I just finished reading Lena Dunham’s book Not that Kind of Girl (I know, I know, I am just now getting around to reading this). I am enjoying the book far more than I dislike it, so I thought I would give Dunham’s show, Girls, another chance. I had tried watching it once before and had immediately lost interest, but here I am again.
Dunham said that she created the show because “Gossip Girl was teens duking it out on the Upper East Side and Sex and the City was women who figured out work and friends and now want to nail family life. There was this whole in between space that hadn’t really been addressed.” I am not really sure if there is a middle ground between complete, fantastical privilege and whatever SATC was, but Dunham thinks she can do it. She very much considers this in the same legacy of Sex and the City, a show which I adore and I think a lot of women of my generation enjoy(ed). There was definitely a time, perhaps a bit further back than I would like to admit, in my life where I thought I could learn a lot of life’s lessons from SATC.
Just to clarify, I understand some of the appeal of Girls. It captures some of the insecurities and confusion that make up your early 20s. There are bad boyfriends, sex gone badly and/or inexperience, and (finally) characters that aren’t super models (kind of). These characters aren’t from huge wealth, but middle class families who can do support their children well into their mid-twenties. The importance of social media in daily life runs through the show. And I would argue that the strength of the show is that it captures how hard it can be to find your place in the world outside the big, safe nest of college. Total disclaimer: I just watched Season One.
So, understanding the appeal, I still don’t like the show. When Dunham said she wanted it to be like a younger SATC, I didn’t expect the character stereotypes to be basically identical to SATC. Hannah is the fiscally irresponsible, talented yet unintentional with her career, writer, overly self-focused and sees competition and reads too much into everything. Carrie Bradshaw anyone? Jessa is the one who always has to have it together and is the most driven in achieving what she wants. Miranda? Shoshanna is young, WASPY, ditzy, and sweetly naive. She is our Charlotte York, but with worse style. And Marnie is free and sexually liberated Samantha. The show re-created type casts that already have been created and explored.
I kept reading reviews of how authentic the show was, and there are aspects that are. Is that a high standard to reach? I don’t think so. There was also so much that lacked realism for me, probably based on my personal experiences so mileage will vary. I didn’t know that many people who were supported that long by their parents and those that were had the privilege of living at home. Not in NYC. There was also just a distinct lack of diversity. These are four urban women living in one of the hippest cities in the nation, and there is no one of color, no real diversity of size ( and no Dunham’s character being 7 pounds overweight does not classify as diversity of size to me), and no diversity in sexual orientation in the main character.
I suppose where I see the difference for me from how I relate to SATC and Girls is that when I was younger, I thought (crazily or not) SATC could be me some day, in some universe. I could be confident and fabulously dressed with a tight group of friends. I could have career where I felt empowered and confident in what I was doing and what I wanted, even if I went through struggles with it or chose to leave it to do something else (ala Charlotte in her first marriage). Was the show perfect? Good heavens, no. I have recently started re-watching it and it has lost appeal or much of the reality I perceived as I age. But, I could never and I never could feel that way about Girls. It’s not my reality, I don’t want it to reflect my reality, and I’m ok with that. Not everything will speak to everyone and, thankfully, there is enough diversity in feminism and media that I can go back to complete ignoring Lena Dunham and her quip-py privilege for as long as I choose to. And if you choose to do something different, that works too.
Disclaimer: I am pretty much of the opinion that Golden Girls was one of the greatest show ever, the original four fabulous female friends, and probably nothing else will come close to this.