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The Unbearable Lightness of Girls

Most men won’t be allowed to admit this, but the new HBO show is a disastrous celebration of entitlement and helplessness

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Lena Dunham in Girls. (Jojo Whilden/HBO)
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Girls Just Wants to Have Fun

Evaluating comedy on its political merit is like disassembling a vibrator to analyze its mechanics: You can do it, but that’s not what it’s for.

Watching the first three episodes of Girls, the new HBO show about four young women charting their post-collegiate paths in New York, I felt something I have never before felt watching TV: despair.

At about this point, I imagine readers—particularly those who, like Girls’ star and creator Lena Dunham, had the benefit of a sterling liberal arts education—raising a battery of objections: Of course you didn’t like Girls; Girls isn’t meant for you; Girls is a show created by and catering to an audience of women in their mid-twenties who have to deal with finding jobs in a terrible economy and finding mates in a terrible dating pool and finding their selves in a world echoing with too many distractions; as a man, you can’t possibly understand what that’s like.

These objections might have been relevant if Girls was just another television show. It’s not, or at least not only. As the uncommon torrent of hallelujahs the show has received from critics and pundits might attest, Girls is a snapshot, in high definition, of its time—our time, my time. As a result, it invites a different kind of discussion, one in which the blunt tools of identity politics, so often wielded in conversations about culture these days, have no place. That’s because Girls isn’t a poorly made show; it’s a poorly made moral decision, a decision to remain at the still point of the turning world and retreat into a world that’s hardly larger than a Brooklyn neighborhood where no one has any sense of agency or urgency or dignity or grace.

To understand Girls, however, we must first talk about Lena Dunham. Having risen to prominence with 2010’s Tiny Furniture, her largely autobiographical mumblecore film about being a recent college graduate loafing about in her mother’s TriBeCa loft and searching not so much for something to do as for someone to become, Dunham was celebrated, from the very first, as a bard of her time, a designation with which she seems largely comfortable. In her show’s first episode, she declares to her parents that the memoir she had written—it’s short, she admits, as she’s yet to have done anything of note—might mean that she’s the voice of her generation, or at least a voice of a generation.

It’s supposed to be a joke. It’s better understood as an anthropological field note. The scene perfectly captures the emotional pendulum that defines Dunham, her work, and her generation, swinging between a sense of entitlement and a feeling of utter helplessness. Dunham’s characters feel like they deserve to be heard and seen and adored, but they expect others—parents, bosses, boyfriends—to provide them with the emotional stability and the financial security and the romantic joy they so deeply desire. And while Dunham herself, unlike the inert characters she plays on screen, had managed to translate her emotional turmoil into adored cultural artifacts, she shares with her creations the same firm belief that she deserves to be heard.

It might, one suspect, be a hereditary condition. Dunham’s parents are renowned artists. Her three co-stars are the scions, respectively, of a rock star, a vaunted television-news anchor, and a celebrated playwright. With such tall trees, the young apples strive not to fall too far. “I don’t want to be a makeup artist, and I don’t want to be a massage therapist, and I don’t want to be a day hostess,” Dunham’s character tells her mother—a successful photographer played by Laurie Simmons, Dunham’s real-life mother and, well, a successful photographer—in Tiny Furniture. “I want to be as successful as you are.” What neither character nor creator seem to understand is that success, defined on those terms, is impossible. If success is the goal, and if no other depths of feeling or breadths of interest are anywhere in evidence, what hope do these girls have other than making a spectacle of their lives? Like actresses in pornographic films, they play mostly themselves, or some very thinly veiled variations thereon. There’s really very little else they know how to do.

You may think the analogy unkind, but it’s not entirely inappropriate. One of the show’s particular afflictions is Dunham’s insistence on showing herself, naked, in compromising sexual situations. In the show’s pilot, for example, she’s penetrated from behind by her boyfriend, a petulant and self-centered man-child actor whose lovemaking and conversation alike display all the subtle charms of a hard-core porno. We’re supposed to feel bad for Hannah, a sweet and immature woman who falls short of society’s stringent ideals of beauty and who is being, quite literally, fucked by the world. Instead, I found myself asking what the hell was wrong with Dunham. As the show’s creator, she had the power to make of Hannah whatever she wanted, and what she wanted was to show her heroine—herself—objectified and exposed. “I say I’m not a political person,” she told a magazine reporter last month, speaking of the abundance of nudity in her work, “but it’s a political statement in a way. I know it’s going to gross some people out. There’s people who don’t want to see bodies like mine or bodies like their own bodies.”

