Girl Fight!

Image Credit: HBO
Image Credit: HBO

When most sitcoms depict women fighting, it goes a little something like this: cue the laugh track as the girls grab each other’s hair and spin around in circles before realizing they are girls and, thus, must always get along and will subsequently be shaving each other’s legs by the end of the episode.  There will have been no hints of anger before this episode, and there will be no repercussions. Girls do not fight this way. Men fight this way, absent the hair pulling. In an, albeit clichéd, gender analysis of fighting, I would argue that when girls get angry, they tend to procrastinate. We seethe, turn passive aggressive, talk behind our friend’s back, and then return to seething for approximately six months until some minor issue breaks open the dam of crazy. There are obviously exceptions to this rule (e.g., drunk fights or fights with strangers in grocery stores), but most women are socialized to be nice, compromising, and agreeable. Even though we are encouraged to cry, we are not encouraged to become angry or confrontational even when the offending party deserves it. I don’t believe women are biologically programmed to act this way. We are sentient beings who become angry just like our male counterparts; however, we are forced to express it with a smile, so when the crazy dam does burst, it does so with a frantic, gesticulating, screaming flood. It’s at this point when we begin throwing toothbrushes and screaming about pubescent masturbation practices because of a poorly written book about a twenty-three-year-old’s dead boyfriend. Thank you, Lena Dunham. Thank you for writing a girl fight without a single strand of pulled hair and an abundance of seething.

This fight has been brewing since the first episode when hints of competition and dependence simmered beneath the placid surface of Hannah and Marnie’s shared bath. Marnie obviously fashions herself the more mature, mothering friend to the perpetually spastic, self-absorbed Hannah. If this were any other show, the conventionally attractive Marnie would be the star, and Hannah would be the hipster friend—good for little more than a few one-liners. What differentiates this show is not only Hannah’s position as the lead but also the show’s ability to play with these expectations. While Hannah is clearly insecure about being the chubby angel next to Marnie’s Victoria’s Secret angel, she also believes she is the more creative and intelligent one. She definitely knows she’s funnier. Marnie also not so secretly believes she is the real adult and the better friend because she has a real job, always tries to be nice, and is beautiful. But she also knows she’s considered the bitchy, boring one. Their dynamic—sweet as it may have been in the “Dancing on my Own” scene—is built on mutual self-absorption and insecurities, so massive seething commences the moment these thorny roles are upended.

While Marnie has been a colossal bitch over the past few episodes, you can’t fault her for complaining when she is literally supporting Hannah on a gallerina’s salary. Not nearly as many young, attractive women work in art galleries as television and film would have you believe, but when one does land such a job, she soon learns that it will be very demanding and very low paid. Marnie is therefore probably supporting two people in NYC on $30,000 a year. If she has to work long hours for minimal wages, she is, not surprisingly, going to resent that “artistic” friend who is sitting home eating her yogurt on the couch she probably purchased. Even though the economy is bad, Hannah is an adult with a BA from a prestigious university. Marnie would be correct to tell her to suck it up and find a temp agency. But she won’t because she is too “nice” and consequently turns passive aggressive.

Although Marnie highlights the money issue because she knows Hannah can’t argue against her, this is obviously not the real problem. Marnie is single and Hannah is not. This is the crux of the real problem of their increasingly destructive codependence. Despite the fact that Marnie broke up with Charlie (while he was still inside her), she is in the narcissistic post-breakup stage that women tend to inhabit for at least a few weeks or months following a relationship. Marnie wants to sit in her pajamas and repeatedly tell Hannah the same anecdotes while Hannah nods and tells her that she did the right thing, that she will be happier, that she deserves more, ad infinitum. In Marnie’s narrative of her life, Charlie should always be pining for her, and Hannah should always be single and reminding Marnie how pretty she is. But Charlie has a new girlfriend (because he is a cute, straight male in Brooklyn who walked outside his apartment and was hit in the face by approximately three million single women), and Hannah is not keen to play the sidekick because she is in the new relationship haze wherein she only wants to talk about her life. Marnie—the type of girl who looks like she has probably had a steady boyfriend since the fifth grade—is jealous not simply because Hannah has a boyfriend but because Hannah has a life outside of hers.  She wants to be the lead in the romantic comedy whose friends drop everything the minute she has a problem, but unfortunately for her, Hannah is writing this episode.

Marnie lost most of my sympathy when she committed one of the unpardonable sins of female friendship: under no circumstances does one friend EVER say negative things about another friend’s body, especially if the offending friend is more conventionally attractive. You can insult a girl’s job, her clothing, her boyfriend, but you don’t insult her body unless you are a colossal twat. When Marnie told Jessa that Hannah’s breasts were too small for sex, she attempted to temper this insult by suggesting that the baby breasts were cute, but she brought up this imperfection while mentioning that Hannah was spending too much time with Adam. She is lashing out like a 13-year-old at summer camp, spitting on Hannah behind her back so that she will still appear to be the “nice” one. Hannah and Marnie’s fight also begins with such an insult as Marnie snidely comments that her dress wouldn’t fit the heavier Hannah. This is serious mean girl behavior.

Hannah is obviously not blameless here either. She is acting even more self-absorbed than usual after seeing a less talented writer publish a book about a dead boyfriend while she is writing little that is more than 140 characters. Just as Marnie wants Hannah to be her sounding board, Hannah wants Marnie to be supportive of every decision she makes (good or bad) and to be content existing as a character in one of her essays. This is not to say that Hannah doesn’t care about Marnie. Even though Hannah criticized Charlie fairly harshly, you can still see remnants of her fading Marnie hero worship. Nevertheless, just as Adam was upset to be nothing more than material for Hannah’s writing, Marnie also doesn’t want to be a bit part in the narrative of Hannah Horvath. After Hannah says no one can insult her more than she insults herself, she tries to get Marnie to do just that, masochistically attempting to endure more pain to give herself more material. She doesn’t have a dead boyfriend, so she’ll settle for a dead—or at least wounded—friendship.  This episode doesn’t reveal the prettiest side of contemporary, self-absorbed femininity, but it does provide an honest depiction of what happens when girls stop being nice and start being batshit.

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