GIRLS GIRLS GIRLS: Did you watch the pilot episode?

Did anyone watch GIRLS last night? (If you frequent the same websites I do, that question will sound like a punchline because the amount of coverage this show is getting boggles the mind.) If you haven’t had a chance to see it yet or you, like most of the target demographic it’s aimed at, don’t have HBO, you can stream the pilot at right now.

OK, so we’ve all seen it now, yes? Let’s discuss.

the four women who star in GIRLS, sitting on a park bench together

It’s tough to talk about something that’s already been dissected so extensively, but I will say that, for a show that is praised for being about likable but flawed characters, that is exactly what it was: likable and flawed. The girls at the center of this narrative are more fully realized than most of those we see on TV (well, Shoshanna was something of a cliche, but it’s only the pilot, and I’ve certainly met people who’d kick off a conversation with SATC references before), and though the cast is overwhelmingly white, my guess is that most of the people Lena Dunham hangs out with in real life are also overwhelmingly white—she’s writing what she knows, and I wish HBO would broadcast more diverse programming but I don’t think it’s Dunham’s responsibility to make that happen. (I do think we should all stop acting like GIRLS represents all women of a certain age because it clearly doesn’t, but again, I don’t see that as Dunhams’ fault.)

However, as someone who has one foot in the GIRLS demographic, and who grew up in the Northwest without much money and has never lived in New York and is kind of tired of pop culture acting like you have to live in New York with a trust fund or you’ll never matter to anyone, I was irritated by all of the characters except for Marnie (bossy, responsible friends FTW!). I suppose it speaks to the “realness” of the portrayals that I could totally imagine Hannah telling her parents that she deserved $1100/month for two years to write essays (framed as a bargain, at that!) and that Jessa would show up to a dinner party two hours late and still be the center of attention. And that guy Justin’s comment that woodworking was more “honest” than acting? So believable (and annoying). From the clothes they wore to that douchebag who cooked opium pods on the stove, this was a pretty complete picture of what (some) girls lives are like (in Brooklyn), and I’m going to tune in next week for more. Anyone else?

In the meantime, some more GIRLS links:

Have you read/written anything about the show? Share a link in the comments!

P.S. I, like many other reviewers, did not buy that shower scene. It felt like a forced intimate moment between friends that didn’t need one. And why was Hannah even in the shower if she wasn’t bathing? You know that cupcake would’ve gotten soaked, too.

by Kelsey Wallace
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Kelsey Wallace is an editor in Portland, Oregon. Follow her on Twitter if you like TV and pictures of dogs.

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18 Comments Have Been Posted

Dunham Doesn't Speak for Me!

I think the claims of Dunham being "the voice of generation" need to stop. She and Girls are not. They are the voice of a very specific group of people.

Of course...

Well, no... she's not. And why should anyone expect her to be. So she isn't perfectly representing all "Girls," but how could one woman possibly do this. I seriously doubt Dunham would claim that as her goal. It's an impossible feat. I agree with the claims that the show is very "white" and very hipster-middle-class, if you know what I mean. But as artists, we often write what we know. We draw from our own experiences (while taking liberties to spice up reality a bit). I think Dunham is representing the world she is familiar with in order to depict something more honest. Honesty is precisely what I like about Dunham's work. The women in her films are not all strong, independent, happy, ethical, feminists. They are self-conscious, insecure, sensitive, sometimes harsh, sometimes sweet, masochistic, conceited. I love when women are portrayed as human beings with messy lives and problems because I think this form of honesty is refreshing but also beneficial in that some women might be able to see bits of themselves in these characters and may also begin to let go of judgements of themselves and other women. Seeing the flaws in myself allows me to better understand and accept the flaws in others. Cause we at least are all humans.

Girls, Girls, Girls and Sex. Here we go Again!