This a conception of politics I find utterly dispiriting. To argue that there’s merit in awarding full-bodied as well as waifish women the right to be objectified and abused on camera is akin to Anatole France’s famous quip about the law, in its majesty, having forbidden both rich and poor from sleeping under bridges, begging in the streets, and stealing bread. It is—trust the Russians to have just the right word for it—poshlost, or a falsely righteous argument that hides the depths of depravity. And it seems to be all the rage these days. Consider the women flocking to Fifty Shades of Grey, the sensational novel of a younger woman sexually submitting to an older man. The appeal of that novel, an astonishingly inelegant and unintelligent piece of writing, is that the heroine signs a contract with her master and has the power to decide just what he may and may not do to her. That, presumably, is what passes for power these days, and I can imagine droves of women—the book’s fans, from what I can tell, are largely wives and mothers—explaining away their own subdued lives and unreasonable pressures by imagining that they, too, are secretly in control, and that real choice is the freedom to choose anything, including subjugation.

That’s a deeply skewed sentiment, with disastrous implications. And it seems to be just what Dunham believes. Explaining her numerous tattoos in one episode, she tells said doltish boyfriend that she got them because she had gained weight and needed to regain a sense of control over her own body. In other words, Dunham’s answer to the pressures of a society unforgiving of non-emaciated body types was self-mutilation with needle and ink and self-humiliation with camera and premium cable network. It may give her a sense of control, but, like the heroine of Fifty Shades of Grey, she’s still little more than a plaything for men. She’s not that different from the fundamentalist Muslim women who insist that covering themselves from head to toes gives them a sense of empowerment; it’s a slippery logic that leads further into benighted realms that women and men had fought bitterly and bravely to defeat.

Not that Dunham cares. The only feminine icons her show name-checks—constantly—are Carrie, Samantha, Charlotte, and Miranda. Like the Sex and the City women, the Girls girls seem bent on an urban existence propelled mostly by sex and self-importance. And what, you may be forgiven for asking, is wrong with that? Isn’t Girls entertainment? Isn’t it meant to amuse? Must it really carry the burdens of society? Must it really be so serious?

It must, because women still earn 77 cents on a man’s dollar. Because women make up more than 50 percent of the American population yet only 16.8 percent of Congress members, 17 percent of senators, and 6 percent of all governors. Because of the Fortune 500 companies, only 12 are run by women. Because there is a major political party working tirelessly to repeal the rights of women to have abortions, use contraception, or have agency over their bodies and their health. Because we must believe that culture matters, that it has the power not only to make us chuckle but also to show us the world in a different light and, maybe, spur us to action. And because if the most visible young female auteur to have come along in a long time uses her clout to prance around naked and call it liberation—a logic that may seem sound in Oberlin but not in Washington—then we have missed a major opportunity for change.

Of course, there’s one more question to be asked (this time of year, we’re full of them): Why hold women to a higher standard? Isn’t freedom about having the right to choose one’s own path, even if that path is self-indulgent and insipid? Why can’t Dunham tool about like her male counterparts who celebrate their own aimlessness in a seemingly endless stream of television shows and movies? How you answer this question depends on how you understand the world and your role in it. If you believe freedom to be a given right, then surely it must include the freedom to devote your life to fripperies and grow old in the house of bondage, slowly forgetting that a land of milk and honey had ever been promised and that a better future is possible. But if you conceive of freedom as something that is hard-won and perpetually brittle and demanding of constant vigilance, you’re going to focus less on liberty and more on responsibility. You are going to understand that you have greater obligations than merely contemplating your own self, that the world is larger than Greenpoint, and that it’s your right, even your duty, to stand up to anyone who treats you abysmally. You are going to get serious. It’s much less fun. It’s hardly the stuff HBO shows are made of. But—and read the Hagaddah if you don’t believe me—it makes for a much better story in the very long run.

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isabel says:

thanks for the insightful article. i just viewed tiny furniture, having no idea what the film was about, and was dismayed by the protagonists apathy and childishness. the film was almost unbearable to watch.

anna says:

Wonderfully written piece. Much appreciated.

