Girls on Girls: four real-life women give insight on Lena Dunham’s controversial TV show

If you haven’t heard people weighing in on Lena Dunham’s HBO show “Girls”, you haven’t been listening very hard. Everyone seems to have something to say about the show, including Kareem Abdul Jabbar who called it “like a checklist of being naughty”, and expressed distaste for the all-white cast of characters.

James Franco took a crack at it. Writer Sarah Ditum called the show a “hapless racist failure”. And Jill York over at Nerve was pretty upset when, after being compared to Dunham, she finally watched the show herself. However, her issue with the show was simply that Lena seemed to be making her look at her own selfish behaviors.

The show, touted as the voice of a generation, which has a larger male than female viewership, doesn’t seem to hit any middle ground. It’s loved or it’s hated. Not that 26-year-old Dunham cares either way. It’s already been picked up for a third season.

With all of the various people talking about “Girls”, which recently aired its season finale, we decided to ask some actual girls what they think of the show.

The Girls:

Laura, age 24
Community Manager at a major publication
Lives in New York

Jessica, age 30
Intern at Buzzfeed and grad student
Lives in New York

Evan, age 26
Works at Van’s store and a crème brulee food truck
Lives in Los Angeles

Nadine, age 23
Working artist
Lives in New York

On being the “voice of a generation” of young women:

Laura: I cringe through every episode, without fail. That’s not to say there aren’t moments where I can relate (you know, my limited experience w/ dating in nyc). But generally I find myself frustrated and repulsed by it — though I am still watching, so I guess that says something. . I don’t like being compared to her because I associate her characters as whiny and entitled and kind of desperate, and those aren’t ways I would describe myself.

Evan: I feel like it definitely speaks to what women in their 20’s have gone through recently and I also feel it is a fair representation for most people in their 20’s right now. 
I pretty much relate to the Lena Dunham’s character almost spot on, from parents cutting me off to jobs not lasting longer than a few weeks or months, having really strange and unhealthy relationships that I can’t seem to understand when I am in them and sort of get a grasp on once they are over.

Nadine: I don’t think that it is the sole voice of this generation. It might be the voice of a certain type of person, but it definitely doesn’t speak for the majority of people. Or at least I have hope that it does not!

On the frequency of nudity and sex in the show:

Laura: It definitely makes the episode/show feel more like a vanity project, but I’m not offended by seeing her naked.

Evan: The fact that she is so honest about her own inner turmoil and what she might actually be thinking in a realistic situation is bravery enough. To add being nude almost all the time, well she is in my top 5 heroines that’s for sure. There are boatloads of real shaped women in the world and I, being one of them, have most definitely been ashamed of almost all of my body in most lighting due to the nakedness I have seen before in media my entire life. Whether or not she has gotten over any image issues she may have had before by doing this show, she has at least proven to me that she has the courage to say ‘fuck it and fuck you if you don’t appreciate it’. I have been under the thumb of perfection my whole life and have severe emotional and mental damage from all of it. I wish she had been on tv in my formative years so I wasn’t so fucked up about my own self image. This is a big hardy Thank You to Lena Dunham; telling the world that she may not be completely happy with herself but she isn’t going to let that hold her back. 

Nadine: I don’t have a problem with the nudity and sex on the show. Her sexual behavior and choices makes sense because of her character flaws such as low self esteem and need for approval.

On the claims that the show isn’t ethnically diverse enough to represent reality:

Evan: Well first off, the show isn’t called Diverse Girls. She dates a black guy and there are gay people and older people. That right there is already pretty diverse. Just because I’m not seeing every color or learning about every culture doesn’t mean anything. I think that is just people trying to make us all a weird beige blob and that just isn’t how things work. This is very clearly her representation of her life and if you think about it, who are in your circle of friends? Do you have one of every color? Didn’t think so. So shut up.
No my friends are very diverse. Just kidding.

Laura: I think it’s problematic, especially with all the talk of it being the voice of our generation. Really, it is the Lena Dunham show and I think she’s made that pretty clear.

Jessica: I listened to Dunham’s discussion of this on Fresh Air awhile back and I thought she came off as super intelligent and honest. I guess her inclusion of Donald Glover was a reaction to this criticism, but he was only in 2 episodes. While I think diversity is never a bad thing, I can’t honestly say I’m super bothered by the lack of it. I think she’s doing so much important stuff in this show, sometimes you can’t just do it all. 

Nadine: The show does lack diversity and is obviously written by a North American White girl. I think every artist has the right to create work from their own perspective, so I don’t necessarily criticize her for her perspective. However since it is from a limited perspective and not a universal one that encompasses diversity, it cant be regarded as the voice of this generation. Especially in this cross cultural influenced society.

On the men in the show:

Jessica: I do think the male characters are realistic, even if they’re a little exaggerated. Most men I know like the show.

Nadine: I think that those type of guys exist but that the show exaggerates their behaviors.

Laura: My favorite moments are with the guys in Girls. They’re all pretty fucked up, but honest about it, and seem to be trying to make peace with it.

Overall feelings on the show:

Laura: I don’t like being compared to her, (Dunham) because I associate her characters as whiny and entitled and kind of desperate, and those aren’t ways I would describe myself.

Jessica: I think Dunham has really created a space for women to be ok with who they are – ok with not knowing what they want, or if they do, ok with not totally knowing how to get it. Her characters are flawed and real and as selfish as they are endearing. 

Evan: I have really appreciated the ballsiness of the writing as well as the nonverbal emotions that come across. One scene has really stuck out to me, in the episode where she goes home. The scene in the party where it just shows her clearly uncomfortable in a room full of people felt so accurate to how I have felt before. How many times have I had that exact look on my face in the same situation? Also the part where she is in bed with that guy from her town, he isn’t pressuring her to have sex, but all of her previous experiences were telling her that maybe he was just saying that and not meaning it, maybe he wouldn’t talk to her again if he didn’t at least get off, maybe she was trying out her boundaries with someone she wouldn’t have to see ever again. It felt like I was watching me f___ up what could have been a good memory, because I’ve done that, a fair amount. And the underlying plot that she is following her dreams or her heart or some nonsense about being a writer, that that is what she feels she must do, I mean, that’s why I do anything I do, because I feel like it’s the right thing in that moment for me to be doing. Life lessons to come later.

Nadine: The best thing is that it shows the life of females in a different way than other shows do. The worst thing about the show is that it is about self-absorbed, terrible people.

Nikol Hasler
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Nikol Hasler