Lena Dunham and the cast of GIRLS
Dear Lena Dunham Haters,
I’m sick of the Lena Dunham hate.
I’m not referring to the criticisms of Dunham, which are—in most cases—valid and necessary critiques of her privilege, especially how that privilege translates into her work. The first season of Girls in particular either ignored people of color entirely, which is problematic enough since the show takes place in Brooklyn (a predominantly Black neighborhood), but when it did include people of color, they tended to appear as stereotypes (nannies, homeless, etc), and Dunham absolutely deserves to be called out for that.
But I’m sick of the Lena Dunham hate.
Just take a moment and Google the phrase “I hate Lena Dunham.” Feel free to spend some time browsing through the more than a million results. Searches related to “I hate Lena Dunham” include such gems as “Lena Dunham annoying,” “how much does Lena Dunham weigh,” and “what size is Lena Dunham.”
We live in a society that constantly undervalues and devalues the work of women while simultaneously expecting that the work we do—from mothering to directing movies—is performed fucking flawlessly. That said, we can’t sit back and pretend the vitriol directed at Dunham isn’t largely about a young woman breaking barriers in an industry that doesn’t like women (especially women who aren’t conventionally attractive and who aren’t gasp! spending all their waking hours apologizing for it). We shouldn’t pretend either that we, as a culture—and that includes women and feminists—haven’t internalized a little bit of this uneasiness surrounding successful women. It makes sense, then, that the undercurrent bubbling beneath all this Dunham hate is the very sexist notion that somehow Dunham doesn’t deserve her success.
Lena Dunham, looking all ungrateful for her unearned success
Admittedly, I have a soft spot for Dunham, having written about her wonderful film Tiny Furniture way back in 2011, before she’d manage to offend the entire nation with her giant thighs and sloppy backside. I think she comes across as genuinely funny and interesting, and I hope that her success—and the hard hits she’s taking because of it—will make the next woman who dares to step out of line (where “line” means “the patriarchal framework”) do so with just as much fearlessness.
Lena Dunham, probably getting ready to annoy people with her incessant whining
But how about we leave the I HATE LENA DUNHAM BECAUSE SHE SEEMS ENTITLED AND KINDA HORRIBLE AND WHINY AND ISN’T DOING THINGS THE WAY I WOULD DO THEM IF I WERE LENA DUNHAM grossness off the table for five seconds.
Lena Dunham, being all entitled and shit
When I was 26, I was spending my fifth year failing undergrad, drowning in student loan debt (that’s still happening), smoking pot incessantly, binge-eating pepperoni rolls, sleeping through most of my classes on a broken futon, and shoving dryer sheets in my heating vents because my shitty always-drunk neighbors wouldn’t stop chain smoking. Occasionally, out of nowhere, a giant fly would swoop down from some unseen cesspool where flies live and attack me. Those are my memories of being 26. Maybe your memories of being 26 suck way less, and if so, congratulations! But you’re allowed to make mistakes at 26. You’re allowed to learn from those mistakes and evolve into a person who looks back and thinks, “Wow, 26 was rough, and I sucked at it.” That’s a general goddamn life rule, and we aren’t taking it away from Lena Dunham just because she’s a young woman who dares to make her mistakes in public. (Read Jodie Foster’s thought-provoking essay on society’s disgustingunsurprisingly misogynist reactions toward young women acting like young women in public.)
I mean, just to double check, we’re all still cool with Louis C.K., right? I haven’t yet seen season three of Louie, that award-winning show that C.K. writes, directs, produces, edits, and stars in (sound familiar?), but I remember the first few episodes or so of this New York City-set critics’ darling being fairly fucking White, except for a few peripheral characters outside of Louie’s inner circle. And the Black people who do exist (at least in the first season) pretty much serve as vehicles to illustrate Louie’s uncoolness by comparison. (Has anyone given a name to that trope yet?) So, did I miss the accompanying INTERNET FREAKOUT, or does this bro maybe represent—I dunno—society’s favorite quintessential middle-aged, balding white dude who can’t get laid, that we all find so endearing and impossible not to love?