Argh! Here we go again, inculcating another generation with the misnomer that males want sex for enjoyment and females seek sex for emotional fulfillment. In the long run, this dichotomy is the root cause of the mess in the bedroom and the increased distress in relationships between men and women.
It is likely surprising to many that most men and women do not subscribe to these limiting definitions of male and female sexuality. The problem is, for young guys in particular, that every TV show, commercial, movie , or billboard tells them over and over again that to be even so much as a little bothered by this one-dimensional view of male sexuality is a huge check mark against the very core of a guy’s masculinity.
Truly it is bothersome that we continue to use the word "natural" when we discuss these “gendered” differences in sexual attitudes. Neither behavior toward sex is particularly natural to either sex. Over time, these attitudes toward sex are learned and ingrained in our genes and our genes are mutable and respond and shape themselves according to the input they receive. If the input to genes is constantly -- from one century to the next -- the same set of messages, our behaviors will remain the same. This is why the insistence on the same message to young people -- that guys and gals seek sex for the same old different reasons -- is so dangerous. Why in the world would we not begin to send a different message and start working to create behaviors in both sexes that emphasize the positivity of both emotional connection and physical gratification in sex?
The problem stems from the positive emphasis on casual, "no strings attached," "male" sex vs. the negative spin attached to the "emotional neediness" of "female" sex. One of the reasons women of all ages have been moving to "male" sexual behavior has much to do with the fact that "male" sexual behavior is applauded in our culture (think stud) and held as a standard of behavior one should strive to emulate because somehow it is a better way of experiencing sex – for the total focus is on personal pleasure.
The "female" way of viewing sex is seen as, well, just so "female." And, so, any emotional connection sought with sex is, I would argue, devalued because it has for centuries been "feminized." And as with any aspect of our culture that becomes associated with the feminine, emotional sex -- read female sex -- has been blacklisted and denigrated and girls are, thus, increasingly disassociating from it and seeking male sex, which is held to them as the standard of positive sexuality!
Being like men, sexually or otherwise, should not be the goal for young women. For our outdated idea of what it means to be a man (hypersexualized provider protector) is a way of being from which we all suffer. For even men will argue the great extent to which conditioning (and much of it negative – read Michael Kimmel) shapes what it means to “be a man” and the huge amount of conditioning it takes to create a man. So much overt and, to a great degree, negative conditioning work suggests to me this is NOT a natural way of being either, nor is it desirable.
Sure sexual pleasure is wonderful, but sex is one-dimensional if that is all we seek from it. No doubt, when pleasure is derived from both the physical and the mental, well, it is multidimensional pleasure. Thus, wouldn’t a goal that emphasizes both aspects of sex be a better standard to set and teach our children to work toward? It seems to me it would be.
It is time we stood up, all of us, for our emotional selves and insist our gendered views of sexuality change for the benefit of all -- in the bedroom or out of it.

Never mind all that ...

This show reeks of "white privelege." Sure, it may be the only world Dunham knows, but I refuse to call this a "feminist" show because, again, it reeks of "white privelege." Even if these characters are imperfect humans, they still carry the baggage of having "white privelege" and based on what I saw in the premiere episode, they seem to be completely clueless of their "white privelege." What I would like to see is a show even better than this featuring the real life struggles of characters of different ethnicities and sexualities-intersectionalities. When will the Hollywood-industrial-complex ever learn?

I agree but...

I agree that the show is, like most of media, only representing a small segment of privileged white individuals. That is absolutely a true statement. And I too hate Hollywood. Perhaps it might be helpful here to say that I am (or rather trying to be) an independent filmmaker, with a focus on documentaries, and I will be receiving my BFA in film soon. I don't say this to brag about how smart I am on the subject, but rather to announce my personal experience with film. I think it is very important to be critical of media representations of women. I think it's also important to note that no media representation will ever present us with a perfect text. Films like Baby Mama, Bridesmaids, and Set if Off (1996) come to mind because while they are deeply problematic, they are also breaking Hollywood conventions in certain ways such as representing women, women of color, women of different shapes and sizes, or women of different socio-economic backgrounds. Bridesmaids breaks one huge convention simply because it has an all female cast full of funny women who aren't usually allowed to be funny in Hollywood comedies.

