Gripes On Girls | Redbrick | University of Birmingham

Gripes On Girls

TV Critic Morgan Williams gives us an alternative perspective as to why the critically-acclaimed Girls might not be as good as it seems

Before we get started yes, I am a woman and yes, I am white. Also yes, when Girls first came out I was sort of smitten with it. 2012 was a different time. A darker time.

I am aware that on paper, this show is basically meant for me. A bunch of millennial white girls struggling to hold down jobs, to live meaningful lives. But over time I grew a contempt for this show, and the driving force behind it, Lena Dunham herself. I have often wondered what spawned the complete 180 flip in my opinion - what converted my love for Girls so seamlessly into hate?

To answer this question, I delved again into the timeless tradition of the television binge.

The first thing I noticed about my binge watch of Girls was how little anybody of our generation really knew about this show
The first thing I noticed about my binge watch of Girls was how little anybody of our generation really knew about this show. I watched it in the living room of my student house, which my housemates would inevitably wonder in and out of. Each time they walked in (predictably on one of the more awkward sex scenes) they would always ask me:

"What the fuck are you watching?"

And I would tell them: Girls.

Nobody had even heard of this show, despite its (sadly) large cultural impact. So what is Girls, really?

Well, it’s a show about four girls living in New York City. But instead of the glamourous lifestyle of the Sex and the City gals, they get high a lot more and have lots of unglamourous sex. Although a more accurate description of Girls would be Lena Dunham’s mastabatory passion project that shot her to fame and unfortunately, has kept her there. Judging from my housemates’ general bafflement at this show, it makes me wonder if anybody but critics have been watching this show for the past five years. It consistently scores 70% plus on rotten tomatoes. But why?

What exactly did I find so amazing about the show when I watched it for the first time in 2012? I think I might’ve been so starved for (semi)realistic depictions of women. Here they were,  just living their gritty lives in a version of New York City I’d never seen before. The world back then to me felt real, huge and uncaring. And here were these girls, struggling through the same world I perceived. One that didn’t care. The sex scenes too, were refreshing. It was a side of womanhood I’d never seen onscreen before. Or even, just the depictions of women not always being so cut-and-paste Hollywood Pretty all the time. It raised an important question in a seventeen-year-old me- is it okay for women to be gross?

A more accurate description of Girls would be Lena Dunham’s mastabatory passion project that shot her to fame and unfortunately, has kept her there
Watching it back now I can’t reconnect with that feeling. The girls of Girls are woefully two-dimensional tropes: Hannah as a self-obsessed writer, Marnie as the crazy type A girl who has it all figured out (until her boyfriend breaks up with her and she becomes Sobbing Mess for the rest of the series), Shoshanna premiers as the Virgin Mary (before losing her virginity to a man over ten years her senior) and the Other One starring as a Manic Pixie Dream Girl who is honestly so vapid and irrelevant I didn’t even bother to look up her name for the purposes of this article.

Why was I so excited about these extremely narrow definitions of femininity?

There is a depiction of female friendships in Girls but… as what exactly? As existing? The girls don’t seem to actually….'like' each other. If you look to other female friendships in television, namely Broad City, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, God even episodes of Friends from the 90s, these all do a better job at showing what female friendships are like. Sometimes bitchy, sure, but also so close, so open, and so emotionally supportive.

Characters are allowed to be flawed, sure, but why can’t they also have some kind of love for each other beyond physical proximity? I mean, how often are all four girls in a room anyway? In my re-watch I often find myself asking: are they even friends? I mean, I get that there are shows about terrible people doing terrible things that are amazing; It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia is one of my favourite TV shows of all time. The difference here is Girls seems to constantly ask of its audience to sympathise with its characters, while It’s Always Sunny never bothers with this and, as a result, remains an excellent show.

It occurs to me that Lena Dunham never decided what she wanted Girls to be. Was it a harrowing look at (white) women today? Was it a comedy? Did it really have anything to do with Sex and the City? I mean the jokes per episode decrease at a steady rate of 10% with every half hour, making my Girls marathon begin to drag almost instantly. If all these women are meant to be assholes, why are you trying to make me care about them?

Dunham’s view of what it means to be a woman is so narrow and so male-centric. I mean seriously, usually in this show if a man and a woman talk for more than 2 minutes it means they’re gonna fuck, even if one of them is gay. You know, for a show that is so (supposedly) centred so much on women and their friendships, the girls on Girls sure do talk a lot about men.

Speaking about the depiction of men in Girls

Dunham’s view of what it means to be a woman is so narrow and so male-centric
Adam is a character that is introduced in the very first season. He is awkward, weird and has unfortunate facial hair. Dunham’s character Hannah begins having a sexual relationship with him, which develops into a romantic one later on. However, there is a period of time when Hannah and Adam separate for a time, before getting back together. In this space of time Adam begins dating another girl, named Natalya.

Adam rapes Natalya.

Let’s backtrack a little: In a previous scene, we see Natalya openly discuss with Adam what she is and isn’t okay with sexually. This scene is played with a gross ‘poor Adam’ vibe: oh no! Adam isn’t allowed to do all the sexually debasing stuff he used to do with Hannah! How unfortunate for Adam! Later on we see Adam, an AA member, go out with Natalya and have a few drinks. Then he goes home with Natalya, and he rapes her. After he finishes, Natalya gets up slowly and says:

"I really didn’t like that."

The whole scene is played as Adam’s downfall. Hard for Adam.

Later on in the season, Adam and Hannah get back together, and they encounter Natalya at a café where she is having lunch with a friend of hers (played by Amy Schumer). Natalya and her friend confront Adam about what happened without ever mentioning the word ‘rape’.

"You jilted her!" Schumer’s character shouts.

Jilted? Raped. He RAPED her. How can a feminist show be so afraid of the word rape? How could a feminist show depict a rape scene as a man’s character development? It was this moment that made me stop watching before. Lena Dunham’s final betrayal to a teenage me.

Honestly, I could go on. I’m still baffled as to why I initially found this show so compelling back when it first aired. I can only conclude that the bar for feminism back in 2012 was so low, that this dumb television show about a bunch of white girls getting high on opium tea and crying at their parents for more money vaulted right over it. I do find comfort in what strides feminism has made - especially in the emphasis on intersectionality in modern feminism, an emphasis Girls, even in its final season (which aired earlier this year) has consistently failed to share. Girls was an anachronism almost as it aired. Within the narrative of Girls Netflix is a postal system, Tinder doesn’t exist yet (one character signs up for online dating and is seen as ‘weird’) and apparently, nobody isn’t white. Well, the background characters who appear as one-offs in every other episode. In one delightful scene we get a white character giving sickly smiles to black and Hispanic women, claiming in her manic-est pixiest dream girl voice "I’m just like you" before beginning to lecture them on unionising. Honestly in that scene I couldn’t tell if the dialogue was satire or not, but judging from Dunham’s own views on race (hint- not great), it probably wasn’t.

But without the success of Girls, it’s possible we would have even less female-driven shows on television today. Maybe we have to eat our Girls vegetables in order to enjoy our Broad City desert, our Crazy Ex-Girlfriend cheese platter, our Turkish coffee of Insecure.

Maybe, just maybe, Girls was a necessary evil.

TV n film reviewer- I yell about things I hate and love free of charge on the internet! (@ragga_moffin)


20th July 2017 at 9:00 am

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