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Girls is Feminist—Whether You Like It or Not
Lena Dunham’s and her much-loved hit Girls certainly doesn’t need yet another blogger vocalizing their opinion on whether the show is a triumph or a travesty. However, after fellow Luna Luna Lady, Anne (L cubed?) discussed why the show isn’t exactly the epitome of perfect feminism (she brought on some valid points), I wanted to reroute the focus and talk about a few of Anne’s eight feminist ideals.
1) Female Solidarity
2) Girl Power
3) Body Acceptance
4) Sexual Liberation
6) Broad Expression of Acceptable Female Identities
7) An Awareness of Issues Outside Oneself
8) A Consideration of Common Sexist Attitudes Against Women
The show failed. Hannah and Marnie’s main story arc has pitted them against one another through cattiness and the actual process of trying to determine who in the relationship is the bad friend. All four main characters are extremely egocentric. The show hardly features any characters that aren’t white and it takes place in one of the most diverse cities in the world. AND the girls—and I’m calling them this because the show is painfully self-aware in making sure you are in on the joke that they are 20-something GIRLS and not women—are all basically four female stereotypes that almost read like a Buzzfeed or Thought Catalogue piece like "The Four Girls in Every Group of Friends.” It’s more or less a demented and twisted version of the four girlfriends in a rom com.
This does not make it an antifeminist show. It may not be a beacon of anything aside from body positivity, but it is not actively opposing the movement; it’s expanding the discussion, particularly in terms of how women are portrayed in and participate in the media.
In a media landscape dominated by acclaimed anti-heros (Draper, White, and Soprano) anti-heroines are underrepresented but insanely important. An argument against this point, one I’ve made time and time again, is that the aforementioned men had something about them that made it irresistible for most audiences to root for them. We knew Tony is a killer but we want him to come out on top. Walt becomes a monster but we still want him to squash his enemies and have the last word. Don’s probably the worst father ever but we want him to win over every client and make Pete Cambell’s life just a little shittier while he’s at it.
But what about the Girls? Do we want Hannah to score a book deal or are we enjoying watching her flail and fail because she’s too caught up in her own head to even function in a professional setting? Do we want Jessa to sober up and be happy or do we just want to see her spiral out and end up in rehab again? (I do, those scenes were great and I HATE her character). Do we want Marnie to be successful or are we enjoying her delusions a little too much? Do we want Shoshannah to become a person? Maybe, maybe not. If you’re still watching the show and enjoying it, does it matter if you’re rooting for or against them? You’ll still watch it. But where does that leave you? What does that do for female characters in the media?
It opens them up to being more than just a pretty face and more than just the bubbly side character who’s more of a plot device with a flat personality.
Other anti-heroines of note that you may actually be rooting for include Olivia Pope (Scandal), Selina Meyer (VEEP), Chloe (Don’t Trust the B…), Juliette Barns (Nashville), and Fiona Goode (AHS: Coven). Some you may have heard them referred to as such. The discussion-up until recently-was and still mostly is male dominated. However, Lena is due some props for adding four females to the scene.
Fuck Obligation, She Writes What She Wants
The list itself in Anne’s piece makes good points for ways a show can help a movement. But does that mean a show about girls/women must be all of those things to be considered a part of the movement? I wrote about writing anxieties back in November—particularly regarding whether or not I needed to include feminist ideals into my main characters or make sure enough of them were female. I ran through so many worries making sure that my story was feminist enough that I ended up scrapping my entire story and not finishing anything. A writer, regardless of their gender, should be allowed to write the story they want to write. If feminism is about women being strong and making the choices they want to make and being equal on all grounds, then women should be given this right. Lena has taken this right and has the right people supporting her in order to pull it off. You can like or not like their stories, but that doesn’t mean they have to write what you want them to write.
I believe that a story has a power all its own. This story becomes its own whole thing and while the writer can control it, the writer also knows when a plot direction or character action feels natural versus forced. The audience knows when things are forced, though they usually doesn’t even notice when it’s natural because that’s the story they get immersed in. While I would love to see at least one of the girls get a little self-actualized, if it’s not done right, it’ll go all wrong.
Not All Girls Will Be Friends
Female solidarity is an important, albeit a hotly debated and discussed point for the feminist movement. In a TV show it can be nice to see female friends supporting each-other in healthy friendships.
But Girls is not about healthy friendships. The friendships in this show from the very beginning have been problematic at best, but that’s sort of the point. They say people’s entire group of friends shifts dramatically in their 20s. The friendships that seemed strong when you were between the ages 18 to 21 may have seemed unbreakable but things change, people grow apart, and sometimes people start seeing things that were always there but were completely invisible until they started to grow up. This is a fact for PEOPLE and I like seeing it happen to a group of girlfriends. Not all bonds are like those in Sex in the City. People can be terrible to one another, even when they call each other friends. Basically, it’s going through those motions and hitting those realizations that are part of the growing process.
(Well, it’s true.)
The point of Girls is that they aren’t done growing. This is a trend that’s started seeping into more of the indie scene. What was once dominated by men in arrested development is now being dominated by women. The man-child is meeting the woman-child. I want to see female characters grow into their own and become functional adults, but I can’t say there is no reality in the pitfalls of failing at achieving adulthood status, whatever that even means anymore.
I am in no way arguing that Girls is a perfect show. I find the characters to be annoying, whiny, privileged little assholes…but maybe that’s the point. That’s fine, I don’t need to watch the show. This does not discount its objectives. While it is whitewashed and occasionally problematic for other reasons (see poster for reference), the show has brought female representation in the media to the foreground in a way that no other show has in a long time. For that, I tip my hat to Lena. I’ll give her credit, but it doesn’t mean I have to enjoy it.
***This piece first appeared in Luna Luna Mag and was republished here with permission. ***
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