Making an ass of herself with agency

“She thought it would be fun to try photography/She thought it would be fun to try pornography/She thought it would be fun to try most anything/She was tired of sleeping”

“Beautiful” by Belle & Sebastian

No matter your particular age, economic status, gender or race, you probably currently have an opinion about Lena Dunham and her masterpiece of awkward social relations, Girls:

  • It is a brilliant portrait of what it means to be female, educated and young in New York City!
  • No, it is a dull, self-indulgent piece of crap about four lazy white chicks that pretends it is cinéma vérité!
  • No, it is an obscene series because it depicts weird sex, starring a nude woman with an imperfect body and more than  2% body fat!
  • It’s Sex and the Citybut depressing!
  • It demonstrates the bad behavior we all wish we could indulge in, a la Seinfeld, Curb Your Enthusiasm or Arrested Development!
  • Lena Dunham sucks!
  • No, you suck!

You can peruse Twitter at your leisure for more words of wisdom.

As you can probably tell, I am firmly in the pro-Girls camp. I think that the series is a warts-and-all story about four very different, very realistic young women. That being said, I do understand some of the criticism that has been hurled at the series. It depicts a very specific niche and some people–well, most people–are not like Hannah Horvath, Marnie Michaels, Jessa Johansson or Shoshanna Shapiro. But one piece of criticism that I will never understand goes something like this: these Girls are revolutionary characters, but their identities are contingent on the men in their lives.

Pardon my French, but I call bullshit.

There are guys in Girls, but they do not define Hannah and Co. And guess what? Hannah and Co. do not define the guys. These are all self-possessed, independent characters whose paths happen to cross because it is a television show and we need to observe conflict to feel entertained. We’re all free to be you and me! Yay.

But there are viewers who wholeheartedly disagree with me.  Serena Daalmans‘s analysis of the series argues that Hannah’s relationship with Adam (who is interesting to say the least) is completely passive. She opines, “Hannah’s need for something to happen in her life, rather than actually taking charge of her life, is disconcerting, as is her willingness to engage in non-fulfilling, awkward, degrading, and unprotected sex with Adam.”

Sorry, but I don’t buy that. Yes, I find Hannah and Adam’s coupling problematic. His initial behavior in the program is definitely not what I look for in a partner. And according to Dunham’s Fresh Air interview, that is the show’s intention. Yet I’m not going to say that her completely unromantic sexual encounters are examples of Hannah waiting for her life to happen. She does these things out of real affection for that weirdo and, as Jessa would put it, “for the story.” I would not personally make that choice, but I’m also not Hannah.

Hannah puts up with a lot throughout the series, and puts her foot in her mouth on a regular basis. But she is aware about her own flaws, admits to them and makes conscious choices as to how she wants to live her life. She yells at her ex-boyfriend for coming out; she wears some truly horrendous outfits; she hits on and then tries to blackmail her boss; she has sex with a stranger eighteen years her senior; she tries cocaine; she burns bridges left and right; she tells Adam she never wants to see him again, but then accepts his grand romantic gesture.

Even if you don’t agree with this type of behavior, it is hard to see it as lacking any agency. You might think Hannah is a sociopath instead of a human being with flaws and contradictions, but  you still have to admit that she makes these seemingly terrible decisions under no one’s influence but her own. Hannah is a writer who believes she needs interesting experiences to write well. Not all authors would deliberately put themselves in awful situations in order to write, and that is their prerogative. However, Hannah does make that choice and takes herself out of her ordinary life and habits. Her actions are shocking, infuriating and worthy of empathy. You might not be willing to try anything once like she is, but don’t say she is passive about her own life because she has unsexy sex. Hannah is doing what she wants, and screw you if you don’t like it.

How Outside Girl is that?

Am I right or do you think I am way off-base? What is your opinion about Lena Dunham and her series? Please feel free to share your perspective in the comments!

(Image #1 courtesy of cosmopolitan.com; #2 courtesy of hollywoodreporter.com; #3 courtesy of crushable.com; #4 courtesy of nymag.com)

3 thoughts on “Making an ass of herself with agency

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