Lena Dunham 'Girls' is White Girl Feminism At Its Worst
Lena Dunham won big at the Golden Globe Awards last night for Best Actress in a Comedy Series, and Best TV Comedy or Musical. In her acceptance speech she said, “This is for any women that’s felt like there wasn’t a space for her.”
Which women? The white millennial female who lives in New York? Dunham says she finally has a space for herself in creating the show but what about the other two-thirds of Brooklyn? The issues with HBO's Girls have been discussed at length.
Behind Girls is the idea that as millennials, we can be lost. We are trying to find ourselves, we stumble ever onward in the hope that we will get something, anything, right. This is a translatable experience for most twenty-something year-old women, and most twenty-somethings period. But what happens to women who do not see themselves expressed in the show, or see themselves as the same played out stereotypes? And should that matter?
Casting notices for the show illuminate the problem:
Dunham is applauded for writing characters that are trying to find their footing, who are struggling in most aspects of life. Critics say the show is courageous. We have seen female characters struggle with identity before, My So Called Life was produced 19 years ago. Daria gave us more diversity than Girls. That is not to say that the series doesn't address real and important topics, like the first season's second episode about abortion. But are these discussions enough to make up for its lack of diversity?
After the initial criticism of Girls, writer Lesley Arfin responded via Twitter:
That’s the problem with white girl feminism. It is the belief that showing smart intelligent white women is somehow enough — that it should be applauded; that women everywhere should be proud that these types of characters are even on TV at all; that all women should be happy that there is a show based around intelligent college educated women. But that’s not enough for me.
It’s not enough because there are people who are alienated, who routinely experience erasure of their own experiences for the sake of a joke or to set up a plot. There are those that would say it is her own right to write about whatever she wants, to exhibit characters in whatever way she desires. That’s true. But if we don’t evaluate our own privilege as white females than what are doing? How do we move forward?
Are we really going to pretend that struggling white girls in a big city is something new? Are we going to give ourselves pats on the back while millions continue to go without a voice. No, at the very least we must acknowledge a problem exists. For what it’s worth, Lena Dunham has done that.
Last night, season two made its premiere on HBO and Donald Glover appears as Lena’s African-American Republican boyfriend. Jessica Wakeman responds to his appearance:
“Hmm. I wonder whether he’ll stick around for more than one episode (i.e. have a prolonged character arc) or whether this will a “Sex and the City”-style moment where Hannah gets a teachable moment by dating someone not like her.”
What it comes down to for me is this. If feminism isn’t intersectional, it means nothing. Am I implying that all shows must be perfect reflections of diversity? No. But at the very least, they should not promote or play into trite racial or ethnic stereotypes.
There are some that might respond to this article by saying, this is political correctness out of control. No. It isn’t. What this is about is reflecting a culture whose growing diversity should be, must be, reflected in its media and pop culture.