Feminism and Empowerment
Girls’ four female leads are not intrinsically likable, lacking any substantial resemblance to stereotypes found in more traditional sitcoms and dramedies. Gen-Xers and those who came before them are more comfortable categorizing women as good girls or bitches when it’s feasible to embody both — or neither. It’s always been okay to be flawed as long as you don’t deviate too far from the straight and narrow. Viewers can forgive a myriad of transgressions if the protagonist is punished and penitent.
While Hannah and her friends have moments of heart-wrenching clarity regarding their flaws, they also stay true to themselves in the face of criticism and self-doubt — no easy feat in a world where women have been told how and what to be and are continually held back because of their gender. They do sometimes escape without immediate consequence, and they aren’t always apologetic when they do harm to themselves or others.
Girls has addressed issues faced by most, in not all, twenty-something women: pregnancy and pregnancy scares, abortions, STDs, low self-esteem, drug use and addiction. It does so with reverence but also humor that manages to let viewers come to their own conclusions about how each character deals with these challenges. Dunham refused to use the show as a platform to promote an agenda that might shame young women for their life choices, or how they decide to reconcile things that are beyond their control.
In a social climate where gays are gunned down in nightclubs and placed into concentration camps, and legislators agonize over who should go to the bathroom where, the fact that Girls embraced sexuality as fluid offered a welcome viewpoint. Experimentation, whether it be Hannah going down on a female yoga instructor or Elijah (Andrew Rannells) having sex with Marnie, went so much deeper than pandering to an audience with a chaste girl-on-girl kiss written in for the sake of ratings (I’m talking to you, Friends.)
The nudity in the show was organic as opposed to exploitive, and the fact that Dunham never shied away from nudity is empowering to woman who don’t fit into the more widely-accepted, objective view of attractive. Not that everyone embraces that level of bravado, and Dunham has been hammered for her lack of modesty.
The Millennial Mindset
In many ways, Hannah is the quintessential Millennial. In the pilot, she’s finally cut off by her doting parents, forcing her — after several unsuccessful attempts at emotional manipulation — to fend for herself financially. Not all of the Girls‘ characters have enjoyed as cushy a berth as Hannah, but they have all, at times, shared the same incapability of dealing with obstacles, ill-equipped to handle misfortune without self-destructing.
Several times in the series, Dunham’s writing lays out the oversimplified and pre-conceived notion that Millennials “give zero fucks about anything,” yet they “have a strong opinion about everything” (Dunham herself is outspoken politically.)
Those who didn’t grow up in the social media spotlight might not have appreciated the Brooklyn-based hipster sensibility, and a generation who have determined it’s more about the journey than the destination. This philosophy was intrinsic to the success of Hannah as a writer, but a strong work ethic has eluded her entire social circle, and Hannah herself has abandoned writing more than once after both professional and personal setbacks.
Girls does sell Millennials short when it comes to their political correctness, social consciousness and global awareness. But one area where the show transcends the stigma is evident in peripheral characters such as Hannah’s parents, Marnie’s mother and Jessa’s father, all of whom are still trying to figure things out, even floundering. Hannah has grappled with maintaining a healthy dynamic with her parents after realizing that “adults” don’t always behave in a way that meets her expectations.
As Girls wraps up its characters’ stories, Hannah and her friends are all entering into new stages of their lives armed with the wisdom that comes with 6 seasons worth of self-reflection: Hannah is going to be a single parent, Jessa has accepted her innate desire for a more traditional monogamous relationship with Adam, Shoshanna is getting married and Marnie is learning, if not embracing, the fact that she has value or worth outside a boyfriend or the approval of a man (hopefully, her need to insert herself in other people’s relationships is finally sated.)
There’s no doubt challenges lay ahead for Hannah and her girls, but in the end, they want what we all want for ourselves and them — to be happy.
Are you a fan of Girls? How do you think things will end? Do you think this show was a realistic depiction as life as a modern twentysomething? Were the characters too annoying and self-absorbed to root for?
(Image Courtesy of HBO)