You’re Missing the Point: Hannah’s Journey to Sexual Empowerment in HBO’s Girls

12 Feb

Perhaps the least newsworthy news is that Lena Dunham is uncompromising in her refusal to cover up her body on the HBO show Girls, despite the cries, and the cries, and the cries of critics. While she has been called “sloppy,” a “hot mess,” and even a “blobby,” no one has yet succeeded in getting Dunham to be demure. She responds to critics with on-point cultural criticism and defiance, arguing that all the noise amounts to just one question:

‘Why did you all make us look at your thighs?’ My response is, get used to it because I am going to live to be 100, and I am going to show my thighs every day till I die.”

Dunham’s consistent message has been that there is nothing wrong with her body, and that she reflects the majority of Americans with less than Photoshop-perfect physiques.

I am inspired by her strength and bravery not because, as some writers have suggested, Dunham must be brave to show her body on TV in a way that Angelina Jolie is not brave when she shows her naked body, but because of her continued defiance of the body-centered criticism. I would probably be curled up on the floor crying by now, but Dunham is out planning episodes where she plays ping-pong sans clothing.

And so this Sunday, I was so disappointed that the discussion of  “One Man’s Trash” centered on what should have been non-newsworthy: Dunham’s imperfect body, and someone else’s ability to find pleasure in it.

hannah girls romper

At the beginning of season 2’s fifth episode, Hannah stands awkwardly by in a beige romper covered in red parrots while her boss screams at a neighbor who claims that Grumpy’s Cafe trash keeps ending up in his cans. Hannah follows to neighbor back to his beautifully decorated brownstone, planning to admit to siphoning Grumpy’s coffee grounds into his trash bins, but ends up sleeping with the forty-something doctor named Joshua (played by Patrick Wilson).

No one– besides the feminists— can seem to believe that Lena Dunhams (ie “blobbies”) could sleep with Patrick Wilsons (ie “pectorals”).  In a particularly gruesome portrait of male-privilege, one of the Slate “guys” from Guys on Girls  tacitly acknowledges that he accepts ugly-male/crazy-attractive female pairings, but refuses to accept the reverse: a more attractive man dating a less attractive woman (emphasis mine).

Haglund: Jenni Konner has said that this season is about seeing what happens when Hannah starts “getting some of what she’s been pining for,” so I guess this was their attempt to wrestle with that theme. But presumably there are things that Hannah would not, in any world that resembled our own, get. Such as Patrick Wilson, for instance. I want to suspend my disbelief—just as viewers have, for generations, imagined that Al could get Peggy and Homer could get Marge and Jim Belushi could snag Courtney Thorne-Smith. But the show needs to work harder to make that seem feasible.

Let’s take a moment to look at this rhetorical masterpiece. He admits that the pairing is similar to the many depictions of less attractive men dating gorgeous women, while simultaneously distancing himself from “viewers” who are able to unquestionably believe these pairings– all so he can doubt Hannah’s relationship with Joshua without sounding sexist. I don’t buy it… like he ever wondered why Lois fell for Peter. Cue eye-roll. (Rosie Says further breaks down the socially constructed double standard as it relates to Hannah in this blog post, if you’re interested.)

If we’re feeling generous, we could attribute Haglund’s skepticism to a lack of realism. He just doesn’t think it’s “feasible.”

Admittedly, Hannah’s outfit is unflattering — but it’s also real. I actually spent a good portion of last summer looking for a floral romper, despite knowing that it probably wouldn’t look good on me. That’s the beauty of our twenties– we’re in a state of flux, trying to find that perfect outfit to reflect our unique snowflake personalities. Dunham tries to capture the pathetic frenzy of mid-twenties outfit planning:

“We spend a lot of time talking about that outfit you can’t believe you wore but you know you spent three days dreaming up.”

I love it, because that’s so me. My old roommate will tell you how I wore skinny jeans and an oversized white sweater with thrift store wedding shoes to a lunch buffet. I spend hours planning to wear ridiculous shit, and I think it looks good.

what I think I look like

Do you want to know what the point of this is? I’m saying that the way Hannah looks is feasible, it’s real. This is the way real people look. They don’t look like airbrushed J-Crew models. They look like Hannah. They look like me. And guess what, other people still want to sleep with us. That’s fucking feasible.

I suspect that the real problem for viewers like Haglund, is that Hannah is “getting” more than he thinks she deserves. First, why does Haglund think he’s entitled to decide what women deserve?

Sure, Hannah asks for a lot in this episode. She wants Wilson to beg for her to stay, to make her cum, to listen to and care about her problems. Apparently Haglund, among other viewers, doesn’t believe Hannah should “get” these things, at least not from a wealthy, attractive older man.

But the beauty is, no one gets to decide what Hannah deserves other than Hannah. And she’s finally realizing that she deserves more, especially when it comes to sex. After her painfully unfulfilling experiences with Adam, Hannah announces that with Sandy, “He’s nice and funny and when we have sex, there’s not a part of me that like wants to pretend I didn’t exist. Which is a rarity.”

By “Another Man’s Trash,” Hannah’s moved beyond simply being present during sex… she actually wants to enjoy herself. Now that, according to the Guys on Girls, is “sexually ungenerous.” Besides implying that Hannah’s looks should prevent her from receiving pleasure during a sex act for the benefit of the more attractive partner (I wanted to vomit after writing that), the guys do not even allude to our long tradition of sanitizing the sexual experience for women. Would we have even blinked if Hannah pleasured Joshua without reciprocation? Probably not.

As Tracie Egan Morrissey writes, “It’s like, well, since she did manage to bag a guy like Joshua, then she should be so grateful that she should be simultaneously sucking his dick and stroking his ego just for the opportunity to be with him.”

Despite our post- Sex and the City TV landscape, there are all too many shows that create sterile female characters that complain about having sex. We expect men to want sex and women to say no or, best case scenario, grudgingly acquiesce.

Of course that’s not true; women enjoy sex just as much as men, and Hannah has embarked on a journey to discover her own ability to enjoy sexual experiences. In other words, she wants to enjoy her body, and she’s not going to settle for the kind of sexual experience Haglund thinks she deserves.

3 Responses to “You’re Missing the Point: Hannah’s Journey to Sexual Empowerment in HBO’s Girls”

  1. Rosie Says February 13, 2013 at 12:18 am #

    Thanks for linking to my post at Rosie Says!

    • Caitlin Garzi February 14, 2013 at 10:15 am #

      It was a great argument, and exactly what I was thinking after reading Guys on Girls. It seemed so odd to me that the authors would note that the nerdy guy/hot girl pairing is so common, but then completely ignore the hypocrisy.

  2. Christiana May 6, 2013 at 4:33 pm #

    Bravo! Wonderfully written piece. I applaud Lena Dunham for embracing her body and feeling comfortable enough to get in front of a camera in her bare skin, especially when she’s not a size triple zero. I can’t believe all of the horrendous blogs and ‘opinions’ people have written about her. It takes much self security to do what she does on Girls’ and her confidence radiates through the TV. She exemplefies the very real reality that real women have curve and we are not afraid to show them off!

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