With buzzy television shows such as Orange is the New Black (with our favorite Natasha Lyonne as a grizzled junkie with a tender heart) and Girls shocking audiences and garnering raves from critics (it seems Lena Dunham may forever be the much-debated voice of some generation), we have entered a new wave of female-centric storytelling. But that type of pop culture female bonding is only the latest example of the lesbian continuum represented on the pop culture yardstick.
When legendary theorist and poet Adrienne Rich coined the term “lesbian continuum” in 1980, she opened the door to entirely new meanings and functions of female friendship. The power of comradery between women had always existed, of course, but never had anyone so perfectly put their finger on what made intimate and loving relationships between women—sexual or not—powerful, political, and erotic.
In Rich’s essay Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence, she defined the continuum as “a range—through each woman’s life and throughout history—of woman-identified experience, not simply the fact that a woman has had or consciously desired genital sexual experience with another woman.” She continued:
“As we deepen and broaden the range of what we define as lesbian existence, as we delineate a lesbian continuum, we begin to discover the erotic in female terms; as that which is unconfined to any single part of the body or solely to the body itself; as an energy not only diffuse but, as Audre Lorde has described it, omnipresent in 'the sharing of joy, whether physical, emotional, psychic,' and in the sharing of work; as the empowering joy which 'makes us less willing to accept powerlessness, or those other supplied states of being which are not native to me, such as resignation, despair, self-effacement, depression, self-denial.' If we consider the possibility that all women [...] exist on a lesbian continuum, we can see ourselves as moving in and out of this continuum, whether we identify ourselves as lesbian or not.”
Whoa! Sorry to get all Women’s Studies on you, but it’s a pretty cool theory and allows me to talk about my favorite television programs so everyone just calm down and ride the wave. The point is that female friendship is important to the happiness of women, depictions of female friendship in the media are in themselves acknowledgement of lesbian existence, and we should all be delighting in and celebrating the lesbian continuum at all times. Now let's talk about TV shows.
Television history has been graced with many beautiful expressions of love between ladies. Our culture would would be lost, or at least unrecognizable, without Lucy & Ethel, Jo & Blair, Cagney & Lacey, Laverne & Shirley, Tia and Tamara, the women of Friends, Roseanne, Girlfriends, The Golden Girls, Sex and the City-- well, you get the idea, the list could go on and on. For fear of leaving out important pairs, I am only including ladyfriends that are currently on the air (and I will most definitely miss a few, so please add to the conversation).
CHECK OUT THE SIX TV AND WEB SERIES ON THE FOLLOWING PAGES:
Parks and Recreation: Leslie & Ann
Let's begin with one of the more popular network TV pairings. On Parks and Recreation, Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler) and Ann Perkins (Rashida Jones) take the cake when it comes to showing affection to their on-screen best friend. Between poetic pet names including, “Ann, you beautiful, talented, brilliant, powerful musk ox,” and, “Ann, you beautiful, naive, sophisticated newborn baby,” and affirmations like “Ann, you’re beautiful, and you’re organized!” the Pawnee Goddesses express their love for one another by assisting in the creation of online dating profiles, drunkenly yelling through their differences until they collapse in tearful apologies, nursing hangovers together, protecting each other from unhealthy romantic relationships, supporting each other’s professional careers, celebrating Galentine's Day, and always putting ovaries before bro-varies. The clip of Leslie expressing her love for her bestie via impression. Best line from Leslie Knope: "We have to remember what's important in life: friends, waffles, and work. Or waffles, friends, and work. But work has to come third."
The Mindy Project: Mindy and Gwen
Similarly to Amy Poehler, I consider Mindy Kaling to be one of the great teachers of modern television friendship with the creation of her eponymous character on The Mindy Project. (Sidebar anecdote: When Mindy was writing for SNL and tried to shy away from going to an afterparty, Amy came to her office, walked her to the party, and gently forced Mindy to put herself out there without every really saying it. Truly, a woman who knows how to be a great friend.) In her book Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns), Kaling made a complete list of Best Friend Rights and Responsibilities including, “I Can Ditch You, Within Reason,” “When I Take A Shower At Your Place, I Won’t Drop The Towel On The Floor,” “I Will Take Care of Your Kid If You Die” and “I Will Try To Like Your Boyfriend Five Times.” It’s a great guide for anyone existing within the lesbian continuum.
