Are Girls Free to Make Love?

640_lena_dunham_patrick_wilson_hboIn a recent episode of Girls, non-skinny and not classically beautiful, Hannah, has a short affair with a man who looks exactly like hunky Patrick Wilson. The response? He’s too hot for her!

As Fariha Roisin at Huffington Post put it:

Like, nobody who looks like that would a) Even think about sleeping with Hannah b) Then actually have the impertinence to enjoy it c) Then actually tell her she’s ‘beautiful.’ All he, realistically, would surely feel is remorse/self contempt, but hey sex is sex, right? Even bad sex, with a supposed undesirable.

Roisin then points out that when gender roles are reversed a similar outcry is absent.

  • Katherine Heigl would go for Seth Rogen?
  • The King of Queens gets the queen of Queens?
  • Jon Cryer and Courtney Thorne Smith?
  • Gorgeous porn stars with Ron Jeremy?

The list goes on but the outcry does not.

Maybe it’s about who has power over media and ideas – usually, men. And men like the idea of being able to get gorgeous girls even if they, themselves, aren’t so good-looking.

It’s not that men are bad. If women had more power than men it would probably be the reverse. (Lena Dunham gets a little power and look what happens to her character, Hannah. If I were producing, writing and starring in GIRLS I’d write in an affair with Patrick Wilson, too.)

This power over ideas may also affect whose body is shamed and whose is not. Men must be quite obese to garner body shame (if then) but women may be perfectly healthy and be thought too fat. And so Rush Limbaugh says feminism was created to allow unattractive women into mainstream society.

The double standard is reflected yet again as men may make love to many women without censor, but women may not.

In the end it is all about who is free and who is not — to love their bodies, to make love and to love. And it’s all tied to who makes the rules and who does not.

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About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State. And I have blogged for Feminispire, Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos. Also been picked up by The Alternet.

Posted on March 6, 2013, in body image, feminism, gender, men, psychology, relationships, sex and sexuality, sexism, women and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 18 Comments.

  1. One of the reasons I like that series so much is because it spits in the eye of preconceived attitudes about what is beautiful, what is desirable, and who is sexy. Hannah, in her slight chunkiness and not-classical beauty is more comfortable in her own skin than Marnie. That “makes” her sexy/sexual in a way that society has little to no say in, except after the fact and in true temper tantrum style.

  2. I don’t watch Girls, but I have come across this article on body double-standards before. I just don’t get it, or rather I do, but I don’t want to live in a world with these double standards!

    • And it’s interesting to think about how the double standards apply in so many different areas. And how it points to what’s called the “sociology of knowledge”: how is the more powerful members of society control and influence the way we all think.

  3. Rohan 7 Things

    Female body shame effects everyone adversely. The horrible thing is that men feel the woman’s body shame when being with an “unattractive” woman. Men will often choose a more society-defined attractive woman over a women he personally finds more interesting or attractive because his friends will laugh if he’s seen with someone “unattractive”. Can you believe that?!

    The attractiveness of the partner is like a trophy. “Look how hot this girl is, she reflects my own greatness”. It’s total bullshit because in reality both men and women like varying degrees of “attractiveness” in people. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, not in the eyes of society.

    I’m ashamed to admit that I’ve done this myself! When I was 16 I met two girls who were friends, they both liked me and I essentially was able to choose between them. One was very “society-attractive”, she was a ballet dancer and a cheer leader, the other was more “average” looking but we got on better, I actually felt more drawn to her.

    I chose the cheer leader, not for me, but for society, because I was now “going out with a cheer leader” and I was rewarded for this through the respect of other guys. It’s really stupid. Thankfully I base my relationships on a lot more than that these days. I have since turned down models because I know they aren’t right for me, whereas I know that many men would say yes to a model simply because she’s a model, and very attractive. It’s like building your sexual CV instead of building great experiences with cool people.

    This probably sounds like one big brag, but I just wanted to illustrate that it sucks for the men too. That we base so many of our relationships choices on “what will the guys think” or “what will society think”. That so many men treat women like another possession, something to show how cool/rich/powerful they are.

    It sucks, so thanks for bringing this up. We should be able to choose our partners based on how much we dig them, not on what society expects 🙂

    Thanks for sharing!

    Rohan.

  4. To be fair, I remember doing a double take when I saw Katherine Heigl end up with Seth Rogen. And smirking when I saw the King’s queen. Doubt too many men are nodding seriously and agreeing with those. Probably there’s an outcry somewhere, if we look deep into the murky world of IMDB forums or tv.com.