Did I also miss the 100% JUSTIFIED NOT REALLY BECAUSE IT NEVER HAPPENED OUTRAGE over C.K. exposing his huge gut and sloppy backside to the masses—whether he’s climbing on top of hot women (duh) or getting a totally unnecessary (because assault is funny!) rectal exam from doctor-character Ricky Gervais? And we’re all still cool with his awkward and embarrassing sex scenes, right? Because they’re just … so … what’s that word people keep railing against when it’s used to describe the sex scenes in Girls … oh yeah … “REAL” … ?
"Eh, what are you gonna do?" --privileged White dudes everywhere, in response to rarely getting called out for their bullshit
My bad. I’m probably missing something, since Chuck Bowen called Louie “possibly the most racially integrated television show ever made,” (I’ll admit “Dentist/Tarese” is an interesting episode toward the end of season one) and there isn’t at all an inkling of a double standard at play here regarding what we consider “acceptable” bodies to display onscreen. (Sidenote: I love, not really, how groundbreaking it is that C.K. cast a Black woman to play his ex-wife in season three of Louie, yet we’re still treated to that “schlubby dude landing a hot lady” trope. I can’t keep suspending my disbelief forever, boys.)
Sorry, tangent. But seriously.
If I sound like a Lena Dunham apologist aka “a fucking pig who can go to hell,” let me clarify (again): Lena Dunham should be—and certainly has been, I mean fuck—criticized for her show’s failings. Most television shows and films for that matter would benefit even from a miniscule amount of the kind of intense anger flung at Girls over its racism and lack of diversity. But I’m angry that people—including women and feminists—can’t seem to criticize Lena Dunham’s show without launching into sexist attacks against Lena Dunham, in the same way I was angry when people couldn’t (and still can’t) separate their criticisms of Sarah Palin’s conservative policies from their sexist attacks against Sarah Palin.
So, if nothing else, I give you these few words and phrases to move away from when talking about Lena Dunham: “whiny” … “annoying” … “ugly” … “gross” … “frumpy” … “hot mess” … “neurotic” … “slutty” … you get the idea.
NEPOTISM NARCISSISM LENA'S BODY UGH
The truth is, ultimately, it doesn’t matter to me who likes Girls and who doesn’t. For what it’s worth, I liked the first season, mainly because I’ve been writing about representations of women in film and television for five years, and it was nice for once to know I wouldn’t have to analyze every scene to figure out whether this show passed The Bechdel Test. It sort of blew my mind to hear women talk to one another about abortion, HPV, colposcopies, virginity, and menopause, like, repeatedly—and with no unnecessary mansplainy perspective involved. I think the show actually makes a pretty serious case against living like an entitled, culturally insulated hipster, while still managing to love its characters. But I understand, even excluding the criticisms regarding lack of diversity, that people still legitimately dislike the show for other reasons. That’s allowed. I hate Two and a Half Men and Family Guy and The Big Bang Theory and How I Met Your Mother and every other White-dominated show on television that keeps pretending women exist merely as fucktoys and mommies to their manchildren, and that’s allowed too.
But if you’re having an epic conniption over HOW HORRIBLE GIRLS IS OMG WHY DOES ANYONE LIKE IT LENA DUNHAM IS THE WORST, maybe it’s time to evaluate the hate—not dislike of, or boredom with, or ambivalence toward—but the actual hatred of
Girls Lena Dunham, and why it’s really there.
STEPHANIE ROGERS is the co-founder and editor of Bitch Flicks, a feminist film and media website. Her feminist commentary has also appeared at sites such as Ms. Magazine, Women and Hollywood, and Shakesville. In her spare time, she writes poems and streams a shitload of Netflix.