Poor babies. I graduated college in 1976 with a liberal arts degree during a recession and was too busy making a living to whine about my life. Definitely will give this one a miss.

verificationist says:

Interesting that your women commenters are appreciative, but this male is about to object. Liel, are you sure that Dunham is doing this with a straight face, ie as a declaration that among women’s new freedoms is now the alt-neu freedom to be used and be okay with it? (Sort of like those same Russians, for whom democracy necessarily means a drastically diminished culture.)

I’m not saying the opposite — I don’t know — but the quotes you cite from her don’t disprove it, necessarily. My other point is: Beware “responsibility” in art. I mean, you know this. I’m not saying the show should be left as is — it sounds morally horrendous, indeed — but, brainstorming very broadly, even a more “responsible” show must begin from a place like this, because it says something true about who women (and young people) are today. Freer, but more aimless; self-centered, because they are young but also because of the self-presentation platforms the culture has given them and they themselves have created; wealthier but without dignity; the inadvertent victims of their parents’ success, because it was had for them, and it takes a profound moral depth to try hard when you don’t have to.

A lot of women are nothing like the women in Girls (or what Girls sounds like from your telling; I haven’t seen it). But a lot of women (still?) are.

And it is a tremendous creative challenge to do something “responsible” but still artful considering how uncertain the ground beneath us is in terms of gender today. The sad thing might be that HBO didn’t demand it of Dunham.

As a man, I think I can imagine what it’s like to struggle in relationships with women, finding a better job and having distractions in life.

How does gender make this any different.

The show, Girls, sound like some whinging-centric show that’s out of touch and out of balance. I certainly hope it matures into ‘Girls and Boys’ where both genders’ struggles in life and relationships are told from both sides of the gender pool.

I’ll check it out but I’m thinking it’s likely to bomb.

Tamara Faith Berger says:

She seems brave to me and she’s making a living as an artist. I don’t understand why you want her to read the Haggadah for better storylines. Also, your paragraph about tattoos, submission and muslim women is pretty slippery itself. Nevertheless, thanks for your article. I enjoy the boldness and all the gaps that leave me space to disagree.

The first article of yours I’ve read, and one of the best pieces of journalism I’ve read lately. Nice work!

marcella wachtel says:

What does “no one has any sense of agency or urgency or dignity or grace.” this mean, exactly? and what is ‘forbidding from? (As in the sentence that includes this sequence: ” having forbidden both rich and poor from sleeping under bridges,etc. “?) Too many efforts at ‘original’ turns of phrases spoils this piece.

JEReich says:

Do you even realize what a objectifying bigot you sound like? Especially this sentence: “She’s not that different from the fundamentalist Muslim women who insist that covering themselves from head to toes gives them a sense of empowerment; it’s a slippery logic that leads further into benighted realms that women and men had fought bitterly and bravely to defeat.” This reeks of colonialism and discrimination. Who are you to dictate what a “sense of female empowerment” is? This sentiment runs among throughout the entire review.

Nicole says:

Brilliant review. Anything I would write beyond this would just be a long confirmation of what you’ve written and add nothing new, because nothing has to be added.

Bianca says:

Go Liel!

(And well written too.)

Please says:

Dunham’s work reminds me of the old MTV cartoon Daria. The show was a comment on the ridiculousness and sadness of real life. Rarely did it approve of the “reality” it was depicting. And yet, there was humor, humanity, and sincerity in spots, surprising and welcome, much as in life itself. “Girls” happens to focus on the lives of women in their mid-20s, ridiculous and sad in countless ways, a show that IMO has been long overdue. You shouldn’t fault it for being real rather than your version of “ideal.”

mike says:

It’s amazing how you people can look at something and come away with such a 180 degrees backward view of reality. Narcissistic, frivolous crap like this is entirely the RESULT of women’s “empowerment”.

You want to know why women earn less than men? It’s not some shadowy conspiratorial “patriarchy”, it’s this. You give a woman a camera and she will point it directly at her own navel. This translates to every other field as well.

I can’t imagine what kind of dickless effeminate queer would write something like this. You are an embarrassment to the human race, Leibovitz.

Thank you for your review. I have not seen the show, nor do I intend to. I am disgusted with the level of entertainment on television and this sounds like more of the same. Women are their own worst enemies, how can we get past being objectified if we glory in it and use it whenever we can. I am disgusted with the role models for our young women and frightened at the level of indecency that parades as entertainment. Thank you for letting me vent.

