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Have you seen the show GIRLS? It’s an HBO follow-up to Sex and the City, about four young women trying to figure out their lives in New York City. The women are in their twenties, whereas Sex and the City begins when the women are more established, and in their thirties. This show is incredibly vulnerable and uncomfortable, but has some serious points to make. Sarah’s just started watching it, and it’s one of Evie’s favorites, so we’ve been talking a lot about it lately…



Evie,

So thank you so much for sending me those GIRLS DVDs. I have no idea how I didn’t even know this show existed. I’ve been watching it for a week, and I’m already on season 2. Seriously. I’m going to have to buy them all. You know though, I was totally struck by the amount and type of sex in the first few episodes. They go all out…seriously. Awkward conversations, awkward positions, imperfect bodies…it’s kind of refreshing in a way, but also really strange and voyeuristic. It feels like Lena Dunham is trying to make a huge point with each sex scene (which I guess is the hallmark of a good one, otherwise it’s just porn), and the points that she’s making are very tragic for the female characters. Did you catch in one of the first episodes where she says, after having sex with her “friend with benefits” character, something like “That was really good…I almost came,” and he answers her with just, “Do you want a Gatorade?”

Ha! He completely missed the point of what she was saying. He didn’t even hear her. And then, don’t get me started on the way the sex scenes are played out. It’s basically the women at the whims of the man, getting in the positions they want, and then just waiting until the guy is done! It’s so tragic…I guess that’s the word. Putting the woman in this totally passive sexual position, like they are supposed to be so grateful that the guy is sleeping with them that they don’t get to have a say or enjoy it.

The irony is that I feel like this is supposed to be “Sex and the City” for girls in their twenties (there are like 10 references in the first few episodes) but SATC is so female empowering in terms of sex…not super progressive though since the whole show is about finding the right man, but at least the sex is shown on equal terms. Lena Dunham is obviously making a very uncomfortable point here, that heterosexual sex is more of a power play, with the man always on top…in more ways than one.

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Sarah,

I’m so glad you’re enjoying the show!! I’ve been making my husband watch it with me, but I’ve been dying to get a friend addicted so we can do full episode debriefs :)

I was pretty sure you’d love GIRLS since you love shows with four female protagonist. But this one just provides so much food for thought, right? I have an acquaintance who described the show as “depressing,” but I don’t see it that way.

I remember being in my early- to mid-twenties and feeling totally lost. After college, when I moved from NYC to DC, I had this completely unfulfilling job that  opened my eyes to how much the adult world sucks. I left school, where I was constantly stimulated and people treated me like I had something to contribute, only to become a glorified secretary! It was a total slap in the face. That’s why I can really relate to the way Hannah is floundering with her writing career. In those years, I felt like I was trying to act the part and failing miserably.

Here’s a picture from my first months in DC, when I felt like a total fish out of water.
Here’s a picture from my first months in DC, when I felt like a total fish out of water.

But it’s more than just the professional stuff with GIRLS, of course. These women are so lost in their lives—their friendships, their sex lives, all of it. Total quarter-life crisis. I think I had one, did you?

I think Adam is one of my favorite characters in the show…such a great foil to Hannah! She’s all wishy-washy, and he’s resolute. She’s confused, and he’s crystal clear. She’s shades of gray, he’s black and white. She’s powerless, and he’s powerful. But if you keep watching later seasons, you’ll see how they develop and the distinctions between them become less clear.

What do you think about the other girls? Jessa is pretty powerful and in control when it comes to sex.

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Evie,

OMG. Adam. The first few episodes I thought he was horrible! But I am starting to see he is much more complicated, and somehow I’m starting to feel bad for him. Great sign of character development.

I took a class in college called “Sex and Power” (this was legit in the Political Science department), and we basically studied the power of sexual relationships between men and women in film, literature, and in law. It was fascinating. We watched movies like 9 and 1/2 Weeks… do you know that movie? About the three month relationship between a man and a woman that totally pushes the boundaries of sex, and borders on abuse? It’s really fascinating.

We had lots of discussions about the historical context of women’s power and how it’s extremely subtle, but often more potent than the outward and obvious male power that dominates our culture. In fact, in my final paper I analyzed the images of female/male advertisements in magazines like Cosmopolitan and Glamour, and how they were perpetuating this female subtlety in power: often the women were seen physically towering over the men, lying on top of them, or seducing them with alluring looks. The men in the ads were supposed to be powerless to the female wiles. But it was all very intricate: with a brief glance it may seem as though there was equality between the genders, or that the male was the dominating one. Looking closer, however, at body language, and facial cues, revealed something entirely different.

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Sarah,

That’s so funny, because I took a similar class in the art history department at Barnard. I think it was called “Feminism and Post-Modernism,” and we looked at all kinds of artwork that challenged traditional gender roles. I was actually reminded of it the other day when I got Lena Dunham’s newsletter in my inbox! She/her team was highlighting Marilyn Minter, whose art looks exactly like something we would’ve studied in this class:

Her most well-known works feature extreme close-ups of women’s mouths, overfilled with glitter or pearls; tongues become textured landscapes and papillae become the new erotic (The Lenny Interview: Marilyn Minter)

MarilynMinter_Centipede-e1338575515681I went into that class with such a naive view of the world. I really didn’t believe sexism was as deeply rooted as it is. I didn’t know what “misogyny” meant. And I didn’t see how complicated it was for young women to dress and act like the sex objects they were.

The class opened my eyes to so many of societies agendas for women, and I think GIRLS does an amazing job of revealing the characters’ naivety on the subject and the harsh realities as they discover the ways in which they have power. Like Marnie working as a scantily-clad hostess in a nightclub: the sexual power, plus the embarrassment of her station in life. Fascinating!

More later…

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