    • I’ll admit that I had the same response as you, which is why I could quickly think of several examples. What was absent was a public discussion. I find that I need to work on living up to my own ideals.

  5. Since I’m off TV I have to watch the people on the street. I noticed last Sunday morning that the old guys were out walking their trophy wives along the waterfront. I haven’t seen much in the way of old gals walking their trophy husbands, though.

  6. I think “double standards” suggests there’s a simple explanation. In fact, it goes way beyond double into a multi-faceted, multi-layered, riddled with worm-holes, mess. All kinds of jealousies, fears, perceptions, hypocricies and lies are at play.
    It would be nice to think that people could choose partners and build healthy relationships based on mutual respect and understanding. Maybe society’s pressures and demands make that impossible.

    • Believe me, the word suggests no simple explanation! You’ve got power relations, women and men both internalizing a society that may either benefit or harm them. Or both at the same time. You’ve got conflicting motives: men wanting sex yet making it difficult for women to give them sex so that they can prove their manhood. And then there’s all the repression of women’s sexuality attached that hurts both women and men when they try to form relationships with women.

      I could go on.

      Don’t let a pithy label fool you!

  7. I wish we didn’t live in a world where there are double standards, but we do. Everyone, both men and women, should feel that they have the right and deserve to and can be with anyone they like. Regardless of looks or what have you. Society shouldn’t deem who is fit and can be with who- only pretty people can people can be with other pretty people, or plain/unattractive people (in the medias view) with others of the like- and its sad that in todays world view, it does. In my opinion, if two people want to be together, for whatever reason, they should have the right to be. Even if society doesn’t think so.

  8. This article brought up something that I don’t often pay mind to. Being a huge fan of the realistic conversations brought to the table by the tv show Girls I am slightly shocked to see the response from Fariha Roisin. Part of what makes Hannah’s character so endearing is the fact that she is not standard beauty but she is funny, quirky and artsy. In my opinion I don’t think sex should just be about looks. Yes, sex does involve sexual attraction but to the limit what could possibly create sexual attraction makes a whole lot less sense to me.For me it is all about personality. Yes i may not instinctively want to have sex with someone who is not attractive to me, but over time their personality could possibly outshine the initial reaction. I however, do feel that the freedom to present yourself with the “best of the best” while writing for your t.v./movie character is a luxury and obviously enjoyable. The problem is it soon becomes reality. The message isn’t the best represented when others come out saying that so and so could never snag this hottie, but in the end doesn’t it send a better message than only ever pairing slightly overweight and awkward characters with one another? It at least is representing (somewhat) that you are not stuck with a certain type.

  9. melissaprice2010

    Women have the power to control how they feel about themselves, and if they don’t like it they have the power to change it, but ultimately, all that matters is that a woman is happy with herself. Closed-minded people like this don’t understand that many men don’t put all their emphasis completely on physical attractiveness. Just because other people may see a female as “big” or “overweight” because she is “healthy”, doesn’t mean that she see’s herself as that way. If a woman is powerful enough over her own mind and body to feel confident in her own skin and feel attractive the way she is and emit that confidence, so many men find that quality alone immensely attractive. So many people, both men and women, in this world don’t understand that fact.

  10. Casey D-Miller

    I think that our society puts entirely too much stock into looks and superficial qualities. There is a lot of social pressure placed upon couples to “match”. This sometimes means that attractive people should be with attractive people, like the example from Girls. But it also can be the expectation that rich men often have beautiful wives. While this can be damaging to women’s self esteem especially, I do not believe it is healthy for men to live in such a society either.

  11. Rush Limbaugh’s opinion of what feminism is completely ridiculous. Rush Limbaugh is one of many sadistic human beings who really enjoys oppressing others who are socially weaker. What Girls did was very refreshing. Normal-looking male protagonists fall in love with stunningly beautiful females all the time. One good example of this is Austin Powers. Therefore, why can normal-looking female protagonists fall in love with very handsome males? If there are those who criticize this, they need to be told that they are perpetuating the inequality between men and women. I am a man, and I believe that many of them do not even realize what they are doing. If they are simply told how they are negatively influencing society honestly, I feel that many will change their minds.

  12. I totally think that many man get their hopes up too from these type of programs. I feel bad for many of them because they think they have to do nothing for a woman to like them this including taking care of their bodies of persona. I get asked out a lot by man older than my dad, really? lol but on the other hand they choose younger women, or what they consider beauty gils, demand of us to be fit, loving, etc. This makes me think of “Married With Children” Al Bandy is the perfect example. Not saying that all man think this way but many do. Miss leading ideas of what relationships are is what this programs promote.

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