I’m not quite sure when I was introduced to the genre of “chick flicks,” but the one thing I do remember taking away from them was the concept of the “girl code.” I’m going to be honest here and say that I never expected it to show up in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It hit me the moment that Helena began to accuse Hermia of being in on the cruel joke she thought Demetrius and Lysander were tormenting her with. Helena openly accused Hermia of breaking said code.
To clarify, at least in my own thoughts and words, the girl code is that age old law that states that girls must stick together and should never betray one another, especially over men. Perhaps, this is the “ancient love” which Helena speaks of in her speech during Act III, scene ii. Some may read this as more romantic, but I believe Shakespeare is alluding to that ancient bond of sisterhood that mothers and grandmothers sometimes speak about with misty eyes. It’s a bond that Helena and Hermia had created in their childhood and Helena also recalls in the speech that she delivers when she feels betrayed by Hermia.
This betrayal also gets back to our class discussion about the breaking or stretching of gender roles within this play. This scene seems to highlight that because Hermia broke this ancient code of sisterhood that she is no longer female and that even her own sex would be disappointed in her actions. Helena warns Hermia of this error during the same speech by saying, “To join with men in scorning your poor friend? It is not friendly, ’tis not maidenly. Our sex, as well as I, may chide you for it” (III.II. 216-218).
In Helena’s eyes, Hermia has not only done her great injury, but has done a great wrong to the entirety of their gender. She has broken the girl code and betrayed the “ancient love” they had forged as children (III.II. 215). This makes her less than female and instead places her into the realm of the masculine where cruel mocking and jokes are expected.
However, one must take Helena’s words with a grain of salt as she is not portrayed as the most feminine of characters within this play. In fact, she openly breaks the gender role of the female by pursuing a man, as opposed to waiting patiently for one to pursue her. However, Helena does seem to follow the “girl code” despite her masculine irregularities. One must also remember that Hermia never truly betrayed Helena either. However, it’s still interesting to note that this popular trope of “girl code” appears even in Shakespeare and keeps its strong ties to what it means to be a female.