“GIRLS” Mirrors Feminist Dystopia?

HBO’s Girls

Does HBO’s Girls reflect a feminist dystopia?

Some think so. With the fall of patriarchy the world changed … but nobody knew what to do next. And Girls reflects the disjoint. So writes Ross Douthat in the New York Times.

Prophylactics and graduate degrees and gender equality are supposed to lead smoothly to health, wealth and high-functioning relationships. (Yet) the characters’ sex lives were not remotely “safe”; they were porn-haunted and self-destructive, a mess of S.T.D. fears and dubiously consensual incidents and sudden marriages and stupid infidelities.

The problem is feminism? Or a failure of complete equality?

Many problems the girls face actually stem from incomplete equality.

It’s not like porn, STDs, rape, and sexual objectification didn’t exist before feminism.

Yes, Girls has scenes where a man’s satisfaction is primary and where women are dealing with sexual assault. But these are actually signs that we still live in patriarchy, where women are objectified and where men rape to feel a sense of dominance and superiority.

The show is a feminist critique, showing we still need change.

You can be anything but you don’t know how

Other lamentations are indeed connected to greater equality and opportunity.

In Girls, as Mr. Douthat explains, “the professional world was mostly a series of dead ends and failed experiments.” At one time Hannah admits that she almost wishes she had AIDS because then she wouldn’t have to try to figure out how to be successful.

Opportunity does indeed bring fear of failure and actual failure. For both women and men.

But many of the problems Mr. Douthat describes are problems of age, not equality.

Mostly the male sex seemed adrift, permanently boyish, a bundle of hormonal impulses leagues away from any kind of serious and potent manhood.

The girls themselves were all, to varying degrees, antiheroic: self-destructive and narcissistic.

I can relate. As I’ve explained before, I always knew what to do — until college graduation when suddenly I faced a void — and little direction.

Like the “Girls” I made unwise choices. And I experienced failure before finding where my interests and abilities lay.

But I also learned a lot. As has the real-life Lena Dunham who writes, produces and stars in the show. Nowadays she’s even in a stable relationship.

In today’s more gender-equal world I do see confusion, pain, suffering and messed up lives. But I also see plenty of people rising out of it, a bit older, wiser and fulfilled.

And then there’s that old truism: What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

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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 April 21, 2017, in feminism, objectification, rape and sexual assault, sexism and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Well, here I go again. Your posts always make me think–usually beyond my functional knowledge. I like that.

    I tend to think that we are still more driven by our genetic heritage than many believe. The hormonal differential between men and women, as well as their nurturing environment, continues to drive the desire for dominance in men and diffidence in women.

    I do see the gap narrowing, but as you point out, it is still there. There may be an element of insecurity in both attributes. Men tend to dominance out of insecurity (a need to feel superior), but women tend to diffidence for the same reason (perhaps a need to feel safe among physically stronger, dominating men).

    Well, so much for armchair psychology. I can’t seem to get away from the idea that virtually all human proclivities are driven by genetic and hormonal heritage, and environmental influences (nurturing). This, too, is why I think organized, exclusive religion is so entrenched in societies.

    • A major problem with your theory is that patriarchy is a new thing.

      Evidence from cultures that are similar to our prehistoric forebears is one of gender equality — existing for 95% of the human experience.

      There are still tribal societies today on every continent that are radically equal. And I have written more extensively on the Iroquois, whom the Europeans were shocked to meet. See this: A World Before Male Dominance
      https://broadblogs.com/2015/04/17/a-world-before-male-dominance/

      Evidence suggests that patriarchy came largely with agriculture. And you see changes in mythology when patriarchy comes. Before patriarchy gods don’t rape goddesses, for instance. Women seeking equality in the law are strongly punished — suggesting that there was great resistance to the patriarchy.

      Or even today surely you know couples where the woman is dominant. I know several couples where the wife is more dominating than the husband. And that is despite patriarchy teaching men that they’re supposed to be dominant and that women are supposed to be submissive.

      We are all a mix of culture + social interactions + individual biology. So despite a culture that teaches male dominance, because many women have naturally dominating personalities they are more dominating than their husbands.

      Sociologists tried to discover which traits were predictable by sex and found that almost nothing was. About the only thing that could be reliably predictable was muscular strength. If one person is stronger than the other which one is the guy? More than likely the male is the physically stronger person.

      But physical strength doesn’t create dominance. As I just mentioned most of the human experience seems to have been gender-equal. And in all of the relationships I know of where the woman is dominant the man is physically stronger.

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