Laura Dean says:

I doubt the reality portrayed in the show is anything that Dunham feels is ideal. I was so disturbed by the way you equated Dunham’s character to her actual person. The point of responsible entertainment is to point out problems in contemporary society, and this piece of backlash shows that it did just that.

Equality is not presenting men and women side-by-side. Men have been presented as stars and protagonists and winners for years. If men want to watch television that reflects their problems, tune into the hundreds of shows created, starring, or produced by men. Even if this show was as irresponsible as you think it to be, at least it’s controlled by women. If you look at how much praise this show has gotten, then it’s obvious that this is what women want to watch.

But I’m just a 20-something girl with a liberal arts degree, so I guess you just needed to point out how wrong I am, since you seem to think our opinion doesn’t matter. Or maybe you just think I’m stupid and whiny. I would talk more about it, but I have to create artwork that only reflects my own personality, like a porn star, because I’m incapable of doing anything else.

dhorowitz10 says:

If Leibowitz thinks that women actually earn 77 cents on man’s dollar –
a myth long discredited in numerous studies reported on  conservative
websites leftists can’t be bothered to read — he should explain why a
shrewd capitalist wouldn’t fire all his male employees, hire women and
increase his profits by 23%.

Jesse Mazer says:

“Like actresses in pornographic films, they play mostly themselves, or some very thinly veiled variations thereon. There’s really very little else they know how to do.”

Well, there are plenty of male artists who specialize in comedic warts-and-all portrayals of themselves as deeply flawed human beings–think Larry David (as himself or that thinly-veiled version of himself, George Costanza), Louis C.K., Woody Allen in some of his more interesting and less loveable alter egos (Deconstructing Harry for example), or even autobiographical cartoonists like Robert Crumb and Harvey Pekar. Would you compare them to actors in pornographic films because they mostly portray themselves, or is it only bad when women do it?

“Instead, I found myself asking what the hell was wrong with Dunham. As the show’s creator, she had the power to make of Hannah whatever she wanted, and what she wanted was to show her heroine—herself—objectified and exposed.”

Again, plenty of male artists like some of the ones above feature unflattering scenes of themselves naked and exposed (physically or emotionally), would you make the same complaint. And “power to make of Hannah whatever she wanted”–do you think she should have made her a noble virtuous role model? I’m sure you understand that if Larry David or Louis C.K. portrayed themselves that way it would completely ruin the comedy of their own shows, but you seem to have some kind of mental block when it comes to a smart young female comedian doing the same thing.

nevilleross says:

Why not try to understand what said ‘myth’ (which it is not) is instead of pulling out your butt-hurt and offended angry privileged white man who-can’t-stand-to-hear-the-truth card?

nevilleross says:

Ever thought of seeing the reruns of  this sci-fi show?

Gnocchi86 says:

Thank you. I have to say that I was so incredibly moved by the article because you so succinctly summed up not only what was wrong with the show Girls, but with modern, blog-style feminism in general.  As a 26 year old woman with a degree from a prestigious college and living in New York, a show like Girls is supposed to appeal to my target demographic.  And yet it does not. It does not because: I am a woman of color, and I face struggles that you so eloquently speak of daily and on a very real basis, to be taken seriously by a white, male-dominated world.  I went to college on scholarships and had no choice but to work and be self sufficient long before I turned 26. My peers are the same way: remarkable women that are pursuing law degrees, business degrees, and making a difference in the workplace while facing the steep slope of being first generation college graduate in their family.  Perhaps the point of these characters is lost on us; after all, the Show is named Girls, but we’ve long considered ourselves to be women. 

nevilleross says:

All of that said, why don’t you change careers, become a writer of television and movies, and then dazzle all of us with your brilliant TV show/movie on being a twentysomethging woman of color living in New York in the early 21st century?

