If you haven't already heard of or seen Girls you're a little bit behind. If you have, you're probably aware of the diverse reactions it has already received in the media. Some have hailed it as fresh, exciting and different, others have criticised the lack of racial diversity and Dunham's own 'privileged' background. With a show creating so many differing opinions you would think that what you are watching is something radically different, especially for American television. Well behind the cameras it is, but unfortunately on screen it's just more of the same.
With Girls an important milestone has been reached in the all too sexiest world of mainstream television. It is a show written, produced and directed by its lead actress, Lena Dunham. At only 26 years old, Dunham has been given an opportunity usually only granted to men in their mid-thirties. Whether you believe that she was given this opportunity based on her own merit, or her background and family connections is irrelevant. No matter how Dunham made it on to our television screens, the very fact that she is there, as a young woman writing for herself, is a great achievement. However sadly when watching Girls there are very few give-aways that it was a girl, herself behind it.
Decades before, women endured the TV stereotype of the ditzy but lovable Lucille Ball-style characters. Then at some point, probably around the late-nineties, the TV woman started to change. Her first big outings were in Ally McBeal and Sex and the City. This new woman was intelligent, usually had a career or at least some direction and good friends, but her major downfall in life was in her relations with men, spurred on by her own neuroses. Often she would be accompanied by a more independent friend, who was less tied down to men, but she would be bitchy and cold. These women, like everyone, make mistakes in their lives, but they have an inability to learn and grow from them. Despite how much they analyse their lives and relationships, they just never seem to get any better. Eight years after Sex and the City, this kind of woman is still flooding our TV screens, with only minor changes. With the characters in Girls we see the same woman, only this time she's younger, talks faster and is even more self-analytical and prone to narcissism. But she's also gained another trait; she is now awkward and naive, in an 'adorable' way. It's as if because we've started having families later and are more focused on our careers we've had to regress into becoming childlike to make up for not having children. It's a play on the age old idea that the only way women can be funny is to put themselves down and be open to humiliation. This time though, instead of being clumsy in the slapstick Lucy way, we are emotionally helpless.
In Girls this is mostly seen in the character's relations with men. Take for example Hannah in the first episode. Having just been cut off from her parents financially and then losing her internship, Hannah goes to visit Adam, a guy who were told 'never texts her back'. After indulging her in a few minutes of awkward conversation he gets her to bend over on the couch for him, and of course Hannah obliges. We're then treated to a horribly uncomfortable sex scene with Hannah wondering what's going on and if he's even going to use a condom. And yes, I get what they're trying to do, they're saying 'sex isn't always sexy or romantic'; but instead of being funny or even awkward in a good, relatable, way it's just, degrading. Unfortunately Hannah is just another sad, confused woman who as soon as her life gets a little tough, goes and finds a man, whether or not he likes her or is even interested in her, and just bends over on the sofa for him. And she doesn't do it because it's enjoyable for her, she does it because she's needy, and unfortunately that's how television likes women to be.
The confusing thing about Girls is that this 'hipster' lifestyle they lead is based on thinking they're so cool and so important, yet their actions show what little self-worth they really have. Hannah doesn't even say anything when her boss puts his hand down her blouse. You would think that a woman living in New York would have experienced enough of life to know that it is ok to stand up to a man when he sexually harasses you. No matter who he is.
As I've said there's nothing unusual about Girlsand its female characters. There is, however, something unusual about Dunham herself. She's a young woman putting herself and her feelings out there and not conforming to society's ideas of how a TV star should look, and she's been very successful at it. That's probably why I was so disappointed withGirls because I thought that maybe she was going to create a totally different type of woman and bring television forward. Whilst TV is not about reflecting society or giving role models, young people inevitably do look for TV for validation of their own lives. But I hope that when watching Girls young women will look at it and agree that we don't need to be like this and we don't like being shown in such a way. Maybe one day television will contain more diverse and independent women, until then I just hope that Dunham will encourage more young women to break into television writing and maybe then we'll see better female characters on our screens.