Why Do All the Men Hate Marnie?

8 Jul

I fear that this post is a little dated. Girls Season 1 ended weeks ago and by the end of the series, Marnie developed into a more likeable character. She underwent a transformation, shed a boyfriend, a roommate, and perhaps some selfishness.

Marnie from the HBO series, “Girls”

But I promised a post about how all the men hate Marnie, and so I will ask you to travel with me back to the first few episodes of Season 1. Remember the Marnie that complained endlessly about her boyfriend (Charlie)? Complained about Hannah’s lack of a job? Complained about Jessa and drug use? This is the Marnie that all the men hate.

This Marnie gathered criticism for her up-tight, rule-following nature and because of her treatment of Charlie. Many feel that Marnie takes advantage of Charlie, stringing him along and failing to keep her end of the girlfriend/boyfriend bargain. In Slate’s “Girls on Girls: ‘Vagina Panic,‘” Anderson lets rip a long diatribe on Marnie’s character, finally asking if “there’s anything to like about her.”

Although Hannah grew on me this episode (in spite of her selfishness), Marnie continued to grate. Does she have any redeeming qualities? She harangues her boyfriend; micromanages her friends’ abortions; and judges Hannah for Adam’s dirty talk. “Hannah. Adam cannot do that to you. He can’t. He’s not your boyfriend,” says Marnie. She’s so caught up in rules about who can and can’t do what, and she thinks that as long as she follows the rules–specifically, staying in a monogamous relationship–nothing bad can happen to her.

I mean, we’re talking about a woman who once hit a puppy in her car and who tells her boyfriend that his body is disgusting. Someone explain to me if there’s anything to like about her.

It seems as though the world is full of people like Anderson– people who find Marnie’s character hateful. Something about her just seems to grate, and painfully. We don’t see this level of anger when Shoshanna insists that Jessa is a lady, and that can be seen as just as controlling. Also, I would be pretty annoyed if a friend asked me to meet her somewhere and then never showed, as Jessa does to Marnie and the crew for the abortion.

I also think that Marnie is concerned (at least in the early episodes) with Hannah’s happiness rather than being controlling when she discusses Adam’s pillow talk. Hannah is clearly uncomfortable with the way Adam talks to her and treats her. Marnie is giving friend advice, just like Hannah advises Marnie to break up with Charlie. That’s not seen as controlling, though?

I suspect that the real anger lies (or lied) in Marnie’s treatment of Charlie. Marnie is annoyed by pretty much everything Charlie does, yet for some reason Charlie still fawns all over her. Marnie doesn’t want to have sex with Charlie, she snaps at him for almost everything, and yet she still refuses to break up with him. One of my guy friends once said about Marnie, “She is the reason guys hate girls.”

Besides sounding especially apt because of the title of the show, I think my friend is onto something. Why do all the men hate Marnie?

Marnie’s ex-boyfriend Charlie.

Most of my guy friends really hate Marnie, and obsess about her treatment of Charlie. One friend admitted it was because he is always worried he will be The Charlie in a relationship. Another just couldn’t understand why Marnie didn’t break up with Charlie sooner. A third was simply infuriated that Marnie couldn’t (or wouldn’t) return the level of love Charlie offered her.

But many of the women I spoke to seemed to identify with Marnie. Marnie-Charlie relationships are quite common, and it speaks to the brilliance of Lena Dunham that she could depict this dynamic so realistically on TV– a dynamic that I don’t think has been represented elsewhere. I believe it bothered so many people because it is so real.

Marnie doesn’t enjoy tormenting Charlie, and on some level she knows he makes her miserable. But she’s afraid to be single. She’s come to depend on Charlie– to build her furniture, to hang out with her 24/7, to just be there. Marnie is afraid to be alone, and Charlie won’t (or is afraid to) stand up for himself. Although Marnie might be a coward, Charlie is just as much to blame. Everyone outside of the relationship seems to see how terrible the two are for each other, but somehow Marnie and Charlie can’t see it’s over.

I wouldn’t argue that what Marnie does to Charlie is okay. It’s not. But I do think it’s interesting that people hate Marnie because of the way she treats Charlie while absolving (or at least ignoring) Adam’s treatment of Hannah (again, just focusing on the early episodes). Adam’s character is, though repulsive, “oddly winning.”

Although Adam treats Hannah terribly– and has dirty talk weirdly reminiscent of pedophilia– it’s almost impossible to really dislike him. Some blame Hannah for continuing to visit him, others blame his age and immaturity. Either way, he’s not indicted for the same level of emotional abuse as Marnie.

I enjoy contrasting the two relationships, in part because the power dynamics are so clear: Marnie and Adam have the power, while Hannah and Charlie struggle for love and recognition. I wonder if the Adam-Hannah relationship garnered less anger simply because it’s one that audiences see most often; people are familiar with the jerk who keeps women at a distance, only occasionally returns texts, and seems totally unconcerned with the sexual needs of their partner (think John Ham in Bridesmaids).

Marnie’s character, however, is a completely different breed than most people are used to seeing on TV. There are sexually adventurous women with power (like Samantha from Sex and the City,) but Marnie is different. She is full of the contradictions of young womanhood. She has power over Charlie but it doesn’t make her happy. She’s new and different and unsettling in her familiarity. And I love that about her.

