Why Broad City is the new Lean In
This ode to female slackerdom is the yin to Sheryl Sandberg's yang
In the opening scene of the Broad City episode "Stolen Phone," Abbi and Ilana, 20-something best friends and co-protagonists, are sitting around the couch, messing around on Facebook, when they decide to ask out as many guys as they can.
"We are like feminist heroes right now!" Abbi screams, after comparing the experience of asking out men online to being on coke.
Nobody says yes. The ladies spend a few moments moping on the couch before Ilana declares that meeting people on the internet is so 90s, and they should really go find some guys "IRL," in real life.
This is a common pattern on the show. The women decide to do something, get really into it, and then they discover that they failed. It is never a big deal.
But it is for the viewer.
Women today desperately need these types of role models, the yin to Sheryl Sandberg's yang, who can show them the virtues of failure. As a new study from Pew indicates, both genders hold women to impossibly high standards. According to those polled, this is the biggest reason why women hold fewer leadership positions than men. Other studies show that women are more likely than men to put off applying for new jobs, promotions, or raises until they absolutely sure that they are qualified. Women also say sorry more often — not out of politeness, but because they more likely to view behavior as offensive than men do. In short, women aren't giving themselves a break.
Broad City's slackerdom is a much-needed counterpoint.
The lodestar for the two main characters is not success, but pleasure — experienced mainly in the forms of female friendship, pot-smoking, and sex. Unburdened by expectations to have a certain job or look a certain way, Abbi and Illana strike out all the time and then carry on like it is no big deal. They are the suns of their own orbits, setters of their own stakes, and when they fail to meet them it's on to the next.
Women, on the screen or in life, have rarely been afforded the freedom to live with such abandon. Abbi and Ilana are all id, a sharp contrast to the feisty super egos found on other beloved female ensemble shows like Girls or Sex and the City. On Broad City there is no meta lens, no thwarted dreams, no mentions of Mr. Right or becoming the voice of a generation. Instead they are always in the moment, masters of what the Italians call "il bel far niente," or the art of doing nothing, committed only to one another. It's liberating to see women not care that much, living under the assumption that they won't be anymore penalized than the guys for taking it easy.
Yes, we need cheerleader CEOs like Sheryl Sandberg and a culture of #BossBabes to remind women that they can and should expect the best from themselves. But we also need more Abbis and Ilanas to remind women that it is perfectly fine to sometimes be the worst.
As former congressman and feminist Bella Abzug said in 1977, “Our struggle today is not to have a female Einstein get appointed as an assistant professor. It is for a woman schlemiel to get as quickly promoted as a male schlemiel.” Here's to ladies embracing our inner schlemiels.