Warren Hoffman says:

Haven’t seen the show, but taking gender out of it for a moment, it seems like just another show in which privileged white New Yorkers complain about their “sad sorry lives.”  Sure, finding a job might be hard, but this generation complains as they text away their expensive iphones and pay $15 for a martini.  Yes, it’s a terrible, terrible life you lead.
 (On the other hand, maybe the show’s a satire and we just don’t know it . . . )

Thea Krizmanich says:

Thank you for writing this! I cringed through the pilot last night and was very disappointed to see that in the sea of positive reviews, no one seemed to think that maybe the show is a terrifying mutation of what twenty-somethings should be striving to become. I was utterly grossed out by Lena Dunham’s pathetic, unappealing character, the rotting odor of entitlement, and the repugnant displays of self-destructive behaviors and relationships. I think you may be right when you say that these characters are thinly veiled versions of their own confused and vapid selves (art imitates life, right?), and it gives an embarrassing and damaging spin on the twenty-somethings of today. I am happy to have found this as I was dismayed by the absence of critical and realistic responses to the show.

Yacha says:

I absolutely took the first episode as tongue-in-cheek with Dunham the director fully understanding how aimless and sad the lives of her characters are. It was frustrating to watch, but it’s also a reflection in art of this type of life, which does exist, and I think the show conveys the sentiments and the world of the characters very well. The viewer might not like the characters or agree with the choices they make, but I think the show still draws you in enough to start caring for them in some way. It was funny in its ridiculousness, but this review makes it seem as if the show and its director was completely earnest. 

Arn_Thor says:

The exact same critique that was leveled against SATC. The despair for our time, the hopelessness (or stupidity and frivolous lifestyle) of this generation. The moral indignation about sexual habits. And let’s not forget personal attacks on the star herself.
The author even manages to compare the very real frustrations of _every_ generation growing up at _any_ point in history with fundamentalist islam, not to mention throwing in a patriotic punchline about “real” freedom.
Way to miss the mark whilst not getting the point or indeed understanding the core concept. 

katherinequinby1 says:


WOW, you sound like an egotistical prick. I felt
this sentiment many times throughout your article, and I feel I should tell
you, based on what I can only assume to be a pitiful conclusion about a
“desire for equality” among genders, that I did check myself several
times while reading your article to ask myself “am I only judging this
article so harshly because a man wrote it?” the answer is a confident no. I’m
a bitch, I’ll be the first to admit it, (and I chose that label for myself,
“society” did not choose it for me) and when I dislike or disagree
with opinions they last thing I consider is whether or not the person in
question has a dick or a cunt.  

First of all, I’m a young 20 something in NYC and let me tell you some things
about sex in that demographic: (and don’t say, “oh you poor thing, you
just haven’t found the right person”) it is EXACTLY how Dunham portrays
it. It’s awkward, not that hot, the guys lift dialogue and sex acts from
streaming pornography and us ladies try desperately to turn them on with
porn-like moans and sexual acrobatic attempts.

The emotional side effects of sex for a young twenty something. Sex is a
currency. When you fuck someone, you want something, especially if you’re a woman.
That scene, later in the series, where Dunham shows up at her fuck buddy’s door
and says she doesn’t want a relationship, just someone to care about her and
call her, etc (basically, everything that a boyfriend does, without a label)
also goes down a lot. And if you think “Girls” is bad for girls, WOW is
it bad for boys too. Because how guys are portrayed in that show is pretty
accurate too: the over-loving, clingy boyfriend who acts that way because he
thinks all women only want tender, passionate, exhaustive
“lovemaking.” the gay ex (we’ve all got one, at least.) the guy that
we think we can convince to care about us, but who is really, not at all, worth
our time, and is not “confused” but really just a jerk who wants us
to be his sex slave sans shades of grey contracts. (Which, by the way, thanks
for stomping on sex positivity. It always baffles me when guys do that, and yet
still continue to text us dick pics.)  When
young people have sex today, they are, especially women, looking for something.
Rides, emotional support, physical attraction, a relationship, and a number
notch in the bedpost, bragging rights, to fuck a redhead/poet/guitar
player/banker. The show, I feel, explains this well. It’s brave to explore this
dynamic, and difficult for many of us to confront the often disappointing
realities of our lives.

Really, “Girls” isn’t about gender, it’s about the issues of
navigating our generation and the consequences of being the first raised on the
Internet. 

This article is so right on I may just burst into tears. I thought that I’d fallen down the rabbit hole with all these women and critics so quick to praise this boderline misogynistic trainwreck of a show. Bravah.

