Words by Alba Tarragó
April 24th, 2017
What we’ve learnt from (those) Girls
Lesson 1: Being “young and female” is hard
Maybe the most priceless life lesson that we learnt is knowing that we all can be “adventurous women” and, thus, forgive us of anything. I might be biased (as I am a devout fan of the show and Dunham), but it looks like Lena Dunham was predicting the future when she declared in one of the most popular lines in the show that she, “may be the voice of a generation”. She was/is right as she reflected a mirror of not only herself and her life but ours too with admirable humour and intelligence.
It all started with a particular vision of reality captured on Dunham’s debut Tiny Furniture. She unveiled a common scenario where girls in their twenties could see themselves. And HBO bet on that. With an abstract explanation of what she wanted to do and the premise of “I don’t see myself or my friends represented on television”, Girls started five years ago.
The first few chapters (and maybe seasons) were as random and complex as women are. This is why Girls could be considered an “alternative” series because it doesn’t necessarily hook you in from the beginning. Maybe the key is to not try to understand it fully at first and let yourself just go with it as you map out their journey alongside the characters (it would be so inspiring if this was the hidden message about life that she is trying to tell us). It is not an open and shut case as most predictable sitcoms can be, it was based on reality and reality itself is not as it always should be.
Lena Dunham wrote, directed and played the leading role throughout all six seasons, showing her love and dedication to what she was doing. I’m sure that the main part of its success is due to this. Dunham was focused on the reality that she pictured and created a product, addressed to a very specific audience.
The fact that the target audience of the series was so narrow divided the critics on more than one occasion. Obviously, Girls is about (and arguably for) white urban girls in their twenties who are attending college and come from wealthy backgrounds. So, why do they deserve a TV show, you might ask? Their only problem is that they’ve never had a problem in their lives. If you are to believe that money buys you happiness, of course.
Dunham describes her reality, the reality of many millennials nowadays. There was a gap in the TV industry between shows that focused on girls in high school or college and girls in their thirties, and Dunham, being a 20 something-year-old, decided to fill that gap with a story surrounding women who were in the process of becoming adults. You can’t deny that this is one of the most complicated times of a woman’s life: you’re not a student anymore but for most, you’re still unemployable in the adult world. So you’re trying to find yourself in the middle ground.
When we think about the plot we can’t help but think back in time to the precursor series, also from HBO, Sex and the City. But our Girls could be the daughters of Carrie, Samantha, Charlotte and Miranda. Not just because of their age, but also because of how the new generation has evolved the values that they established. According to the feminist scholar Naomi Wolf, “It really was a turning point. There hadn’t been women at the centre of a quest narrative before. No one had ever thought women were that interesting.”
Maybe the best thing about not being the most popular fashion victims in the ’90s is that you don’t spend half of the episode admiring their clothes, their skin and their figure. The 30 minutes that I spent every week with Hannah, Marnie, Jessa and Shoshanna were to just laugh, cry or think (sometimes everything at the same time). I didn’t want to be them (and it’s hard to say considering that Jemima Kirke (Jessa) has the most beautiful mane of hair that I’ve ever seen on TV) but because I could identify with them. I wanted to face real life or, at least, the real life that a graduated young white woman can face in a western country.
Because yes, that’s what Girls is about: trying to know who we are and forgetting about the final achievement. It talks about the process and the confusing messages that you receive along the way (from internal and external inputs). And if you didn’t like the final episode it’s because you didn’t get that. It’s not the kind of series to expect a revealing or relieving ending, because it’s in fact an open door to a new beginning.
It wasn’t on the last episode, but in the second last that I was watching it in tears. I discovered how much time I spend with these four friends (who at times also felt like they were also mine) and it was sad but satisfying at the same time to see how their relationships had evolved. Shoshanna’s harsh but realistically accurate words in the second last episode about the true nature of their friendship was just that – realistic, but not necessarily comforting to hear, as it calls into line your own friendships and question which will naturally evolve or slowly dissipate with time?
Lena Dunham made us question the acronym BFF a thousand times — maybe the same amount of times that we did in our own private lives. We all as women know that if there’s something even more difficult than finding ourselves it is finding our friends, as they are battling their own confusion as we are in that period of our lives. There always comes a moment when we are able to say “I hate everyone who loves me”, like Hannah did. We don’t know if the rest of the world is wrong or it’s just us who are being a little bit unstable.
“It’s really amazing that all three of you have accomplished so little in the four years since college” Shoshanna said to her best friends. It’s these times that you compare yourself to them as you believe that your struggles are more important than anyone else. There were times throughout the six season that you really believed that the only thing that sustained their relationship was their overwhelming sincerity.
Another difficulty that the characters had to face is the career reality: precarious jobs, abusive internships and unemployment. Hannah is the best example of that, especially because of her background: humanities. But her friends are also proof. Marnie… what does Marnie do for living? At first she worked for art galleries (Dunham involves women and art as much as she can) but then she ends being a part of a folk duo with his lover/husband/ex.
