In two days, Lena Dunham's HBO series "Girls" will finally premiere after months and months of hype. And while that hype has been mostly positive, sometimes even downright reverent (Emily Nussbaum writes: "When a TV critic reports on a new show, it’s okay to say the series is promising, even the next big thing, but ideally, one shouldn’t go native. One should probably also talk in the third person. In this case, however, I’ll have to make an exception. Because from the moment I saw the pilot of Girls, I was a goner, a convert.") there are still those who (understandably) criticize both the lack of diversity on the show and the privilege of its characters. I haven't had the opportunity to watch the pilot yet at a screening or what-have-you, but if it's nothing like nearly every female character-driven show on TV right now, I will welcome it with glazed-over eyes and open arms. And that's mostly because I've been feeling so damn weary after watching the types of Girls On TV -- the sisters of one-dimensional Women In Rom-Coms -- since that's precisely what they all are. Types. Fortunately, in this week's New York Times Magazine, Heather Havrilesky fantastically (if a little harshly) articulated the problem I've been having with the more recent offerings of lady television characters.
"With their forced laughs and their preening and those heavy bangs resting straight on their eyeballs, our current batch of TV ingénues seems designed to conjure the childlike poutiness of America’s onetime sweetheart Ally McBeal. You can afford to be a little sassy and street smart when you have big doll eyes and the frame of a preteen.
Aside from a few exceptions — Tina Fey’s Liz Lemon on “30 Rock,” Amy Poehler’s Leslie Knope on “Parks and Recreation,” both farcical enough to have more in common with “S.N.L.” personas than actual characters — we’ve largely been spared confident, complicated, single comedic heroines for a few decades now. Each week on “2 Broke Girls,” the spunky leads flee confrontation, seek solace in each other’s “You go, girl!” clichés and then stride out from their hidey hole to shake a finger in someone’s face (only to be rewarded with more humiliation). For all of the single-girl bluster of “Whitney,” our heroine seems to have few interests outside of her live-in boyfriend, whether turning him on, manipulating him or distracting him from ogling another girl’s assets. Even Jess (Zooey Deschanel) of “New Girl,” the least insipid of the lot, tends to go all bashful and pigeon-toed a few times per episode, forsaking weightier goals in favor of trotting out her oddball charms for the adoration of her male roommates."
The entire article is worth reading because it speaks to this very accurate, but oft-overlooked expectation of female characters nowadays. Sure -- it's great that there are so many women starring in television shows as of late. But, sadly, they all seem to be living in some fantasyland, where "girl power" isn't just a tired, nonconfrontational phrase and as long as you can charm everyone with your adorkableness, everything will be just peachy.
Not so for Lena Dunham or the girls on "Girls." We interviewed her for the April/May issue of BUST, where she (very eloquently) disucussed feminism and her approach to writing the characters, relationships, and situations that take place in the television series she wrote, directed, and stars in. Here's an excerpt:
Are you a feminist? If so, how does it come into play in your work?
Of course I’m a feminist; I wouldn’t even know another thing to be. It’s something that I don’t tackle in a way that’s overt, but it’s part of everything I do. My biggest desire is to write interesting, complex parts for women and increase the visibility of women both behind and in front of the camera, and that is essentially a feminist goal. I also think that feminism is really complicated. We’re not fighting as clear a fight now as, like, when we wanted to vote and own property. It’s a much more nuanced thing now that I’m constantly navigating in my work and my romantic life. As everyone knows, a little gender-role stuff is fun in the way that Halloween is fun, but too much of it is not a pleasure.
In Girls, Hannah has slightly degrading sex with her occasional fuck buddy, while Marnie would rather snuggle with Hannah than share a bed with her long-term boyfriend. What are you exploring with these kinds of relationships?
There is no overt political statement to the sex, although I know that sex is one of the most political acts there is. Generationally, young people are really loath to define their relationships right now. So I was trying to show that a girl who’s not a whore can be in a relationship like the one Hannah’s in, and a girl who is a little more adventurous can be trapped in a loving relationship that doesn’t satisfy her.
Pick up a copy of BUST at your local newsstand or bookstore to read the rest -- and you should probably check out Girls this Sunday night while you're at it.
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