Oh come on man – really you’re going to write that scathing review on the basis of the first 3 episodes alone? If you’d watched the rest of the season you might have realized that yes, most of your criticisms (of the world she portrays, not of Dunham as an artist) are on point, but that’s only the starting place! Their lives aren’t glorified. They’re revealed as vapid and self-serving and lost. Dunham starts where she does because for a large (though by no means all-incompassing) segment of the current generation, that’s where we are! Caught between a feeling of helplessness and a feeling of entitlement. It’s not pretty, it’s not ideal, but it’s true. And pretending it’s not true isn’t going to help us gain the self awareness to pull ourselves out of it. Girls isn’t meant as a morality tale, it’s a mirror up to nature, and given the state of nature that currently exists, I think that’s a pretty good place to start.

Watch the rest of the season and think about whether you still feel the same.
I don’t think you gave it enough of a chance.

“She’s not that different from the fundamentalist Muslim women who insist that covering themselves from head to toes gives them a sense of empowerment…”

Dude why didn’t you just become a propagandist for the war in Afghanistan? This is such a regressive George Bush-era thing to say. Are you a 70-year old white-haired male defense contractor executive? Postcolonialism is pretty fucking old at this point; there’s really no excuse for not knowing about it.

SoManyThings says:

I’ll admit it. Not even having seen more than a few clips of it I could already tell that the premise you describe was at play, and long overdue…

lielsucks says:

You’re an idiot.

Mark Jackson says:

There’s a long tradition of older people thinking they know more than younger people, and younger people resenting them for it.

herbcaen says:

yawn

mayacb says:

Please watch more than three episodes of the first season of a show before writing a critical essay. Although I felt as you do I gave the show more time and it improved. I am the mother’s age and watching girls my daughter’s age is a bit weird, but enlightening. I also think it is difficult to surpase very successful parents–in every generation.

I don’t think the comparison is a good one. Daria was clearly satire, while Girls lacks self-awareness to make any sort of commentary.

because a white, male dominated world will not watch a show about colored females in NYC

disqus_pzon3TClSe says:

I work in the field of personal counselling at a college in Toronto, and many of the issues in Girls, come up in real life: desire to be seen, heard, accepted; anxiety of the job market, confusion. But we cannot simply blame a generation for its attributes. I think we also have to look at the generation (meaning: me, I am a father in my 40s) who helped birth this generation. We fed a culture of over-protection, of endless market choices and limitless and destructive capitalism, and this generation is partly just trying to find it’s way in the wake of our world, parenting and culture. There are elements to this show that are affirming: a openness to sexuality, characters who engage in self-criticism (we need to be able to laugh at ourselves), showing bodies that are not the dominant model body stereo-type. And it’s refreshing to see men appear ridiculous for once. Lena is talented, and she’s holding up a mirror to the world she sees. It’s is painful and funny and I hope she keeps doing it for a long time.

brynababy says:

This is a terrible article in its’s demand that Dunham should be more responsible. She can do anything she wants to do that the network allows. But it happens that the show is ugly and hopeless and a horror to watch. That’s why I will watch no more. What’s sad to me is that there are apparently so many, many people that think it’s great. Yehhh.

ritadona says:

Thank you.

I really don’t know what’s wrong with you. A show is made for entertainment, not for your own pleasure. If you like it, great! If you don’t move along… A new series on HBO doesn’t give you license to be a hyper-critical a-hole. I watched the show, I didn’t like it either. Doesn’t mean I have to write an article point by point explaining why I don’t like each part of that point. Just because the women in that particular show are not as independent-minded as you’d like them to be doesn’t mean you have to be an a$$ to the person who created it. You lost me at the second paragraph because of your lack of ability to realize what you’re talking about really doesn’t matter to most people. If you wish to reach a larger audience…..I suggest less nagging/rambling and more constructive criticism. (of which, I have seen none.)
There’s your constructive criticism. Try it out. It might work better for you in the long run.

star2222 says:

I think this review of “Girls” assumes too much about the intention behind Lena Dunham’s writing and acting. I think Lena, being the young writer/director she is, is aware enough to know that the characters she is showcasing in “Girls” have anunderserved sense of entitlement, are yet to learn true responsibility and focus, and are lost at times and still finding themselves. This is why “Girls” is refreshingly different. It’s not always what we want to see, it sometimes makes us squirm, but it is real in some ways. It may not be ideal, and sometimes even not relatable, but I am willing to bet there are people out there like those “girls”. I watch it and acknowledge that the characters are often not people I admire, but they are people in whom I see insecurities, as well as opinions and habits that reflect the current generation and decade. As others have said, I doubt people would be criticizing Lena’s raunchier scenes as humiliating or degrading if she were a man.

