• Wed, Nov 28 2012

It’s Not Lena Dunham’s Fault That 24-Year-Olds Are Called ‘Girls’

Lena Dunham HBO Girls 24-year-olds called girls infantilize insecurity guilt awkward sex season 2 issuesLike most retroactive reflections on HBO’s Girls, there are points I agree and disagree with in this essay from Policy Mic. I really like how Devon Reynolds took the usual commentary on the awkward sex and Hannah’s professional missteps and tied it into a larger discussion: Girls is about female guilt. To wit:

When Dunham’s character Hannah chows down on a cupcake in the bathroom, we think food guilt. When Hannah’s friend Shoshanna admits that she’s still a virgin at 22, we think sexual insecurity. Dunham hits the perfect resonant tone: while the issues are those that we deal with on a daily basis, their exaggeration comforts us with the thought that at least we’re not quite as dysfunctional as the women on the show.

It’s a great way to contrast the show with Sex and the City, where despite whining about money, Carrie Bradshaw was still able to afford her impossibly lavish apartment and Manolos.

However, with regards to another point that Reynolds made, I found that I couldn’t level with her. She says that part of creator/star Lena Dunham‘s brutal honesty is to capture how powerless female twentysomethings are. But it sounds — to me, at least — like she’s blaming Lena for not approaching the narrative of young Millennial women differently:

The honesty of Girls also shows the continued disenfranchisement of women in the professional world. This is apparent from the very title of the series, Girls. Hannah, at 24 years old, and her friends are labeled immediately as children. Dunham herself, quoting Britney Spears, said in an interview that she was trying to capture the in-between “not a girl, not yet a woman” stage of life. Describing a 24 year old as a girl, however, stinks of infantilization. A girl cannot be taken seriously in the workplace, at a bar, or on the street — she is a child, and needs to be taken care of by those wiser than she. Although Dunham intends the title to show the insecurity of the age about which she’s writing, she manages instead to capture an expanded form of gaslighting. If, as the title suggests, a girl is a female who is uncertain and blundering, then we are all girls until the day we die, and the world will never take us seriously.

As we established above, Girls is a commentary on all the ugly insecurities young women have. Hannah, Shoshanna, Marnie, and Jessa call themselves “girls” because not a single one of them feels fully-formed—whether as businesswomen, mothers, sexual creatures, artists, whatever. They do need to be taken care of, because they are scared shitless at all of the expectations heaped upon and opportunities presented to them.

HBO Girls Hannah "I'm the most scared person in the world" quote GIF Lena Dunham

An informal poll of the Crushable offices revealed that all of us — professional women in our mid-twenties — still refer to ourselves as “girls.” We also refer to the men in our lives, older or younger, as “boys” or “guys.” Sure, it doesn’t carry quite the same level of infantilization… but “girls” doesn’t have to, either. I think that to call ourselves “women,” we would come across as facetious or trying so hard to be older, which in turn makes us look more immature. I’m not going so far as to advocate “reclaiming” the term, but I definitely don’t believe it’s as damning as this essay implies.

Hannah is a protagonist you can appreciate because she’s an exaggerated embodiment of the “girl” label. By exploring that character, Lena Dunham isn’t exhorting her peers to be that person; if anything, she’s showing them what not to do. We all want to enjoy our twenties, but we also want more than where we’re at right now. After all, let’s not forget the wisdom of Hannah’s gynecologist:

HBO Girls "You could not pay me enough to be 24 again" quote gynecologist scene Lena Dunham Hannah

Photos: HBO

GIF: flowintothecity (Tumblr)

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