, Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer, are shown navigating life with their own unique, shifting sexual preferences—e.g. not just what Pornhub or their lovers tell them to like. For instance, in the show’s first ever episode, Ilana sleeps with Lincoln, a carefree pediatric dentist who asks Ilana, “What are we doing? Are we just having sex? Are we just hooking up? Are we dating?” Ilana tells Lincoln that “It’s purely physical,” to which Lincoln stoically replies, “Why does this always happen to me?” This is just one example of how Broad City finds humor in reversing gender role stereotypes—e.g. the outworn cliche that women always want to define relationships, and that men either don’t care or don’t want something serious (which, obviously, isn’t hard truth).
In season two, the episode “Kirk Steele” explores how difficult it can be to figure out what type of erotics (“porn”) turn you on. The episode begins with Ilana getting set up to have a Pornhub-and-Chill session with her favorite porn categories of the moment—“solo porn” and “frosted tips masturbation.” She’s in the moment, with the video streaming, when the actor in the frosted tips video is revealed to be Abbi’s neurotic manager Trey, from the fitness club Abbi works at. As weird and absurd as this sounds, the point of Ilana’s interest in the “frosted tips masturbation” category is that people have different sexual tastes and different “lovestyles” (as psychologist and polyamory movement founder Deborah Anapol calls them), and that that’s totally ~chill~. Broad City shows many different lovestyles—not just “normal” serial monogamy—without attaching shame or stigma to their existence. Broad City’s attitude regarding sexuality is clear: Just because you’re doing something different from what everyone else seems to be doing, that’s not necessarily bad.
In the 2000s, certain critics thought negatively about this new school of female empowerment. Our culture was becoming oversaturated with sex, mostly through TV and the internet. Obviously, culture has always been saturated with sex, but in the new millennium it became something we couldn’t avoid, with Web 2.0, social media networks, Sex Tape Culture and Girls Gone Wild, which became the main things TMZ wanted to talk about—and let’s be real, we were all paying attention. In response to this cultural shift, social critic Ariel Levy wrote a polarizing book called Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture (2005), in which she laments how tits-out feminism is not empowering, but that we are objectifying ourselves and subordinating our position as women even further. That phenomenon is arguably not as black and white as it was made out to be… but that’s how you sell books. You can’t take the academic route and illustrate all sides of the coin and get people’s attention… or can you?
Broad City, however, is indicative of a new social trend where women talk about things that have previously remained offscreen (i.e. porn, sexual fluidity, casual marijuana use, nonmonogamy, etc.). Before this, shows like The Mary Tyler Moore Show (1970-1977) and Sex and the City (1998-2002) portrayed “liberated women,” but they were liberated women situated within a kind of Lean-In, Sheryl Sanders-esque corporate feminism. The best parallel to Broad City is The Golden Girls, in which women who are not “young” candidly talk about very sexual things, like when Blanche (Rue McClanahan) tells Rose (Betty White) that Rose doesn’t need to learn French for them to go on a trip to Martinique, but that you just need to know “Yes and no, your roommate can’t watch.”
In a big way, Abbi and Ilana are like the granddaughters of the Golden Girls, who don’t shy away from the issues (e.g. pegging your hot neighbor Jeremy because he asked you to and YOLO) or coming to the horrific realization that you’ve become a Lean-In feminist by outsourcing your own underpaid job duties to unpaid interns, as Ilana does in season two’s episode “Mochalatta Chills.”
It’s these concerns of capitalism, precarity, and leisure that Broad City handles so adeptly. Sure, we can argue all day whether free time is just the co-dependent sibling of the capitalist work day, but the show is mostly about women doing nothing. It’s not just a show about nothing like Seinfeld, but a show about doing what you want, enjoying life with your girl pal, reminding ourselves that life is not just about Barre classes and working on that screenplay.