So yes, you are right. White privilege is everywhere, infiltrating all of media and culture. But I don't think that means we have to dismiss every show because of this. I too would love to see shows that represent different ethnicities, sexual orientations, and identities. That would be great! And let's keep advocating for shows like that. However, I do think we can find fault as well as value in media representations of women. Let's bring both into the conversation. After all, many women really love shows like Sex and the City or even some reality TV shows that I am unfamiliar with but not excited about. I think it's beneficial to try to have a full discussion surrounding media because media makers are certainly not perfect and they certainly are not capable of making perfect media. Let's talk about what we like, what we hate, and all of the ambiguous in between.

I think you are being unfair

I think you are being unfair in your dismissal of the show as not being able to be feminist because it "reeks of white privilege." Just because someone grew up in a privileged, white background does not mean that they cannot be feminists, or that a show about such women cannot be feminist.

What people don't understand is that every TV show has to be built on some sort of debilitating premise that fucks up the characters' lives and causes them conflict. In this show, it is the characters' over privileged upbringing that causes them to make most of the horrible decisions that they make. The whole point of the show is that they are attempting to overcome this privilege and to bring the immaturity and selfishness that it breeds in check. In other words, this TV show is trying to show how these girls become women.

Certainly they (the four main characters) are each clearly flawed, and their flaws are hot-button issues that need to be brought up in society. No one was talking about female white privilege with such vehemence and world-wide attention until this show aired. It has brought to light a dark side of our views of acceptable behavior for women in pop culture. Now that people are aware of the problem, attempts can be made to fix it.

In no way is 'Girls' a perfect show, but frankly, thank god it's talking about issues that no other show has had the balls (so to speak) to talk about in such a bold and unvarnished manner.

Here's where the defense of

Here's where the defense of Girls' whiteness falls flat for me: Dunham told the Huffington Post "When I get a tweet from a girl who's like, 'I'd love to watch the show, but I wish there were more women of color, [I respond]"You know what? I do, too, and if we have the opportunity to do a second season, I'll address that." Dunham has a little more control over her material than the people tweeting her wishing she'd have added POC but her responds pretends otherwise. Instead of addressing the fact that she made the deliberate choice not to feature WOC she just says she too wishes they were on the show... without acknowledging that there'd be WOC on the show if SHE put them there.
People have said it wouldn't make sense to 'force' a WOC on the show as if having a non-white character would be a violent act, as if it wouldn't be possible that one of her character's clueless, educated and overprivileged friends could be a WOC.

While I do agree with you

While I do agree with you that there are privileged, clueless, and educated WOC--and I may be giving Dunham too much credit in this--however, I don't think you can say that she purposely didn't include a WOC in the show. Frankly, it might not have ever occurred to her to make one of the character black, or Latina, or Asian, (etc.). I'd buy that explanation. There are many areas of the country that are (unfortunately) very predominately white, thus not allowing for many interactions with people from a different ethnic heritage. She's writing what she knows, and I agree with the author of the article when she says that it's not Dunham's responsibility to be culpable for diversity (or lack thereof) on television in general, or even for her own show. It's her creation, her vision, her experience. Like it or not, she has the right to express the stories she writes however she sees fit.

What we should be arguing is that it's the networks' faults for not green-lighting shows that do show different cultures and heritages other than the "privileged, white experience." They are the ones who should be blamed for perpetuating the racial stereotypes and limited casting choices that we see reflected on the TV today.

Wow what's up with people

Wow what's up with people that try to justify or explain away the whiteness of the show? Suddenly Dunham's merely writing what she knows and what she knows is an incredibly whitewashed and sanitized NYC because somehow despite having lived in Brooklyn, she was in a place that didn't allow "for many interactions with people from a different ethnic heritage." Or it never occurred to her to make one of the characters be a WOC, as if this sort of blissful ignorance isn't part of the definition of white privilege.

You're right though that Dunham isn't alone in all this shit. She's just another person in a society that privileges whiteness. In that regard, Girls really isn't any different from whatever else is on TV.


The idea of a 20-something woman (even if she's just a character) who thinks it's reasonable to ask her parents for a thousand dollar a month allowance is laughable to me. It's beyond my comprehension. I just can't relate to a show with that kind of selfish, self-absorbed, immature character as it's center. Sorry, but I just can't...

it's supposed to be

it's supposed to be laughable; it's a comedy.

