A girl scrapes at the inside of her ear so hard with a Q-tip that she breaks her eardrum. She has OCD tendencies. She is broke. She has not shown up to work in what appears to be weeks. She has awkward sex with men that are essentially strangers. She has a book deal and she fails to write by the deadlines. Her two best friends have abandoned her. Her crack addict neighbor cuts her hair after she botches a self-haircut. But don’t worry, she’s ok in the end because her ex-boyfriend returns and scoops her up into his muscled, manly arms.
When I watched the first season of HBO’s Girls, I had mixed feelings. On the one hand, the strange characters and the even stranger sex the characters participated in made it uncomfortable to watch. On the other hand, I thought: Yes! Finally. Here is a show created, produced, directed and written by a woman, Lena Dunham (who also stars as Hannah, the show’s protagonist). I thought Girls was, at the least, very innovative in where and how its characters interact (who would think so many conversations occur while one person is on the toilet or in a bathtub?) At its best I thought Girls was showing complex, flawed human beings, women who had aspirations and were trying to sort out their lives. I thought that with a woman running things, this show could be a beacon to other women about female strength in our society. Sure, I’d heard a lot of criticism that Girls was essentially the new Sex in the City: white women living in New York, attempting to follow their dreams and pay their rent miraculously without seeming to go to work often (or even have a job), but I persevered, hoping the show would prove the criticism wrong.
The Season 2 finale that aired Sunday, March 17th drove the last nail in the coffin for me as a viewer. The season ended with all four women either broken or fixed emotionally by the men in their lives (boyfriends, lovers, fathers, anyone with male genitalia basically has the power to derail or repair the lives of these women). Equally disturbing this season were the sex scenes. The sex in Girls is often awkward and cringe-worthy, but my real problem with it is that many of the sexual encounters take on the intonations of rape, particularly with Hannah’s on-again, off-again, stalk-again boyfriend, Adam (Adam Driver). The sex Hannah had with Adam in the first season always seemed destructive; he was aroused by verbal abuse and often tried things sexually that Hannah seemed uncomfortable with, but she rarely spoke up in those situations—and occasionally seemed to enjoy them—so we, as audience, were to assume they were not assaults. Adam’s new relationship in season 2 shows how frightening and abusive his sexual desires actually are when he demands sexually submissive behavior and does things his girlfriend clearly does not want. Showing women having ambiguous feelings towards abusive sex perpetuates America’s rape culture that is alive and well as was exhibited in my creative writing class this year when talking about a rape scene in a story a guy said, “Well, is it really rape? Because she didn’t fight him off or try to scratch him or anything.”
As the credits rolled on season 2, I felt cheated. I felt that for twenty episodes I had been tricked into watching something I thought was important, only to find out that it was the same rhetoric on how women function in the world, namely in relation to men. This feeling was exacerbated when I learned that 56% of Girls audience is men, 22% are Caucasian men over the age of fifty. For a show run by a woman and focusing on women, it does not depict positive, empowering views of women. That point is made obvious when considering the name of the show; it’s a show about women, but instead they’re diminished, they are not women, they are girls.