Tag Archives: Shoshanna Shapiro

She never said she wanted to improve her station

“Wickedness is a myth invented by good people to account for the curious attractiveness of others.”

Oscar Wilde

Have you ever come across someone who just does what he wants all the time, with no real preoccupation about how others will react? Someone who acts selfishly and rude and has no concern for how her behavior affects those around her? A person who brings new definition to the term “fuck-up,” but still somehow manages to always land on his or her feet? I’ve come across a few members of this rare breed and my reaction is almost always the same: I view this person with an odd combination of disgust, pity and utter jealousy. As much as they annoy me, these people can pull off something I can’t.  And I hate them for it. So I do what many other people do: I pretend that my judgment comes from a place of integrity instead of a place of petulant envy.

I’ve already mentioned the endless Girls backlash in a previous post, but have not addressed one of the most controversial characters and criticism-magnets: Jessa Johansson. I love Jessa. I love her clothing, her hair and her attitude. She is an ex-junkie with a failed marriage and no significant history of education or employment, but she acts as if she is royalty. I wish I was one-tenth that self-assured. Unfortunately, if I was to be truly honest with myself, I would have to say that I am most like Hannah (foot-in-mouth disease, awkward clothing, familiarity with self-pity, etc.), but I want to be Jessa. Which is really ironic, considering the fact I would probably hate/envy her if I met her in the real world.

I think part of all the Girls hate is the phenomenon I just described. Audiences might take in this selfish, lazy, unduly confident ne’er-do-well, wish that they were a little bit like her and feel furious. And, to a certain extent, maybe this is the case with all the Girls, though Jessa probably warrants the anger the most. Ninety-nine percent of the world does not fit into this white, privileged, self-analyzing universe. And that, understandably, pisses a lot of people off.

Or maybe there is a sociological reason that the Jessas of the world attract so much vitriol. Maybe we are angry at her because a.) she is a failure, b.) because she is unruffled by her missteps, and c.) because our culture is especially concerned with preserving norms. And what is more abnormal than an underemployed, underwhelmed, over-confident druggie? In particular, one who always seems to end up A-okay, no matter what misadventure she stumbles into? It’s no wonder we (i.e. me) view Jessa with anger and awe. As Angela McRobbie describes in The Aftermath of Feminism, “having a well-planned life emerges as a social norm of contemporary femininity.” Think Shoshanna and  her fifteen-year plan and Marnie’s…well, just think about Marnie. These two and their well-thought-out lives are less upsetting to us because they are more recognizable and understandable. We don’t feel as mad at Marnie because at least she tried to hold down a suitable career before going off the rails. And Shoshanna acts appropriately devastated when she flunks one class and costs herself a timely graduation.

Jessa, on the other hand, never concerns herself with following any generic path. In McRobbie’s analysis, women like Jessa , or “those young women under-achievers, and those who do not have the requisite degrees of motivation and ambition to improve themselves, become all the more emphatically condemned for their lack of status and for other failings.” In other words, we dislike Jessa because she has made a complete mess of her life and because she does not seem to have many, if any, regrets about her past. Her philosophy towards life makes ours seem less valid.

So, why is it that I still like Jessa so much? I think it is because she does what I wish I could do, as opposed to what I actually do. I wish I had the bravery–or even the capability–to experiment with everything without feeling guilty or worried. I want to not care at all about what other people think of me. I would love to not give my past actions or words a second glance and be sure of every decision I make. And–let’s be real here–I want her hair and sense of style. Unfortunately, that is probably the most unattainable trait of all. In any case, I think that our society’s collective hostility towards the Jessas of the world is fueled by jealousy and curiosity much more than it is provoked by the people’s actions. We (again, me) will never be like these people. We will never mess up, act exactly as we see fit and still manage to live a fairly fulfilled life. And that drives us up the frickin wall. Jessa does not give a damn about her reputation; I do. And I cannot stand it.

(Image #1 courtesy of theguardian.com; #2 courtesy of pinterest.com; #3 courtesy of hbo.com)

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)