Not funny, just exasperating

Yey, but it's not funny, just exasperating. I'm sure Apatow thought he was being revolutionary by taking the usual brand of aimless slackerdom that he typically reserves for guys and applying it to women, but it's still off-putting just the same.

I'm kind of waiting for

I'm kind of waiting for Kelsey to do a follow up article about Dunhams' tweet regarding Precious. I read this article today so I am pretty disturbed by the defensive tone of the show. Honestly, I get the appeal to some extent, but it's clearly another show made for by and about white people. Why should this show be considered anymore meaningful or deep? Not to mention VICE is the biggest piece of shit magazine on the planet and any connection to it makes me want to puke. I guess Dunham, then, makes me kind of want to puke.

It was not Dunham's tweet (still offensive, regardless)

The tweet you are referring to was not from Lena Dunham, but from Leslie Arfin, a co-writer for the show.

Here is one article that talks about it:

BOOOO... bad taste, Arfin. Racist irony is not funny. What this says to me (let me know if anyone thinks this is too harsh) is that Arfin would rather be defensive and post a really bad joke by tweeting (a form of communication that holds great possibilities for passive aggressiveness) than actually listen to women (both white and non-white) give constructive criticism about the lack of and poor representation of any non-white character in Girls.

Tweet, etc.

Hi Monty,

Yes, this thread was started right after the premiere of the show (before Arfin's tweet, which happened yesterday), so I wasn't able to mention it. We'll be including some links to coverage of the tweet and the responses after it in our OOR links roundup tomorrow.

I've met girls before like

I've met girls before like the ones on the show Girls, which I watched the pilot of, so I am not disagreeing with the fact that girls like this exist, but real life girls that act like Dunham and her friends have been a turn-off to me, so it doesn't make me want to continue to watch a show about girls like them on TV. If I want to watch privileged, self-centered and spoiled 20-somethings that live in NYC, I can watch Gossip Girl. Yeah there isn't realistic, awkward sex on Gossip Girl, but I've had enough of that happen in my own life that I don't need to watch it on TV. I find it funny that most of the people who have been raving about Girls are interns at magazines, for example an Intern at Mother Jones who looked like a Brooklyn hipster in her picture, was raving about the show, and of course she loves it because she probably relates to Dunham's character being an intern and Dunham's friends are probably exactly like her friends and/or she wishes she could hang out with them. I am almost 10 years older than the characters on Girls, so maybe I am too old for the show, but I do remember being 24, and I can only hope I was a more likable person back then than the characters on this show are. I was also not interested in being a hipster and I didn't live in Brooklyn. To sum it up, the characters on Girls may be relatable to a certain segment of the female population, but not to everyone.

And on a somewhat related note, the internet dissent over Girls led to me discovering the best show on TV created by and starring a female that I had never heard of. It's called Awkward Black Girl, and if Bitch hasn't covered this show yet, they really should! I find it to be smarter, funnier and more feminist than Girls, and it also has a multiracial cast, which is something that Girls is definitely lacking.. Here is a link to the show's Website:

Hey Roxie, When you say this:

Hey Roxie,

When you say this: "for example an intern at Mother Jones who looked like a Brooklyn hipster, was raving about the show, and of course she loves it because she probably relates to Dunham's character being an intern and Dunham's friends are probably exactly like her friends..."

I know you're just joking around to make a point but I actually don't think making assumptions about people based on how they look in a magazine is a very productive route to critical analysis. In fact, it's kind of the opposite of critical analysis. Similar to the hosts on say E! News or the articles in US Magazine, both of which are nonfactual, assumption based, gossip media that use harsh and mostly mean judgements based on photos, mostly of celebrity women. You know what I mean?

That being said, I took your advice and watched the first episode of Awkward Black Girl... it's really funny! And Bitch did write an article and had a great interview with Issa Rae, the writer/director/everything of the show! It was in the Winter 2011 "Underground" issue. Here's the link:


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