Mindy’s best friend on The Mindy Project is Gwen Gandy, a slightly more put-together, less adventuresome, married-with-children gal who has known Mindy since college. The character seems to be based on her real life best friend from college, Brenda Withers, with whom she wrote and performed critically acclaimed play Matt And Ben, a celebration of the friendship between Matt Damon and Ben Affleck. Mindy played Ben, Brenda played Matt. Though they are currently at different points in their lives (Mindy is wearing sparkly dresses, crashing frat parties, and exploring her sexuality through approximately one million dates per season, while Gwen is spending her days in a quiet house with her quiet family), the pair constantly encourage each other, work out their differences and support one another. While Mindy does struggle with sharing Gwen with her daughter, she ultimately has a great sense of what it means to be a true friend.
In the episode “Harry and Mindy,” she brings up another best friend from college and her co-worker asks, “How many best friends from college do you have?” Mindy replies with one of the best lines of all time, “Best Friend isn’t a person, Danny. It’s a tier.”
New Girl: Jess & Cece
Since they were just little girls, Jess (Zooey Deschanel) and Cece (Hannah Simone) have been best friends. For years, Jess has been rolling her eyes at Cece and asking her not to “do her usual thing” when dudes are around and Cece has most likely been rolling her eyes at Jess tap dancing and playing the ukulele all over the place. (But, we’re done hating on Zooey Deschanel by now, right? I’m sorry I brought it up.) They annoy each other as any two people sharing a life together would, but they could each stand to be a little more like the other. Their opposite characteristics often serve as life lessons.
Awkward Black Girl: J and Cece
Now let's step away from the mainstream network offerings and take a look at where things are bubbling up on the fringes. J and Cece, pals in the web series The Mis-Adventures of Awkward Black Girl, are two socially awkward young women of color just trying to navigate being social in a normal way. Cece is a little bit more confident than J and often helps her best friend with dating advice, helpful or not. Check out this episode where Cece helps J prepare for her first “white date” and get ready to (hopefully) see this pair on a HBO series based on the web series soon.
Broad City: Illana and Abby
The friendship on web series Broad City is reminiscent of Romy and Michele. For an example, check out this quote: "Swear to God, sometimes I wish I was a lesbian." “Do you want to try to have sex sometime just to see if we are?” “What? Yeah, right, Michelle. Just the idea of having sex with another woman creeps me out. But if we're not married by the time we're 30, ask me again.”
I predict that these two will go down in television history, despite the fact that it's not yet broadcast on television, as one of the best TV friendships of all time. Given that Ilana is constantly trying to get Abby to come home with her, begging to see just at least the bottom of her breast, and saying things to her mother like, “I’m am SO not a lesbian yet,” these two straight women are have an intensely intimate and borderline romantic relationship. They share dinner over Skype, share methods of dealing with menstruation (“You gotta air out, bitch!”), and spend Valentines Day by playing in the snow, ice skating and getting pedicures.
Its no surprise that Amy Poehler is producing their new TV show on Comedy Central. Keep your eyes peeled for the first season of Broad City and prepare for the premiere by watching their hilarious web series.
SNL's 'Girlfriend's Talk Show': Morgan and Keira
OK this one may be a stretch—I wouldn’t call this friendship super supportive or loving—but their "love" creates a burning, hilarious fire in Morgan that allows her the strength to call someone “Roach Warehouse.” And aren't we all looking for a relationship with that much passion? Also, I just want the world to acknowledge how funny this "Girl's Talk Show" SNL sketch is.
If we’ve learned anything from TV, it’s that female best friends have a responsiblity to compliment and support each other, encourage each other’s dreams, fight until they understand something new about themselves, and place themselves on a lesbian continuum.
Taking these lessons to heart may help those of us on the continuum transform and tap into Audre Lorde and Adrienne Rich definition of the erotic, meaning “'the sharing of joy, whether physical, emotional, psychic,' and the sharing of work; as the empowering joy which 'makes us less willing to accept powerlessness, or those other supplied states of being which are not native to me, such as resignation, despair, self-effacement, depression, self-denial.”