But I’m a Feminist: On Lena Dunham’s “Girls”

This essay is featured on SheWired.comGirls Renewed

Millennials, hipsters, young, white feminist rejoice! Lena Dunham’s wildly successful series, “Girls,” is returning for it’s third season so soon you can almost smell the twenty-something angst rolling off your screen. You know you’re excited.

When “Girls” premiered on HBO, Metacritic.com named it the highest rated fictional series premier of 2012. Then “Girls” continued it’s awesomeness by winning an Emmy in 2012 for Outstanding Casting in a Comedy Series, to it’s notable Golden Globe wins for Best Television Series (Comedy or Musical), as well as Dunham’s Globe for Best Actress in a TV series. No doubt, since it’s start, “Girls” has been a force to be reckoned with. And no wonder just about every one of my friends tunes in to watch “Girls,” without fail.

But it’s not all awesome possum for “Girls.”  After loving fans and loyal critics got over the brilliantly crafted writing style, fresh perspective, and edgy subject matter, they looked to the lack of minority representation.  Seriously, the social lens of “Girls” is so small, you rarely even see minorities in the background (be that Asian, Black, Hispanic, gay. lesbian, queer, or anything other than heterosexual,white, cis men and women). Sidenote; I’ll give “Girls” the one representation of a gay man, though extremely flat and stereotypical, does technically count. But I digress; On NPR, Dunham woefully responded to the criticism, saying,

“I take that criticism very seriously… As much as I can say [writing four white main characters] was an accident, it was only later as the criticism came out, I thought, ‘I hear this and I want to respond to it.”

Dunham’s NPR interview was in May of 2012, in the middle of the first season. So that must mean her response was the weak sauce premiere of the second season, in which Donald Glover a.k.a Childish Gambino made a quick cameo as her black boyfriend. That’s right, Glover played Lena’s boyfriend who broke up with her by the end of the episode, and was never spoke of again for the rest of the season. To that, I say fail.

But why were people so pissed? I mean, “Sex and the City,” a show “Girls” is often compared to, had very few people of color. Well, they’re pissed because the creator of “Girls” is a self-proclaimed feminist who is supposed to be all for progressive thinking and equality. Because rather we should or not, we see “Girls” as a show representing a huge chunk of Generation Y. It is supposed to be a narrative all us Millennials can relate to, or so the media feels. And that is why Dunham has been accused of such passive artistry. Allow me to explain. A passive artist is a one-trick pony, a creative thinker that knows what of theirs sells, and sticks to those things and those things only. Lena Dunham, thus far, has been a passive artist, and while there is nothing wrong with having a niche career, it’s not alright for Dunham. This is because no one sees Lena Dunham as a passive artist. She has been called the voice of our generation, a strong female writer that represents young women and other Millennials. But to say she represents our generation is to assume a white, privileged female, hipster narrative on every Generation Y’er around- because that is, in fact, the narrative Dunham has stuck to in the whole of her television and film career; see “Tiny Furniture” here. The issue is, during the creation of “Girls,” Dunham never even realized the impact she had on media with her show, “Girls.” Here’s what she said about critics calling her “the voice of our generation,” when prompted on her character, Hannah, being high on opium;

“I don’t think I ever imagined that it would haunt me the way it is,” Dunham said in a recent interview. “The character was on opium! I think the ‘voice of a generation’ concept was lost with beatnik literature. Because of globalization and increasing populations, my generation kind of consists of so many different voices that need so many different kinds of attention. But if my writing can show what it’s like to be young, I’m happy.”

Lena Dunham was never trying to be a voice of a generation. Her goal was not to speak for us all, but to share her own, limited, yet interesting,  perspective. We, the media, and critics bestoed a responsibility on Dunham she didn’t even know she carried. I understand that. But as a strong, feminist voice in our media, I believe it is a responsibility Ms.Dunham must take on. I  hate to add to the pressure, but have you noticed the progressive shift in our society over the past few years? In 2008, our first Black president was nominated into office, gay marriage is now legal in 18 states, and the gender disparity equal pay have gone from 77% on the dollar to 93%. Get with the times, Dunham. Be a part of that progression. Use your voice for positive change, not just personal gain.

Not to say that one little tv show can change the world, but one little tv show can change how we see the world. Take “Star Trek,” for instance. On the surface, ” Star Trek” may seem like some nerdy. inter-gallactic, super-show with no real impact on society. But the show’s inclusion of a number of strong female leads, and characters of color, coupled with it’s undeniable success and popularity as a series, helped to shift how society saw minorities in media. It changed how we cast, and opened doors for future minorities to not have to be so trapped in limited, stereotypical roles.

So much of what we see in the media are mindless fillers for overworked people that really just want let their brains rest by not having to think about what the Kardashians will do next or which Beverly Hills house wife will fight whom. It’s not often we come across a television show that is not just extremely popular, but also intelligent. I’m not asking for Dunham to completely change her style or even change the show all that much. I simply ask that when creating one of her brilliant episodes, to recognize her voice as a powerful reflection of modern feminism, and make of that what she will.

 Here’s what I hope to see in “Girls,” season three;

 Rather than being a white-washed world, unaware of real issues dealt with by people less privileged, the show would recognize it’s privilege and add a tone of self awareness, similar to it’s often compared, tv relative, “Louie.”Whether “Girls” likes it or not, it is influencing our society with it’s representations, and a mis/lack of representation of minorities in relation to whiteness is troublesome to our culture. Visibility is a powerful thing. Just think, for an old, white-man, executive of some big entertainment company to turn on the tv and see a bunch of people of color on a show that rivals his own, he will notice. In modern culture, tv shows have the power to make real differences in the move to social change. And with the news that a the first black, female main character will be joining the cast,( Danielle Brooks from “Orange is the New Black”!) things are already looking up.

  As you can probably tell, I’ve been known to get my hate on when it comes “Girls,” but I stand by the belief that a well-written show, no matter it’s subject matter, is worth watching. Intelligent shows boost discussion, and promote critical thinking, and I’m all for that. So you go, Ms.Dunham. I’ll definitely be tuning in on January 11th along with millions of others, to watch Hannah and her friends act a fool.