” “I say I’m not a political person,” she told a magazine reporter last month, speaking of the abundance of nudity in her work, “but it’s a political statement in a way. I know it’s going to gross some people out. There’s people who don’t want to see bodies like mine or bodies like their own bodies.”

This a conception of politics I find utterly dispiriting. To argue that there’s merit in awarding full-bodied as well as waifish women the right to be objectified and abused on camera is akin to Anatole France’s famous quip about the law, in its majesty, having forbidden both rich and poor from sleeping under bridges, begging in the streets, and stealing bread. ”

Maybe it is objectification, but if so, then I’m assuming that means all other objectification on tv shows by women is equally objectionable? I found myself irked by those scenes as well, but had to check myself and realized maybe I did have a double standard.
Finally, I’ll say that I actually say all of this as someone who is undecided on whether I actually like the show. I do have to admit that it is at times boring and uninspiring and I am a bit worried if Dunham’s intention is for these characters to be seen as role models.

nevilleross says:

Bullcrap, says I.

Blythe Lewis says:

Nah man, you really don’t get it. I may like this show but I completely hate every character on it. Every girl on this show is pretty awful, and while I find aspects of them relatable, they are only aspects that I find deplorable and try to avoid in my own character. I use them as examples of what not to do.

IsaiahTaylor says:

Yeah, Girlfriends was on television for how long and how many people watched it? Yeah. okay.

nevilleross says:

Even better, there was a show called Living Single that was on a while, and better than Girlfriends.

But you had to write something here, didn’t you? Hypocrite.

Danielle says:

I disagree with this article from beginning to end. I believe you are far to caught up in Lena Dunham’s person life and have completely missed the point of the show. This show is not meant to change Washington and the viewers are well aware of this. I sincerely hope the author of this article realizes that and gives the women of this country more credit than he did in this article.

Thank you. I find ‘Girls’ infuriating. I watched the first two episodes last night and felt physically ill. Needless to say I was hoping for a lot more from a show that is being touted as a realistic and insightful look at my generation. I really wish that people with so much privilege would get out from under their self-indulgent pain and go out and make the world better. I wish the show was talking about all of the good things that are happening in the world because of people who are not like those ‘girls’ and are taking action to address the many real problems we face as a global community. Women and girls can be leaders, strong, eloquent, kind and forces for good in the world. This show seems to just encourage rich white girls to whine and it makes me want to slap them all in the face and say “wake up, get off your butt and get to work…you will find it a lot more rewarding.”

katie says:

Though I completely understand your point of view, I can’t help but view it as naive. The moment I began watching the show it was clear that Hannah was misguided and insecure. This is how her character is written. I never once interpreted her violent and strange encounters with Adam as a plea for sympathy. Any level headed adult (or not) should be aware that these situations are not normal and that both Hannah and Adam have deeper issues at hand, which shows throughout season 2 especially. If someone honestly believes that all the strange and mentally unstable actions that are carried out by the main characters are acceptable and a mirror of how you should act, then that is a problem that is unique to that viewer.

In short what I am trying to say is that Girls does not work to serve as a moral show or an example for what women should feel or be like after they enter the real world. It is a niche show for those who understand the Brooklyn city life and enjoy watching the odd and sometimes painful struggles these characters undergo.

ps. for example when Hannah gets behind on her writing and calls her father for help, he refuses and she wallows in pain for the rest of the day eating cool whip, avoiding her friends, and cleaning her ear out. This just causes me to think she is an idiot, quite frankly. It by not means gives me the desire to drop everything and crack open a tub of whipped cream. Anyway, if anything I get the idea that I want to be nothing like any of these characters when I watch, nonetheless it is still very interesting to watch them be reckless and stupid!

katie says:

Just because art imitates life it does not mean that it imitates Lena Dunham’s (or anyone else on that show’s) life. That’s a rash assumption don’t you think? Have you met Lena Dunham or talked to her? Probably not.

Joshua says:

Great article. Though I have never heard a “fundamentalist” muslim woman say they wear the hijab because it’s empowering.

guest says:

I found myself nodding along and saying “finally! yes!” to almost everything written here. And then I get to the end and look at the name and realize that I took one of your classes at NYU. Weird.

euromarla says:

how gratifying and inspirational to read such an intelligent analysis. I tried to watch girls a couple of times but it just made me depressed and shocked at the mind state of the early 21st century.