Marnie starts spiraling almost immediately after she breaks up with Charlie

In April, Elanor Barkhorn called Marnie “TV’s Latest Beautiful Control Freak” in an Atlantic article, comparing her to Charlotte from Sex and the City and Betty Draper from Mad Men. Barkhorn notes that beautiful control freaks– on TV at least– are usually headed for a fall. In Marnie’s case, she is not wrong.

Although Marnie’s character seems to have been miserable from the very first episode, after she breaks up with Charlie she starts spiraling. Charlie gets a new girlfriend, Hannah starts dating Adam, and her friends stop listening to her complaints about Charlie. Stevenson asks in Slate’s “Guys on Girls: Your Crack Spirit Guide,” “Were we all sated by Marnie’s long-overdue comeuppance?”

Personally, I am not sated because I don’t think Marnie needed quite so hard a fall. For all of my friends, when they escape a relationship as toxic as Marnie’s, they are usually excited by the independence. They grow, discover new things, and seem generally happy to be free of a relationship that made them completely miserable.

In the end, I agree with Stevenson’s colleague Rosin: “They were a little too hard on Marnie.”

6 Responses to “Why Do All the Men Hate Marnie?”

  1. esquaredg July 8, 2012 at 5:12 pm #

    I love it! I so agree that everyone is used to the love-sick girl throwing herself at a detached guy (whether it’s a new relationship or a long-term one), but nobody seems to recognize that it’s the gender reversal here making them so uncomfortable. Part of me suspects that Marnie’s acknowledgment and then denial of how much she wants to break up with Charlie upsets people the most. Perhaps male characters can be forgiven for emotional detachment if they don’t say it out loud or talk to their friends about it like Marnie does with Hannah.

    • Caitlin Garzi July 9, 2012 at 11:10 am #

      That’s true– there does seem to be less verbal indecisiveness with men shown on TV. Like, does Adam know what he wants from Hannah in the early episodes? Or does he sometimes think about being more with her and that’s why he’s sometimes nice? I know lots of people say that guys think differently about relationships than women do, but I don’t know. Maybe he Adam is just as indecisive but we see it less.

  2. Angel July 8, 2012 at 6:10 pm #

    I’m not sure if Marnie’s relationship with Charlie was really that “toxic”–there didn’t seem to be any indication of emotional, mental, verbal, or physical abuse–not at least towards her. The only problem was that she didn’t love him but continued to stay in the relationship. While she shouldn’t have done that–it was selfish, yes–her continued willingness to stay was also a clue that Marnie is not as put together or confident as she lets on. When her base–Charlie–no longer supports her, it’s not shocking that she falls apart. She has to find herself as a woman who does not define herself by her relationship. Even after she leaves Charlie, she defines herself by the breakup. She also expects Charlie to mirror her behavior and becomes infuriated when she sees him with another woman–again, she demonstrates her need to be defined by someone else.

    As someone who WAS in a severely toxic relationship that made me genuinely miserable, I felt the freedom and independence for maybe a month–or two weeks– before I spiraled as Marnie did. It took a while for me to come out of that spiral. Women, especially women who have defined themselves by those relationships, do spiral. And the spiral is hard.

    Maybe Marnie did love Charlie–on some deep level–after all. Or maybe she didn’t feel like she deserved someone like him, didn’t deserve to be loved by him or in the way he wanted to show her love. I feel like there’s more to this than Marnie didn’t love Charlie. Maybe Marnie doesn’t feel like she deserves love period. She has to love herself first. I’m not quite sure that she does. Not yet.

  3. Stephanie July 17, 2012 at 1:27 pm #

    I just finished season 1. Kind of unrelated, but….

    I really found it interesting how Adam views his relationship with Hannah. He points out she never asks him about himself, only is ever concerned with him in relationship to her. (Does not excuse shitty behavior on his part, but still an interesting little kink to the scene). I think it is funny how Marnie is viewed as selfish, and yet Hannah never thinks to ask Adam questions about himself. It is almost as if Hannah’s shallow worship of Adam makes her more likable, while Marnie’s staying with Charlie out of comfort and shared history makes her heartless and disgusting. If anything Marnie and Charlie are dealing with dieing love (or as the end of the season kind of hinted at a forgotten love), while Hannah has constructed her idea of Adam without really looking for the reality. And yet the viewership prefers the shallow “love” rather than the real complications that arise of loving someone but growing apart.

  4. ap February 21, 2013 at 3:21 am #

    Marni is an example of the crap that every guy has had to deal with at one time or another. I feel like I’m watching the last girl to break my heart.

  5. Barbarossa Unsui December 12, 2014 at 8:19 pm #

    As a guy I feel a certain need to chime in before everyone assumes that they know what men think. I hate Marnie because she is weak and foolish. Every chance she gets to be herself she is so concerned with what everyone thinks of her that she never asserts herself, and instead of being herself she seeks validation from others and then spirals down when they try to get away from her sinking ship, but she still just casts judgement on everyone as if she has no emotional problems of her own. If she was smart she would have dumped Charlie like she said she and would not have gone running back the moment she felt the least bit lonely. She is so desperate for attention and validation that she lets that fucking turd Booth Jonathan have sex with her, and then assumes he is her boyfriend just because they sleep together. Jessa, and Ray are actually the most powerful characters on this show, because ultimately they are who they are without apologies and take shit from no one. Hannah is a child playing grown up and wants everyone to adore her for her talents which she ultimately lacks because she canèt put herself in others shoes. Adam might be a dick sometimes but if that is what Hannah wants, that is her business to take it or leave it. Adam is actually the most thoughtful and least selfish person on this show, and Shoshanna is the most honest.

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