A lot of people have been talking about her, the girl with the upper arm tattoo. But Lena Dunham is more than just a person who should always wear sleeves; she is a very endearing woman with a pretty awful vision of the lives of young women in New York. Her new HBO series Girls is neither terrible nor excellent; it is sometimes good and often bad. Three episodes have aired so far, and while plot points have emerged, nothing has really happened. Even with the issues of financial instability, job hunts, abortion, dead-end relationships and the occasional horrifying sexual partner pervading each episode, I as a viewer have not really been fazed by any of it because the eponymous girls haven't been fazed either.
All these "not really" qualifiers point to the show's great weakness: all four girls seem to be stagnating in a muddy puddle of drab furniture, unflattering clothes and profoundly unsatisfying professional, romantic and sexual lives. These girls are languishing in apartments they deem too impermanent and transitional to decorate; they are entertaining the whims and inappropriate behavior of their first bosses to much too great an extent; they are pseudo-pursuing or passively staying in relationships that do worse than just fail to satisfy them--they further diminish what little joie de vivre these particular girls can occasionally muster. Yet they seem to believe they are self-possessed, independent, worthwhile young women who have inexplicably been thrown into situations they must sigh and shrug their way through. They do not pursue opportunities, they let themselves be led. They never demand anything, never even show an interest in making their desires known. They graduated from college, hopped in their car and followed the traffic towards the road to adulthood, but then their tire blew out. No one can figure out how to use the jack, none of their contemporaries is stopping to help and none of the girls had the foresight, the capital or even just the autonomy to become a member of AAA.
These girls fail to entertain me because they themselves do not actually do anything, entertaining or otherwise. Things happen to them and they barely react, they merely acquiesce. There is no private torture of the dependent, the confused, the hopeless; there is no public outrage of the oppressed, the overzealous, the aggressive; there is only the blank-faced displeasure of the unmotivated, the uninterested, the utterly passionless.
It infuriates me to hear female critics call this show an affront to womankind, because I believe we should not allow these girls to represent womankind. They certainly do not represent the kind of women who deserve immense respect and appreciation. If you allow yourself to be sexually subjugated time and time again and continue to pursue your subjugator, that is entirely your fault. Men, particularly awful men, do not have absolute power over how women are treated; women have to command respect and never stop. The onus is on her to demand proper treatment--the choice is hers to discard, punish or educate the wrongdoer who treats her poorly. We are not natural victims, and we should put no faith in women who act like they are. We don't go back to some creepy guy's apartment day after day, playing into his perverse desires and indulging in the wrongheaded but popular notion that all men are terrible. There are countless situations in which being a woman works against you, but that is not one of them.
On another character's note, you don't stay with the effete and overly wholesome boyfriend you can no longer stand and with whom you have terrible sex just because you have been together for four years. To revisit the driving metaphor: you actually have to try to free your wheel from a rut, you can't just sit in your car with your head in your hands and wait out the rest of your life. So, as I said: Girls, get your s*** together. There are plenty of women who have.
Many thanks to Lucy Bucknell for the above image and for the chance to write this blog.