Janni Aragon, writing from Victoria, British Columbia in Canada.
As a feminist educator, my academic and political training influences my popular culture consumption and my assessment of what I have consumed. “Girls,” a dramedy written and directed by Lena Dunham, who also stars in the HBO cable television series, is no different than any other popular culture artifact in that I do not have the ability to turn off my feminist educator lens. I read all the controversy regarding how the show was monochromatic with an all-white cast of lead actors, who have famous parents—ergo they all have race, class, and education privilege. The hating began early on for the series.
I watched the first season for multiple reasons, but primarily got sucked in when I read in different places that “Girls” was today’s young women’s “Sex and the City” (SATC). I was first aghast—nope, that is not correct–SATC pushed boundaries regarding women’s sexuality. Women wanted sex. Sure, the show wasn’t exactly diverse in terms of race, class, and sexuality, but it made up for some of this with its entertainment value. Wait, a minute…perhaps I should watch “Girls” I thought. I watched the series and at times laughed, cringed, and thought lots about my women students.
The more I thought about it–this comparison between “Girls” and SATC is not off base. The Internet Movie Database (IMDB) descriptor blurb about “Girls” states, “A comedy about the experiences of a group of girls in their early 20s.” The IMDB descriptor for SATC reads slightly different, “Four beautiful female New Yorkers gossip about their sex-lives (or lack thereof) and find new ways to deal with being a woman in the 90s.” Sure, the women in SATC are older, more established within their careers, but for all intents and purposes—there are similarities between the two shows. We see how girls, er women, are educated and told that they can have it all. You could be a Carrie or Hannah and be convinced that your writing reflects your generation. Your relationships are common—that is they are healthy, unhealthy, abusive or you might not have a relationship. Both series offer us a look into the lives of educated women, who have real moments that are cringe worthy.
Our four heroines: Hannah, Marnie, Shoshanna, and Jessa are trying to find themselves—just as Carrie, Samantha, Charlotte and Miranda were trying to do so. These eight women were all told that they could have it all and that they could be anything that they wanted; however, the series demonstrated that this is not easy. It is hard to interview for a job, to ask to get paid at your unpaid internship, to have a good, healthy sex life, and to find support from your family and fictive kin. Yes, these women seem clueless and narcissistic at times, but this is realistic. Your twenties is about finding yourself: career, love, life, and more.
Watching “Girls,” I often thought of my students in their twenties and what they have to look forward to after graduation. I am usually thinking of the average students who have not prepared well and have thin resumes. Is this their future? I do not see my students as misfits with low self-esteem, but I only see one aspect of them in their lives. Perhaps my students also feel like they are flailing, failing, and working hard and have few prospects. I know that many of them are scared about their futures, and this includes male students. I have to wonder that there are some grains of truth in “Girls” and that your average, white, middle-class girl nods her head as she watches an episode.
The tag line for the series is: “They are living the dream one mistake at a time,” but I wonder what I can do as an instructor, and as a mentor to help my women students be better prepared, and perhaps make less mistakes.
This post was also published in Inside Higher Ed.