It seems everyone who has watched the show feels one of two ways about it. Do you hate Girls or love Girls?
The conundrum of this HBO series, now in its final season, encapsulates so much of the mystery of girls in general. Can a girl truly ever be loved without also being a little hated? Can a girl ever truly be hated unless at first she was loved?
My personal answer to both of these questions is no. At least, I think it is. Maybe I’m still deciding. And maybe that’s okay.
The four female characters Lena Dunham created in her much-loved, much-criticized series embody very different, deeply flawed women. At the age of discovery and heightened sexuality, living in a city of equal parts playground and battlefield, it seems these four can’t hail a cab or go to the corner deli without experiencing some life-altering sexcapade or affronting run in with an ex-lover. I mean honestly, the dailies of their existence exhaust me… yet besiege me with a ridiculous sort of jealousy. Where is my cheeky, fantastic gay best friend/ex-boyfriend? When will I find myself in a catastrophic coffee truck highway accident after giving road head to my longtime buddy/boss? What will it take to establish the ability to steel myself like Jessa, spin sarcastic quips like Hannah, and strangely endear myself to all others like Shoshanna? (Sorry Marnie, you are such a hot mess–I love ya, but it would royally suck to be you.)
Perhaps one of the most daring shows of modern television, Girls leaves little to the sexual imagination. “Too much information” is not a thing here. The very structure of this series operates on the premise of letting it all hang out. But unlike so much of today’s popular entertainment, the use of sexuality and “loose” behavior (as some call it) on Girls is less of a shock factor and more of a pillar of honesty. The show is honest. Perhaps not relatable for the large majority of the world’s population, but undeniably honest in its storytelling of this particular sect of Millennials. The culture for young women surfing the toxic waters of sex, relationships, parents, school, jobs, success, mental health, physical health, financial stability, city life, drugs, fidelity, and self awareness–it’s all different now, it’s all a crapshoot; I can speak from experience, it all looks a lot like this.
A coworker of mine, upon hearing of my affection for the series, disagreed with me and said that Lena Dunham is “everything that is wrong with white feminism.” Now, I won’t pretend to have all the answers on what the hell a feminist of any color should sound like, act like, look like, or generally be like, but I do have some soft semblance of an idea on the matter. Shouldn’t a feminist, above all, be someone that advocates for women in her own capacity, encourages them to be as colorful and honest and free as they might wish to be, and refuses to place any woman into a pre-labeled, clearly defined box? I’m not here to say Lena Dunham or her characters are the gold standard for feminism, but is anyone?
The strange draw this show holds primarily lies with the girls of Girls (duh), but the men defy a world of stereotypes in their own right. Adam, the dude who initially appeared to be a living, breathing, non-shirt wearing nightmare to all twenty-something year old women, proves time and time again through his depths, goodness, awfulness, and contradictions that he is something far greater than that. If all we got from Elijah was his fantastically phrased, side-splitting humor, that would be more than enough to please. But he, too shows himself as somebody much more than than the gay jokester. In a very backward way, I’d even argue he teaches viewers the most about our idealized, resolute, but honorable notions of love.
Entitlement does litter the show, as it litters so many of our lives without us truly wanting to take ownership of it. I complain about my life and the lack of meaning to my existence all the time, just like everyone on Girls does. Sometimes I can almost convince myself that my life is undoubtedly more difficult than 99% of the world’s population. Then I turn on the news, read a newspaper, or walk down the goddam street, slapped in the face and overcome with the absurdity of my claim. Does me thinking so make me a bad person? Or does it just make me a struggling, lonely, somewhat lost twenty-two year old living in a big city and fervently wishing most days that I was elsewhere?
As a girl who tries to keep the metaphorical seams from ripping in the metaphorical fabric of my life on a weekly, daily, hourly basis, it sure has felt like a sigh of relief to watch a cast of my contemporaries utterly fail at the act of existing, rise up and succeed, then hideously fail all over again. And I loved them for it, I perpetually love them for it.