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. 

Gender and the In Between- A Gender Queer’s Journey

Featured on Afropunk.com and SheWired.com!

As a child, I spoke as few words as possible. The sound of my feminine voice disgusted me. I hated to be called a girl, while loving the color pink. I was a budding genderqueer.

Boys are different from girls, they said.  Fundamentally different, they’d persist. Boys don’t have long hair. Boys don’t like pink. Boys don’t cry and boys are tough. Girls like playing with dolls. Girls do poorly at math and enjoy frilly things.

Boys.  I studied them. I developed obsessions with male classmates with the utter desire to someday become all that they were. I would play make believe with my siblings in which I’d only be satisfied if I took on a male role.  I connected with boys in a way I never could with girls, and never quite understood why. I would wear suspenders as a tween and feel like a boss because they would make it look like I had no chest. When I started to develop, I would wrap myself in a bandage, not realizing that was a trope practiced all too often in the trans community. I would do this until my gender identity was challenged.

“You are so flat,” my very influential peers would say, prompting me to ask my mother to buy me my first training bra.

And then I discovered the internet. I learned about the term transgender. I looked at hundreds upon hundreds of befores and afters, FtMs. Top surgeries, bottom surgeries, hormones. I would read and read until my eyes would blur from my families’ bright Dell desktop screen, and I’d sink in my chair, feeling the emptiness grow inside of me. It was as if the more I searched for myself, the more lost I got. Because I couldn’t avoid my feelings; I didn’t feel fully male.

I didn’t know any trans people in my anti-queer, southern town, and definitely wasn’t going to be the first. So what did I do? I conformed. Like the scared child that I was, I began to present myself as outrageously feminine, so no one would suspect anything strange. It was as if I thought people could see through me, and wanted to give them no reason to use thier x-ray vision to spot my insecurities…or my weirdness.

I fell into a bout of shame, hating my natural femininity because I’d used a false, hyper-femininity as a wall to hide behind for so long. Oh, what a person will do to fit in.

I wanted no more shame, so I turned to the bottomless internet once again, searching for a reason to love myself. I studied femininity and the power of it all. I learned that being feminine does not equate weakness. There is strength in the power of women. In femininity, there is beauty; not the skin deep kind but the unconditional kind.  Through countless articles and books, and studying empowered feminist women like Betty Dobson and bell hooks, I learned to love my female body, and now I don’t want to lose it.

So here I am, yin and yang. Masculine and feminine. I wear my hair long but learned to walk from male role models growing up. The color pink still makes me smile, but I feel like a lie when wearing a dress. I still bind and wear clothes from the men or boys section, and prefer to hide my curves (the little bit that I have anyway). Not because I want to look male, but because it is how I feel most comfortable.

I call myself a boi, a budding term used in the lesbian and queer community, and truly believe if energies were gendered, I would be just that. I have little to no desire to have surgery or take hormones, though I like it when you call me “he.” I don’t mind “she” or “they” because I am that, too. All of the above, please. Sometimes I feel completely male, and wish on those days I had an attractive male body to wear. But most days I feel like both. I know it is confusing. I even confuse myself sometimes, but that’s simply how I feel. I don’t feel masculine enough to be male, nor am I feminine enough to be female. I love and accept my female body, though I ask you to not suspect that makes me a “woman.”

Through my journey, I find that in terms of gender identity, you are what you say you are. A man that wears makeup and has double D’s is still a man if he tells you so. It takes no more criteria than that. What it means to be a man and what it means to be a woman are social constructs, and though the masses follow these standards, you don’t have to. I don’t have to. I prefer to say I am in between genders, masculine of center, and as I feel, I am.

I spoke recently to a dear friend that had a challenging question for me;

“Why don’t you just ignore gender? Why don’t you just be who you are and not worry about what that makes you, be it male, female or otherwise?”

I sat there, stumped and silent, too caught off guard to admit my annoyance. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it but this anger boiled inside me. I slowly felt the tingle as my senses returned and I blurted out,

“Because nobody wants to be an outsider!”

I certainly didn’t think before I spoke, but couldn’t ignore the truth behind my words. Nobody wants to be an outsider. No one wants to feel like they belong nowhere. So many queer and trans people walk through their lives never feeling fully human, as if there is something alien about us that no one will ever understand. That is why we search for acceptance. That is why we challenge the gender binary and tell you to call us Zir. We’re fighting for our visibility, because we don’t like feeling invisible. We are not transsexual, we are sometimes not even transgender, but we’re definitely all over the gender spectrum, as a gender “binary”  is all but an illusion.

I’ve wanted to talk about this for a while now, but due to the fear of officially coming out as a genderfuck, I’ve avoided it. But as you see with this whole rant, I don’t care who knows anymore. I am tired of hiding in the binary and this is my way of connecting with all you gender queer and trans folk out there that are not interested in going all the way, on either side of the gender binary. We are the in betweeners, and we’re proud. Finally.