Jessa might not know what a job is but she definitely knows the reality and often the most depressing part: “You have to be there every day, even on the days you don’t feel like it”. However she seems to be very lost, and not far from her cousin Shoshanna, who is exactly on the opposite side. Although being the youngest, she’s the one who tends to use words like “future”, “career” or “entrepreneur”. She’s concerned about the importance of getting a proper life (a house, a husband, a job…) but she’s also the most naive. Coincidence? I don’t think so. Her character reveals the trap of our system that tells us that our main goal in life should be getting the perfect job and that we will reach it straight from college.
Many of the things that happen in the series are based on real facts about Dunham’s life: sexual harassment, her obsessive-compulsive disorder, the lack of friends in primary school… And her relationship with Adam. He incarnates the role of a boyfriend that the author had when she was a teenager and her romance reflect the complexity about being with someone who treats your “heart like it’s monkey meat”.
Do I want to stay single or should I get a boyfriend? The eternal question. Hannah didn’t want any of the options. “I don’t even want a boyfriend. I just want someone who wants to hang out all the time and thinks I’m the best person in the world and wants to have sex with only me”.
When she met Adam a vicious spiral of addiction, love and pain started. Adam, himself considered their relationship “toxic”, which was keeping them “from growing”. It took them a long time to settle down and become a ‘normal couple’, but once Adam started succeeding as an actor and Hannah wasn’t the only important thing for him, everything went downhill again.
She taught us that sex isn’t perfect. Their scenes in bed debunked all the myths about passion and now we know that it’s totally okay if we have a conversation in the middle of a sexual act or if talking dirty sounds ridiculous to you. You celebrate the level of awkwardness of any of the sex scenes in this TV show, because it’s real.
Girls is so full of inspirational quotes that we could print thousands of t-shirts with their mottos. Hannah might be narcissist, manipulative or selfish (to mention just a few adjectives that she was told) but she was certain when she pronounced those wise words: “I’m gonna tell you some things about being alive. Life, man. I can’t guarantee perfection but I can guarantee intrigue”.
But the irony is present in every turn. On her attempt to mature, Hannah counts on her parents at every turn: to ask for money, when she needs advice about having a cotton bud stuck in her ear or because she’s pregnant. But she also blames them for having spoiled her or just because her dad is gay, trying to find a reason that explains why she’s not successful in life.
The characters stumble and wander all the time, but this is how they end up learning how to steer themselves.
We’re all tired of listening to opinions about Dunham’s body so I’m not going to take part in that debate. She shouldn’t have been told “brave” for showing her body because it shouldn’t be a shame to display “her kind of body”. That’s why she decided to keep on doing it until it was no longer a subject of discussion and the whole process she self proclaims hasn’t been hard for her, as she admits not being afraid of posing naked as long as she’s “the boss”.
What would deserve a whole separate article on is the girl’s wardrobe. Clothing in Girls were carefully chosen to reflect what the girls were going through at the time: from Marnie’s oversized pieces when she said that she has “never been this miserable” to the mythic mesh yellow top that Hannah was wearing we she took cocaine with Elijah.
As it happened to all of us, their styles changed and evolved as they were growing up. Marnie went from their ‘big girl‘ outfits which made her look like a “housewife” to a more relaxed and comfortable look, while Shohanna stayed flashy and girly, as in the very first episodes, but with a Japanese touch since the fifth season. And what hasn’t changed at all from the beginning is Hannah’s absolute refusal to co-ordinate when it comes to patterns and colors, creating a very strong signature look that reflects the confidence of her character. She trusts herself so much that she is capable of wearing whatever comes to mind, even if it’s two sizes too big or too small.
But when we thought that Girls had covered every single detail about what being a woman today means, the main character gets pregnant. Of course! And, if there’s something that society loves to blame on women it’s maternity. Becoming an adult always involves the eternal question: do I want to be a mother? Hannah didn’t even have time to ask herself that. She got pregnant in the most unexpected way and my reaction shocked me.
I wanted to face that event as something temporary and I said to myself that it was going to be for just one episode. But it wasn’t. It closed the whole series acknowledging how brave it is to raise a child, but also how brave it is to terminate. Nothing is black and white. I realized that being pregnant shouldn’t or have to be distressing or exciting, sometimes both feelings mix and you have to just deal with that.
The Girls world was the opposite to a romantic life or a romantic way of looking at life, it transformed everything that we expected to be perfect with well rounded endings into what was actually more likely to happen. Friendship can’t be perfect and might not be forever; finding the right person to spend your whole life (or a part of it) might lead you to lose yourself; and your dream job may just be that, a dream. Girls was about real life in such a banal way that made it hilarious and interesting, creating the perfect combination between education and entertainment. But what really mattered in the end was opening the debate about what we really care about: girls like us on the screen.
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