Marlene says this after hearing about the struggles that her female guests have experienced in their lives. She finds their stories of patriarchal oppression unbearable, and wonders if these women recognized the injustice as they lived it, the way Marlene has always struggled against societal gender roles in 1970s England. Marlene's anger, meanwhile, fuels her determination to get away from her blue-collar roots and aspire to financial independence. Marlene's abject refusal to let her gender get in the way of her success emerges many times over the course of the play. She leaves behind her daughter, thus throwing off the vestiges of motherhood, and behaves condescendingly towards women who do not want to devote their lives to overthrowing the patriarchy.
"I thought God would speak to me directly. But of course he knew I was a woman."
Joan says this while explaining that as she rose through the Church hierarchy, she always believed that God, knowing she was a woman, approved of her ascent. However, when she became Pope and failed to establish a direct connection with God, Joan took this to indicate his disapproval. Joan’s statement is deeply ironic, since to a modern audience the idea of speaking directly with God, even by the Pope, seems ridiculous. However, this statement also indicates the intensity of the gender divide during Joan's time. While women like Mrs. Kidd may look down upon Marlene's promotion over a man, in Joan's time, the patriarchy was so deeply seated that people believed only men could communicate with the Almighty. Joan sacrificed her life in her rebellion against the patriarchy - so at least Marlene is living in a slightly more civil time.
"And I hit him with a stick. Yes, I hit him with a stick."
Lady Nijo describes her spirited retaliation against the Emperor for allowing his attendants to beat her and his other concubines during an annual festival. Nijo concocts an elaborate plan with the other women, to surprise the Emperor while he is alone in his bedroom. Nijo springs upon him and beats him with a stick until he promises not to allow anyone else to hurt the women again. Like Joan and Griselda, Nijo grew up during a time when certain conventions of patriarchy were accepted. Marlene is surprised that Nijo does not harbor more anger for having to spend half her life as a courtesan, but during Nijo's time, this was considered an honor. However, Nijo battled her male oppressor from within the infrastructure. She accepted many injustices that were ingrained in her society - but to her, this particular demonstration was crossing a line. The beatings ignited Nijo's inner rebel. The women at the table in Act I help contemporary readers put all our own struggles in perspective - and demonstrate that men have been oppressing women for centuries. The situation may have gotten better, but it is by no means entirely resolved.
"I think you could make me believe it if you put your mind to it."
This is a backhanded compliment that Marlene gives Jeanine during their interview. Marlene finds Jeanine’s desire to be married at a young age, along with her lack of ambition, frustratingly pointless. She sees little potential in Jeanine and moves quickly to assign her to lackluster applications at companies that manufacture knitwear and lampshades. To Marlene, Jeanine is the antithesis to her ideal of driven individualism that values professional success above all else. Therefore, she gives Jeanine some tips for how to succeed during her interview - because Marlene does not believe that Jeanine is smart or experienced enough to actually succeed in business.
"I put on this dress to kill my mother."
Angie makes this harrowing statement to Kit when the two are standing in Angie’s backyard in the rain. Angie is intensely aggressive towards her mother, Joyce. The dress is significant because we will later learn it was a gift from Marlene, who is also hostile towards Joyce, and also foreshadows the revelation that Marlene is in fact Angie’s biological mother. Angie does not know that Marlene abandoned her to pursue success in the big city, but just thinks of Marlene as her successful, stylish Aunty. Meanwhile, Angie puts on the dress and speaks these cold and callous words - showing that she understands (and sides with) Marlene's aggression against Joyce. Angie wants to be like her Aunty Marlene - but little does she know that the only reason Marlene is successful is because Joyce took over the duty of raising Angie.
"We’d rather it was you than Howard. We’re glad for you, aren’t we Nell."
Win and Nell both applaud for Marlene after her promotion, while simultaneously revealing their envy. Win assures Marlene that they are happy she was promoted over Howard, but Nell then tells Marlene that she doesn’t like coming in second. Marlene bluntly responds, “Who does?” The exchange shows the mixture of admiration, envy, competition and support that characterizes the relationship amongst the women at the office. The conversations between Win, Nell, and Marlene mirror the surreal dinner party in Act 1 - the women all bond over their struggles against patriarchy. Although they do get jealous of individuals at times, they can recognize the grander societal importance of Marlene, a woman, being chosen for a promotion over Howard, a man.
"Nobody notices me, I don’t expect it, I don’t attract attention by making mistakes, everybody takes if for granted that my work is perfect."
In her interview with Win, Louise expresses frustration over the unfair sacrifices she has had to make and the double standards that she has endured to stay in good standing at her company for over 2 decades. The character of Louise represents hidden patriarchal structures that modern women still face in the workplace. Although Louise has the same human and spiritual rights as her male counterparts (unlike Joan or Nijo), she is highly aware that society views her as inferior to the men around her. Instead of accepting it, though, she is finally ready to do something about it, even though Win reminds her how difficult it will be for an older woman to get a new job. Louise is a contrast to Marlene - and shows that even though the feminist movement had made significant advances by the 1970s, gender equality was still a long way off.
"Christ, what a waste of time."
Shona’s interview with Nell starts off well, but eventually collapses when Nell realizes that Shona’s eagerness and toughness are a façade, and that she has fabricated her entire resume. At first, Nell finds Shona’s individuality and spunk appealing, even suggesting she might be able to work for Top Girls. However, Shona’s ridiculous story of driving a Porsche around the country and staying at luxurious hotels on the company’s expense account reveal she knows nothing about the day-to-day life of professionals. Shona represents another female archetype, just like the other women who come to Top Girls for interviews. She does not have a grasp on reality, nor does she understand that she will have to work very hard to achieve the kind of life she dreams about. She is clearly sheltered and clueless - the antithesis of Nell and the other "tough birds" who work at Top Girls. Nell's dismissal of Shona, however, shows how Marlene and her coworkers are highly individualistic and unwilling to help a misguided young girl - because helping her would not do anything to advance their own careers.
"I believe in the individual. Look at me."
This statement is effectively Marlene’s rallying cry, and she delivers it during her argument with Joyce over politics in 1970s Britain. Marlene believes in the conservative party’s emphasis on personal responsibility and hard work, as well as the idea that class does not truly exist as a barrier to self-advancement. Her position mirrors the public statement delivered by Margaret Thatcher that only “individuals and their families” exist, not class. It also shows that Marlene fully embraces the ideology of late capitalism.
Marlene: I didn’t really mean all that.
Joyce: I did.
At the end of their argument in Act 3, Marlene appears to want to reconcile with Joyce. She seems to regret some of her harsh criticism against unions, the working class, socialism and even Joyce herself. Joyce, however, holds firm to her position, recognizing that Marlene will always be dependent on her pro-capitalist ideals to advance her own financial standing. Joyce’s resolution implies her understanding of the deeply- seated class struggle in 1970s Britain, versus Marlene’s desire to attribute their disagreement to marginally important personal differences.
Top Girls Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Top Girls is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.