I travel regularly in the developing world where people can’t afford prozac, still have some moral compass and seem to feel so much happier.

My moral compass – which skews liberal and dutch-scando – has brought me a lot of happiness… and incredibly high self esteem despite my abundance of estrogen…

girls can rock – but they should rock on their own terms and for the right reasons… all the girls in girls and sex in the city need some schooling in the concept to truly be inspirational…

m

euromarla says:

how gratifying and inspirational to read such an intelligent analysis. I tried to watch girls a couple of times but it just made me depressed and shocked at the mind state of the early 21st century.

I travel regularly in the developing world where people can’t afford prozac, still have some moral compass and seem to feel so much happier.

My moral compass – which skews liberal and dutch-scando – has brought me a lot of happiness… and incredibly high self esteem despite my abundance of estrogen…

girls can rock – but they should rock on their own terms and for the right reasons… all the girls in girls and sex in the city need some schooling in the concept to truly be inspirational…

This is the first piece written on Girls that I genuinely agreed with. When I first watched 2 of the episodes, I didn’t like the show and discontinued watching it. However, I became royally pissed off when mainstream media started publicizing it as The Current Show representing 21st Century Women and Feminism. “Girls” representing all 21st Century women in America??! Hell to the no! That is insulting on so many levels. First of all, 4 white girls living in New York can in no way represent a whole country of women. Also, the only feminism in Girls is Cosmo feminism. Sure, Cosmo Feminism (where liberation = prancing around naked) is an aspect of feminism, but some of us deal with more serious issues (such as trying to establish a career with an actually useful BSc degree, and still dealing with biases.) People need to stop forcing Girls down the throats of the female entertainment audience.

How about you stepping out of your gender/religion before writing such strong words, or at least trying to see life through Dunham’s eyes for a second? Despite your strong points about the progress women have made to create opportunities for themselves, it would be, in fact, MEDIEVAL to listen to the opinion or advice of a male who backs himself up to women by appealing to, of all things, the Torah, a highly processed, historically overly-regurgitated, plurally translated text written by a bunch of men seeking their own glory by claiming their words to be “divinely inspired”. Meanwhile, women were not allowed to read or write, were expected only to marry, clean, and bear children, and let’s not forget what the Torah encourages in discrimination by claiming some races to be superior to others, and talking down to gays. I am not saying your heart is in the wrong place, Levi, but I think you must be terribly misinformed and lacking direct experience of anything women have gone through to get to where they are today, if you think you can define right and wrong for women based on an obviously very narrow, religiously-based view of what is good for women or feminism. Citing Muslim women’s dress as a form of their empowerment is also highly misinformed and insensitive to the struggles women have endured at the hand of patriarchally-driven traditionalist religious systems; women do bear some responsiblity in not breaking away, but it is precisely because they are *not* empowered that they won’t, or the even more complicated beast that is love of one’s mate. Dunham is, contrary to what you state, not trying to make people “feel sorry for” her by exposing her naked body and having sex on-screen; and if the only emotion evoked in you is pity, then you miss the point of the show. It is precisely because of her liberation and comfort with her body–which she cannot choose–and the role she seeks to play in relationships –which she does choose–that a balance is struck.

Tirza says:

I was interested in your article, until there was the awful islamophobia and sexism. Wait, but you thought you were making a feminist statement? Check again. I am stating the obvious here, but I, a woman, do not need you, a man, to tell me what is empowering to me and what isn’t.

“…she explains that she got her tattoos because she needed to feel in control of her body again after putting on weight.” (Paraphrase)

I take it that going on a diet was not an option?

Well, I guess in this instance, freedom really is just another word for nothing left to lose.

I am in the target demographic, and I refuse to watch this blighted garbage. Just hearing it mentioned makes me want to tear out my hair.

And to the person who compared this show to “Daria,” you made my jaw drop.

Daria was a smart, self-determined, witty, substantial protagonist whose beyond-her-years wisdom and skepticism kept her out of many a stupid situation and who knew that there was a world beyond herself. Mediocrity was presented as an unfortunate everyday tragedy, not something normative. To top it off, there were actually black characters on the show.

This is more like the kind of show Quinn would come up with if she didn’t look that great.

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