How Derry Girls reminded me the importance of having girl friends

Padi Padilla
6 min readApr 6, 2021
Adam Lawrence/Channel 4

I’ll admit that when I first started watching Derry Girls I wasn’t expecting much of it. I didn’t really know anything about the show, other than it took place in Ireland and that the characters spoke with very thick accents, which made me think that watching it would be a great way to improve my listening. English isn’t my native language, so I’m always on the lookout for different ways to practice.

I was pleased to discover that the first episode of the series was much more than just a Northern Irish pronunciation lesson. By the first couple of scenes I was already impressed by the writing of the show. The dialogues were quick, concise, and brilliantly delivered. Punchline after punchline while at the same time establishing everything we need to know about the characters, and the context of the series. I soon realized this wasn’t a regular show, but rather a hidden gem on my Netflix’s homepage.

By the end of the first episode I was over the moon. I didn’t care anymore if the show was helping me improve my understanding of the Irish accent, I had loved every minute of it and all I cared about was forcing everyone I knew to watch it. Having finished the last available episode recently, I decided that Derry Girls was worth talking about, and not only for its supreme screenwriting quality, but also for the great message it sends to both young and mature audiences about friendship. Especially friendship between predominantly girl groups.

Even if nowadays there are more studios creating films and TV shows that focus on women, the vast majority of content today is still primarily created by men. According to the latest study published by the Center of Study of Women in Television & Film, women only comprised 21% of all directors, writers, producers, executive producers, editors, and cinematographers working on the top 100 grossing films in 2020. Besides, even if a woman works behind the scenes of a production there’s no guarantee that she’ll be able to tell a story outside of the male gaze. We continue to live in a society that gives preferential treatment to stories about men and their views on the world. In a Variety article the director Marielle Heller states: “For years, as women we’ve been expected to relate to the white male protagonist — because that’s the person whose perspective is illuminated, and they’re the most complex, entertaining person in the film”.

Even classic shows like Sex and the City, which some consider examples of series with an empowering female narrative, still rely on certain clichés about women that come from a male point of view. That’s why Derry Girls feels so refreshing. The show focuses on telling the experience of a young group of girls growing up during “The Troubles” in Northern Ireland told from the point of view of Lisa McGee, showrunner of Derry Girls and actual Ireland native who grew up in Derry during the 90s. Because of this, the series feels much more authentic and personal, focusing on relatable topics that have little to do with what other shows present us as “typical teenager issues”.

Like I said before, one of the best things about the show is the way it portraits the dynamics of the Derry Girls. Each one of the characters is flawed in various ways. We have Erin, the sort of girl who cares a little too much about what other people think; Orla, who lives in another planet and doesn’t care about conventional rules or personal boundaries; Clare, the smart one who’s too afraid of getting in trouble; Michelle, the wild child who only cares about partying; and James, the shy new guy everyone looks down on for being English. Despite being so different from each other and sometimes clashing between them, the group always stays together, proving that true friends are the ones who will try their best to have your back, even if they get it wrong a couple of times at first.

The two episodes that do the best job of portraying this message are the last ones of each season. During the first, Erin becomes the school magazine’s editor and ends up hiring her friends when the staff quits. After she fails to come up with a story, she decides to publish an anonymous letter from a student coming out as a lesbian. When Clare reveals that the letter was indeed hers, Erin rejects her, which ends up dividing the group. However, Erin feels guilty about it, and the friends come back together to defend Orla after other students laugh at her while performing a routine during a school talent show. At first this seems like a simple happy and heartwarming moment, but it quickly takes on a much deeper meaning as we cut to a scene of Erin’s parents watching a news broadcast of a bombing. By going back and forth between the two scenes and contrasting the joy of the group with the fear and sorrow of the family, we get a sense of hope. As if friendship and union were in fact the best weapon against terror.

Growing up gay and closeted this episode was particulary emotional for me. The first people I ever told I was gay were my closest female friends at the time. At first, I was very scared that I would be rejected if I came out, so I relate a lot to Clare. Luckily, just as it happened in the series, my friends didn’t only accept me for who I was, but they also made me feel protected. During a research I conducted at my own high school for an academic contest, my team and I found out that, overall, girls tend to be more accepting of queer sexualities than boys. One theory to explain this is that society tends to restrict boys from showing any sight of affection to other boys much more aggressively than girls showing affection to other girls. Because of this, female friends sometimes tend to be more accepting of diversity than male friends. And although I can’t generalize, I will say that in my high school that was exactly my personal experience. So when watching this episode of Derry Girls I couldn’t help but think of it as a celebration of girl friends, without whom my life would’ve been so much harder.

The other episode we should talk about is the season two finale, in which James’ mother returns to Derry to take him away so he can help her with her new business designing stickers. At first, James tells the girls he’ll leave, assuring them that Derry was never his place. Despite making constant comments about wanting him to leave throughout the show, Michelle tells him he should stay because he is now a “Derry Girl”. Eventually, James decides to stay and the girls are thrilled about it, not caring about missing Bill Clinton’s 1995 Guildhall Square speech to go and celebrate with him.

For those of us who usually hang around with predominantly girl groups, this episode feels really meaningful. Society teaches us that femininity is linked to weakness, and therefore masculinity should always be regarded as superior. In some episodes of Derry Girls, James is bullied and even called “gay” for being perceived as passive and fragile, qualities which are traditionally linked to femininity. You’d think he would jump right into the first chance he had to go back to England and hang around with guys again, leaving behind any trace of girlness. And yet, James not only decides to stay, he also accepts the term “Derry Girl” to describe himself. During some episodes, we even see him embrace a more girly side along with the rest of the group and showcase that femininity can also be something to be proud of. He shows us that having girl friends can help us see the world under a different light that is not defined by strict rules of how guys and girls should act and think.

There’s no doubt that Derry Girls is a great show, with a ton of powerful and complex themes which go way beyond a traditional comedy show. If you’re also a fan of the series, I would love to know what it was that you loved the most about it. Also, if you disagree with some of my interpretations or would like to keep on discussing them, please share your comments.

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Padi Padilla

I’m a queer writer from Mexico who loves creating helpful content for my fellow gays, girls, and theys trying to figure out life.