Culture, Sex & Gender

"Hot Boss Lady": The Portrayal of Older Women in Broad City

Young beautiful women in our society quickly learn to fear aging–because after about 30, they are not allowed to exist.

Consider the fact that Maggie Gyllenhaal was recently told that at 37 she was too old to play the love interest of a 55 year old man in a film, and Olivia Wilde was considered too old at 28 to play opposite 38 year old Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street.

Older women are irrelevant in pop culture; we’re one dimensional characters, nagging caretakers, boring and embarrassing. If we manage to age “well” (by which society¬† means “not appearing to age”), we can be a milf or a cougar for a couple of years–but eventually we will all be dowdy and frumpy, gray haired hags who aren’t allowed to have style or sexual desires.

Younger women in pop culture are either objects to be won or objects pitted against each other in competitions for love or status. Who will win the Bachelor’s heart? Which housewife will appear the most glamorous and impress the most people? Even “reality” TV can’t get away from these insidious narratives.

Broad City, on the other hand, takes those narratives and rips them to shreds.

First of all, even though they are young beautiful women in pop culture, main characters Abbi and Ilana like each other. Just like Chloe likes Olivia. They’re best friends, and they’re not competing for men or status or anything at all. That alone is pretty groundbreaking.

Secondly, Broad City loves older women. LOVES them! It loves them, and cherishes them, and it respects them, and it represents them well.

There are cameos by all sorts of amazing actresses over the age of 30, and in these cameos, older female characters get to be multidimensional and beautifully weird. Kelly Ripa (age 45) gets to be a crazy version of herself, a famous TV personality who seems squeaky clean to the public but in fact does lots of drugs and orders strippers to her apartment. Rachel Dratch (age 50) gets to be a pregnant temp agency person having a brief existential crisis.¬† Susie Essman (age 60) plays Ilana’s mom who channels her feelings of grief over her mother’s death into an obsession with knockoff handbags–and who also is interested in changing things up in the bedroom with her husband of several decades. Vanessa Williams (age 53) plays the boss’ boss who visits Ilana’s startup; she is elegant, poised, open to creativity–and she sees through all of Ilana’s nonsense. Cynthia Nixon (age 49), Amy Poehler (age 44), Janeane Garofalo (age 51), and the list goes on. (I am not including the amazing Whoopi Goldberg (age 60), because the character she played was one dimensional, as she was a singing nun.) Even Hillary Clinton (68) made an appearance recently! Regardless of politics, it was pretty cool to see Clinton’s crisp, professional personality enter the messy and ebullient world of Broad City as yet another wonderful older woman for Abbi and Ilana to play with.

Broad City has its flaws, as a show. Though Abbi and Ilana struggle to eke out a living, they do have quite a bit of privilege as white Jewish girls living in New York City. It is clear that they don’t have to support their families financially, and if they did ever get evicted from their apartments, they could probably afford train tickets to go home to crash with their parents in Long Island and Philadelphia. There are main characters of color, but none of them are as psychologically complex as Abbi and Ilana. The girls are self obsessed and narcissistic, and they call out privilege in ways that are privileged.

However, I am still so grateful for their representation of older female characters.

Being a woman in her 30s in a society obsessed with youth is somewhat akin to driving down a highway towards a terrible rainstorm. When you look forward, all you see is gray. At a certain point it seems like the road doesn’t exist at all anymore. What happens then? Do I cease to exist? Seeing stylish older women is like the relief of seeing the car in front of you–aha! There is a person in front of me on this road! Despite all of this nonsense around me, I can exist!

So thank you, Abbi and Ilana, for creating more space for messy Jewish girls and hot boss ladies in this world. You are women of valor, and I’m grateful for your existence.

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