MTV’s “Girl Code” and the Feminist Killjoy Dilemma

by Andrea Stopa

The old-as-time question of the feminist killjoy: Should I be enjoying this? I’ve found the answer is, typically, not really. Unless of course it’s 30 Rock, or Wanda Sykes standup.

Girl Code is the MTV show that echoes VH1’s I Love the 80’s/90’s in set-up and production. The show provides a litany of interview sound bytes from a variety of funny women, and a couple of dudes for “the male perspective.” *eye roll*

What can be celebrated about this show is the unabashed women-centered and sometimes self-empowering conversation. With topics like periods, birth control and good sex, and sharing gems of wisdom like “always be in control of your birth control” or “appreciate your vagina,” the show has its fair share of perks. These women are sharp and a bit taboo, discussing topics like pooping, and masturbation, which- spoiler!- women are actually talk about all the time, but are not topics discussed in any public way for their “less-than-feminine” qualities.

See, that’s hilarious.

But this show is majorly sexist and it needs to be called out. MTV has never been a champion of women’s rights, so it’s no surprise that the show fails on many fronts.

Girl Code only talks about women-centered things, as if women have nothing else to talk about. Maybe, I don’t know, careers, the economy, the state of the nation, politics, pop-culture events, or, literally anything other than sex, dating, periods, and relationship drama. Girls have advice on things having to do with with not penises, just incase you didn’t realize that, MTV. Women happen to also be humans that do things not related to the states of their body’s appearance or functions. 

This show also grossly assumes that all women are hyper feminine and think a whole lot about make-up, clothing choice, and dancing in circles in clubs. Not to mention that the only kind of dating or sex being talked about on the show is heterosexual. But *newslflash* not all women are having sex with men. Heteronormativity is so yesterday. Didn’t you see the Grammys?

Much like Lena Dunham’s Girls, by title, Girl Code is (falsely) assuming the speaking position of all girls, although they are devoid of serious diversity in content. Although the speakers are racially diverse (thumbs up to MTV for that one) the content is still cringe-worthy in that it reinforces the harmful discourse that all women are a part of one giant homogeneous sisterhood, of one mind and one experience, ignoring the effect race has on experiences of gender. There’s probably a roughly 3 in 5 chance that you readers have read/heard a quote from Audre Lorde or read/listened to an argument from almost any black feminist scholar or activist, and you know why that’s really not great (a.k.a incredibly harmful). It’s also not just race they are ignoring – the show ignores any other identity intersections. It’s important to recognize that having a diverse panel of women, does not necessarily bring attention to different experiences.

The show heavily re-enforces gender binaries, by giving often and predictably conflicting male and female perspectives, and, again, selling the stereotyped opinions as if they are speaking for all men or all women. It embarrassingly boils down to basic and outdated gender stereotypes (see below). 


Not to mention the intense slut talk on the show – both judgmental and celebratory – which I still see as problematic because girls calling other girls sluts doesn’t help much of anything. It conjures up double standards of women’s and men’s sexuality, and of course is rife with woman-on-woman shaming and hatred. Slut is an insult, even from your best friends. 

I know there are some other less-than-feminist aspects I have failed to mention, as well as a few positive aspects I’ve missed. Feel free to comment below with your feelings about the show! I’m sure many will disagree that the show is problematic, but I can’t shake the feeling that it boils women down to vane, selfish, relationship-dependent sluts. 

I’d like to see a Girl Code that talks about how to combat sexism in the workplace, or how to respond to street harassment or creepy stares at the gym or on the subway. Those are gender-specific experiences that are actually worth a television show, but of course those topics are far more uncomfortable for show producers or the public at large to admit to than girls talking about sex or poop. What it means to be a girl is much more complex than periods and the penis size of sexual partners, and Girl Code doesn’t illustrate that at all.

**Authors Note: edited 2.3.14 

After watching more Girl Code, it’s clear that the show is a success in many ways for women. Topics absolutely do push past stereotypical boundaries (I just watched a segment on work and a surprisingly dimensional segment on jealousy), and it is a great forum for smart and funny comediennes to be featured- but I still find the show to be gender essentializing, I think their short segments on otherwise unspoken topics is tokenizing, and I think the show speaking for all girls is uncomfortable. 

Because we live in a culture of chest-thumping declarations and right-wrong dichotomies, a gray area is largely unfamiliar and uncomfortable, but terribly important for progressive thinking.  As we mature and become more educated and aware, we can admit more and more easily to the gray areas in nearly all situations. Girl Code is an example of this need to give space to complexity. We cannot be blind cheerleaders simply because anything from a TV show, to a national policy is getting some things right, but we also can’t boycott everything we feel to be partially flawed. Critique is a form of care, and it should be recognized as such – it means you are pushing something, and expecting more.

Girl Code is sometimes a bit horrible and sometimes a bit great, but there is space for it to be both, just like there should be space for us as individuals to be both right and wrong, or to be at odds with out own opinions. Feminism is about recognizing complexities. Thank you for the comments! Although small in number, they were useful and welcomed.

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