Betsey Woodruff, in National Review, identifies Lena Dunham’s HBO comedy Girls as a cultural canary-in-the-coal-mine which, if observed carefully, could have told you where the recent presidential election was heading.
At its core, Girls feels like a deliberate, dissective examination of a group of people who stubbornly refuse to grow up and are lucky enough to be able to pull it off. The main thing Dunhamâ€™s characters share is the idea that just because they exist, somebody else should give them stuff. In and of itself, depicting that isnâ€™t at all a bad thing. Girls is an interesting project, itâ€™s well executed, and it can be really, really funny. Look, I like Girls, and Iâ€™m excited about the second season.
But Dunhamâ€™s stupid little YouTube ad for the president might have ruined it all for me. Thatâ€™s because she sounds like sheâ€™s channeling her character, Invasion of the Body Snatchersâ€“style. They share the same baffling, naÃ¯vely egomaniacal understanding of justice â€” they both seem to think that because they exist, the universe needs to make sure that all the sex they choose to have is consequence-free.
You can almost argue that Lena Dunham sees President Obama as the perfect surrogate for everything missing in her charactersâ€™ lives: Heâ€™s their gentle lover, supportive parent, and empathetic friend. Heâ€™s special. He wonâ€™t let them down. Heâ€™s Prince Charming. And that kind of defeats the purpose of feminism.
Youâ€™d think the feminist elevation of agency would result in women who take pride in being responsible for their own bodies. Youâ€™d hope that telling women that they can do whatever they want would imply that theyâ€™re responsible for what they do. Youâ€™d think serious feminists would argue that true empowerment is something you lay claim to, not something the federal government dispenses in all its benevolence. But for Dunham, that doesnâ€™t seem to be the case.
In fact, for all practical purposes, the patriarchy no longer decides whom American women can sleep with and when. Thatâ€™s great. But if you donâ€™t want men in Washington telling you how to use your sexuality, you shouldnâ€™t expect them to subsidize it. But Dunham seems to actually believe they should. Dunham makes tons of money, and Iâ€™m quite confident she can afford to pay for her own birth control. But she doesnâ€™t seem to take pride in that; itâ€™s not what her characters aspire to, and given her foray into the delightful world of presidential-election ads, it doesnâ€™t seem to be something she aspires to, either.
Second-wave feminists lionized the independent woman who paid her own rent and busted through glass ceilings and ran for Congress. Being totally self-sufficient was the goal. The idea was that women didnâ€™t need men, whether those men were their fathers or husbands or boyfriends or presidents. By contrast, Dunhamâ€™s new vision of women as lady parts with ballots is infantilizing and regressive.
So Girls isnâ€™t the eschaton, and neither is one vapid YouTube video. But if Dunhamâ€™s show were a metaphorical canary in a metaphorical coal mine, it would be struggling pretty hard right now. Thereâ€™s a reason itâ€™s called Girls, not Women.