Wednesday, March 13, 2013


So, Girls. If you don't watch this show, it's about a privileged girls living in a magic alterna-Brooklyn in which everyone is white and pays for things with monopoly money (I guess....)

Now, everyone has criticized Girls for this already, and I will point out that, you know, a culture that produces twenty-six-year-olds who have not yet experienced "I want this thing, but I can't have it" as an economic reality (not in the sense of, this boy doesn't like me, or I didn't get into Columbia) should maybe casts its gaze towards the mirror rather than at individual young women who reflect that reality. Life is a different thing when you do and do not have to pay your own rent. The fact that Girls focuses so much more on Lena Dunham being naked than it does on actually depicting that reality is only annoying insofar as it is annoying to spend your twenties getting up at 6 and working fifty hours and commuting two and wearing the same four pairs of pants and not getting haircuts, and then to be told given a picture of well-dressed, well-nourished girls eating cupcakes in bathtubs and told, We get you.

But TV isn't going to represent life, and it's equally stupid to complain it should and to herald an obviously fanciful view of a world in which no one really has to work as "gritty" or "real". The difference between Sex and the City and Girls is that the women in Sex and the City are likable and attractive, and they have jobs that support their spending, because, conventionally, that is how people live.

Really it's not, of course -- Mary Crawley doesn't spend a lot of time concerned about paying the bills, for example. It's always been the case that some people have to work and some people don't. It is super irritating to be handed a person who does not have to work or who is somehow living in Greenpoint but working at a coffee shop -- because whaaaat? Does she have stock in it? -- and be told that this is the voice of any generation. (I do feel much better after resolving with my husband that a generation gap exists between kids born in the early and late 1980s; something about using hardbound encyclopedias rather than computers to write book reports. I'm just old!)

Because in the Brooklyn in which I live, I am privileged, because I can afford to borrow the money to attend an accelerated public nursing program while working between one and three jobs and raising my son, who I leave in a day care center where he is occasionally bitten but otherwise does okay. When I am walking him there, I see one of the gentlemen from the drop-in center where I used to work; he has housing now, after over a year, and he remembers me. The kids at the bus stop are wearing the generic uniforms required by the corporate charter schools blooming around our part of the city, schools at which the rigors of Being an Artist are a distant concern; schools staffed by slightly less privileged versions of Hannah who do have the distinction of recognizing that the world includes other people and formulating a response to that fact that doesn't involve taking off their clothes.

When I go to work, I am either teaching the sullen teenage children of Chinese immigrants in Bay Ridge or booking free field trips for kids in Flatbush. In my free time, I like to take care of disabled children in nursing homes. I'd like a TV show about someone who enjoys these things -- who spent her twenties looking for responsible ways to respond to the needs of others and sees her sexual exploits as a boring, common sidebar to real life, rather than a profound artistic statement.

But people (almost) always prefer watching you have sex than dealing with your opinions, ideas or beliefs; it's not a triumph to get them to do so when you're 150 pounds instead of 110. People  (almost) always prefer the illusion that really, the current social system is working -- just get a job in a coffee shop; at 7.50 an hour, less taxes, that $210 a week will certainly cover your share of a $1800 apartment. How fortunate that you found the only apartment in Greenpoint that costs that much!

It isn't feminist or empowering just to be a woman and talk, or make art, especially if you're just talking about sex and taking pictures of your own naked body.

I can see how it is refreshing to see an ordinary looking woman naked on TV. But truth bomb, here: you can be ordinary looking, not a model, and still find people who want to look at you naked, and that "triumph" is in no way a replacement for being respected, or being listened to, or taking meaningful action with your life.

I think it actually may not even be a generation gap here, as much as it my own disappointment with the way that the Third Wave of feminism turned the whole thing into a fight to be approved of as a sexual object, regardless of the size of your ass.

I just want a story about women who do things that don't involve getting a man, or talking with da girls about her man, or empowering herself by having sex, because fine if you want to do that, but understand that the person you are sleeping with is getting sex, and everyone else is getting to look at a young, naked body -- so the fact that it's not thin isn't actually "showing them" or challenging them the way you may think it is. A transgendered body? I'll buy that that's subversive. A disabled body? Sure. A healthy, young, hetero-normative body that happens to be a little fuller-figured than the norm? Be as naked as you want; it's not appreciably different from any other pretty white flesh onscreen just because there's more of it up there.

I want a story in which women relate to the world around them in the way men (sometimes) do in art and literature and TV and movies: that is to say, by mattering to someone who is not them, their bff, or the guy they're dating. I just want someone to make a TV show about Dvera Saxton or Magdelena Schmidt or Hilary Davis, any of whom actually has so many things to say and so many things going on that they don't have to take their shirt off to keep anyone's interest.

Because: really, whether you are gorgeous or average, fat or thin, curvy or not, you're not automatically defined by your body and its erotic or aesthetic possibilities, just because you are female. There are so many more interesting options than being conventionally attractive and naked or non-conventionally attractive and naked.

And I would need to dig out my critical theory book to get into it, but I feel like the biggest problem with Girls is the way it presents an adulthood stripped of any sense of responsibility to one's community or world, any grappling with problems outside oneself, and any effort to come to terms with one's position in a world that is giving you these privileges not only in juxtaposition to, but at the expense of, other people. The system that makes Girls possible is the same economic system that makes a lot of other, radically different lives inevitable here in Brooklyn. I'd watch Hannah do whatever she wanted with her zaftig self if she'd stop and free-associate about that at any point.

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