I just watched the first two episodes of the new HBO series, Girls.
First off, I acknowledge that any show featuring a main character who is a 24 year-old publishing intern with a major in English Lit, currently writing her memoirs in essay format and having a casual sex thing with an actor is … already hitting scarily close to home.
There’s also been a lot of backlash against this show (which I, obviously, have to work hard not to take as backlash against my life personally.) A lot of it, despite being wrapped up in palatable words like “shallow” and “unnecessary,” still reeks of my favourite flavour: MISOGYNY!
Honestly, I’m not going to even address the RARRR-GIRLS-DOING-THINGS-NO-ONE-WANTS-TO-SEE-THAT bullshit, except to say that it is getting tiresome wading through the same old thinly-veiled “arguments” any time a woman makes something about and/or for women. That said, some of the backlash is totally legitimate, such as the almost total absence of characters of colour except in incidental, stereotyped background roles. I hope this is something Lena Dunham et al take into account when introducing new characters.
Apart from that, I enjoyed my viewing experience immensely and apart from the aforementioned creepy parallels, here are some things I really relate to:
1. A lead actress who looks like she wears an average dress size and is not afraid to appear on camera looking scruffy, mostly naked or without excessive make-up. More crucially, the fact that the main character’s appearance is a deviation from TV-normal is not the main point of the show, as in something like Ugly Betty. I would like to see more bodies like Lena Dunham’s on my television, please and thank you.
2. A lead character who is actually weird and awkward. Not weird as in Manic Pixie Dream Girl who giggles too much and not weird as in quirky tomboy who makes all the boys uncomfortable with penis jokes. Not awkward as in the shy-wallflower-bookworm or as in the driven nerdy girl who is just so driven and smart that her social skills are adorably underdeveloped. A genuinely weird girl, who is kind of a motormouth and puts her foot in it and has inappropriate responses to situations, but is also smart and semi-capable and distinctly NOT floating around in an ethereal stupor blinking innocently at everyone because she doesn’t understand why she isn’t allowed dance in a fountain dressed only in cherry blossoms and whimsy.
3. Sex is a lot of fun, but usually involves some measure of awkwardness, either before, after or during. Girls enjoy sex, but not because they hit screaming orgasms like clockwork every single time. Most girls don’t orgasm every time and many find it quite difficult to actually climax, but would still enjoy doing sex more than most other things at any given moment during the day. The myth of girls wildly climaxing after a few minutes of being bucked around on a giant dick doesn’t seem like it’s going to be perpetuated by this show, and I appreciate that.
4. Lady friendships exist, and more often than not do not exist in the context of cocktails and shoe shopping. According to Girls, they most frequently exist in the bathroom, which is not wholly in line with my experience, but I’ll let it slide for now. The point is that lady friendships are an important and solid thing. All too often, women are portrayed as too bitchy and insecure to form proper friendships with each other. All too often, female friendships are as flimsy as the tiny paper umbrella in the cocktail they rest upon. All too often, they are easily brushed aside in favour of A Man. This is absolutely not my experience. For most of us, lady friends are our most important support network outside of family and we couldn’t get by without each other. I mean, without lady friends, who would we talk to about…
5. Periods. Period exist. They are things that happen once a month. They are frequently inconvenient and sometimes painful, but they are not gross or mysterious. I ALSO NEVER QUITE KNOW WHEN MY PERIOD IS COMING, LENA. I ALSO HAVE THE UNDERWEAR WITH THE WEIRD STAINS.
And now that I’ve got that out of my system.
A lot of the people who are angry about Girls seem to be angry about the entire premise of the show. The main character is an intern living a comfortable hipster life in New York on her parents’ dime. Some people seem genuinely enraged at the idea that a fictional middle-class 20-something aspiring writer could have problems or conflicts that are worthy of a TV show. You’re already dipping your toe into hypocritical waters if this is the basis of your criticism. (Unless you literally only watch very serious and educational documentaries about important world issues, in which case, I guess you get a pass.) Most TV is unabashedly shallow, mindless entertainment for and about people who have nothing even resembling real problems. So why the hell is Girls being singled out as indulgent and unrealistic?
Especially since I would also argue that Girls is not entirely mindless lady-fluff. Girls is painfully self-conscious. When Hannah turns up at her parents’ hotel room and proclaims that she is the voice of her generation and asks them to give her $1100 a month for the next two years so she can finish her book, that shit is hard to watch. It’s definitely not supposed to endear us to her character. That scene is a wry and hard-hitting comment on a privileged generation. We were raised to shoot for the stars and to believe that we are entitled to an unprecedented level of job satisfaction, while also paying our rent and drinking craft beers on the weekend. So we pissed around in university, studiously avoided acquiring any actual skills and now we can’t understand why no one want to pay us to tweet and read scripts all day. That’s the story of Hannah Horvath, and it’s by no means an unique one.
No mistake, Hannah is spoiled, entitled and delusional and so are her friends, to a greater or lesser extent. Girls acknowledges this, upfront and unflinchingly. I am an intern living in a big city with substantial financial aid from my parents while I try to figure out which career would make me the happiest. I know exactly how lucky and I have very little to complain about.
I’m going to hazard a guess that if you have the time and means to watch a show like Girls and the energy to expend forming angry opinions about it, which you then plaster all over the Internet, then you also have nothing to complain about. If you have ever bought a coffee while out and about, if you have a Netflix account, fancy cheese in the fridge, a few nice pairs of shoes, a smartphone, a tattoo or a record collection, you also have a level of privilege that the majority of people in this world will never experience. What’s more, you probably bitch just as much as the next person, about your job, your sex life, your bank account.
But you know what? That’s fine. I even believe there is room for a timely, observant and well-written TV show about this.
The first two episodes have definitely made me more self-aware. They have made me go, “Holy crap, I hope I’m not that selfish/flaky/obnoxious!” They have also made me go, “Wow, this is a really apt and witty portrayal of my many feelings and interactions with other humans.” Sometimes it made me cringe right out of my skin, other times it made me clap my hands and yell “THAT!” (See point 5 above.) Dunham has a blunt self-effacing honesty and a real handle on the ridiculous bundle of contradictions that is being a recent college grad trying to figure out what the hell happens next. There is a baseline of sensitivity and affection for these girls, but I feel like our patience with them is going to be tested quite thoroughly. So I’m going to keep my eye on it. And hopefully find out what happens to me after my internship ends.
At the end of the day, at least Girls isn’t trying to pretend that it’s possible to live in New York with a designer shoe fetish and expensive cocktail addiction on the income from a single weekly column.
This post originally appeared on my old blog, deathofthenewgods.tumblr.com, and has been backdated to reflect this. Some minor edits have also been made.