People are having no difficulty describing what they love about Lena Dunham’s HBO series, Girls. The words that buzz in the air every time the comedy is mentioned are "honest," "raw," and "real." Unlike Sex and the City, to which it is constantly and inevitably compared since it focuses on four friends living in New York City, Girls shows a life largely without glamour, in which characters have boring relationships, awkward sex, and manipulative friendships. All of the insecurities that weigh on the minds of white, middle class, female college graduates are magnified and embellished so that they are easily recognizable to those of us who identify with that demographic.
When Dunham’s character Hannah chows down on a cupcake in the bathroom, we think food guilt. When Hannah’s friend Shoshanna admits that she’s still a virgin at 22, we think sexual insecurity. Dunham hits the perfect resonant tone: while the issues are those that we deal with on a daily basis, their exaggeration comforts us with the thought that at least we’re not quite as dysfunctional as the women on the show. Instead of the wellspring of unfulfilled desire that Carrie Bradshaw’s charmed existence inspires, at the end of one of Hannah’s spirals of confusion and victimhood, we feel a little better about ourselves.
The show’s honesty, however, has unintentionally revealed some trends that are more disturbing than any awkward sex scene. The cast of Girls is entirely white. In response to criticisms of the show’s lack of diversity, Dunham responded that the homogeneity of the cast was a “complete accident.” Her remark reveals not only the continued existence, but also the current nature of racism in the United States. Certainly, the number of Americans consciously basing decisions on racial stereotypes and prejudices has diminished since the 1960s, but discrimination manifests itself in “accident[s]” that nevertheless result in segregated media images.
The honesty of Girls also shows the continued disenfranchisement of women in the professional world. This is apparent from the very title of the series, Girls. Hannah, at 24 years old, and her friends are labeled immediately as children. Dunham herself, quoting Britney Spears, said in an interview that she was trying to capture the in-between “not a girl, not yet a woman” stage of life. Describing a 24 year old as a girl, however, stinks of infantilization. A girl cannot be taken seriously in the workplace, at a bar, or on the street — she is a child, and needs to be taken care of by those wiser than she. Although Dunham intends the title to show the insecurity of the age about which she’s writing, she manages instead to capture an expanded form of gaslighting. If, as the title suggests, a girl is a female who is uncertain and blundering, then we are all girls until the day we die, and the world will never take us seriously.