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The guy doesn’t get the girl: The importance of female friendships in film and literature

Illustrations by Megan Le Brocq

From children’s fairy tales where the heroine marries the prince, to Hollywood films where the ‘guy gets the girl’, women’s endings in TV, film and literature have historically been defined by their relationships with men. Young girls consuming media and literature absorb common stereotypes and expectations of women to marry and have children, conditioning them to see this as the norm, and from very young ages. Moreover, romantic love is presented as the most important thing in a woman’s life, on which her value and worth are based. The effects of this are immensely damaging.

However, there has been a recent recognition and appreciation in TV and film of alternative endings for women; endings without romantic relationships with men. The huge commercial success of Greta Gerwig’s Barbie – also the first film directed solely by a woman to reach $1 billion in box office sales – provides a perfect example of this. Barbie outright states “I’m not in love with Ken”, directly refusing the stereotypical ending where the guy gets the girl. Instead, in the end it is Barbie’s relationship with Gloria and Sasha, the mother and daughter that Barbie has bonded with throughout the film, which is the most poignant. It is supportive and wholesome, with Gloria and Sasha comically and positively encouraging Barbie to attend her first gynaecology appointment. Barbie is a hugely successful film that proves to young girls and women that female friendships are just as fulfilling as romantic relationships with men. Women’s endings do not have to be defined in relation to men, and particularly not men who will force you to watch The Godfather, and then mansplain the entire film to you.

As well as providing women with endings alternative to romantic relationships with men, popular culture has a newfound appreciation for female friendships. Both the novel and TV adaptation of Dolly Alderton’s Everything I Know About Love highlights this. Her memoir (published in 2018) and the BBC 1 series (2022) document young women in their twenties and their friendships through good and bad times. It again presents a woman’s ending without romantic love, with neither Dolly/Maggie ending up in a relationship. Instead, it places a beautiful emphasis on the different types of love that are available to her. Arguably far richer and more intimate, her friendships with other women are equally (if not more so) as fulfilling as her romantic relationships with men.

However, this effort to present women as satisfied individuals without a relationship with a man is not a novelty. Louisa May Alcott was petitioning for female characters to have alternative endings to marriage in 1868, with the publication of Little Women. Her desire to present Jo, her female protagonist, as a single woman at the end of the novel was hit with staunch opposition by her publishers, who argued the public would not read a book where the main female character ends up unmarried. Although Jo does end up marrying, Alcott was far ahead of her time in marrying her to someone other than Laurie, rebuffing the societal expectations of Jo to marry who everyone else thought she would, instead choosing her own match. Alcott articulated this best herself, writing in a letter to a friend in 1869Girls write to ask who the little women will marry, as if that was the only end and aim of a woman’s life”. She states, “I won’t marry Jo to Laurie to please anyone”. As well as marrying, Jo is an author who lives her own life in New York, pursing her own career and ultimately choosing who she ends up with, even though it wasn’t Alcott’s first choice for her heroine’s ending.

We must not understate the importance of presenting women’s endings without the sole aim of successful relationships with men. A woman’s worth is not defined by her relationships with men, and it is imperative that this is represented in the literature, films and TV that young girls and women consume. Little Women pioneered female characters who choose their own fate, unaffected by external pressures dictating how their stories end. More recently, Barbie and Everything I Know About Love present women as independent individuals who appreciate and value their female friendships. This is incredibly refreshing and can inspire a new generation of women and girls to understand that they are just as fulfilled on their own as they are with someone else.

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