Tag Archives: girls

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.

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Why Do All the Men Hate Marnie?

8 Jul

I fear that this post is a little dated. Girls Season 1 ended weeks ago and by the end of the series, Marnie developed into a more likeable character. She underwent a transformation, shed a boyfriend, a roommate, and perhaps some selfishness.

Marnie from the HBO series, “Girls”

But I promised a post about how all the men hate Marnie, and so I will ask you to travel with me back to the first few episodes of Season 1. Remember the Marnie that complained endlessly about her boyfriend (Charlie)? Complained about Hannah’s lack of a job? Complained about Jessa and drug use? This is the Marnie that all the men hate.

This Marnie gathered criticism for her up-tight, rule-following nature and because of her treatment of Charlie. Many feel that Marnie takes advantage of Charlie, stringing him along and failing to keep her end of the girlfriend/boyfriend bargain. In Slate’s “Girls on Girls: ‘Vagina Panic,‘” Anderson lets rip a long diatribe on Marnie’s character, finally asking if “there’s anything to like about her.”

Although Hannah grew on me this episode (in spite of her selfishness), Marnie continued to grate. Does she have any redeeming qualities? She harangues her boyfriend; micromanages her friends’ abortions; and judges Hannah for Adam’s dirty talk. “Hannah. Adam cannot do that to you. He can’t. He’s not your boyfriend,” says Marnie. She’s so caught up in rules about who can and can’t do what, and she thinks that as long as she follows the rules–specifically, staying in a monogamous relationship–nothing bad can happen to her.

I mean, we’re talking about a woman who once hit a puppy in her car and who tells her boyfriend that his body is disgusting. Someone explain to me if there’s anything to like about her.

It seems as though the world is full of people like Anderson– people who find Marnie’s character hateful. Something about her just seems to grate, and painfully. We don’t see this level of anger when Shoshanna insists that Jessa is a lady, and that can be seen as just as controlling. Also, I would be pretty annoyed if a friend asked me to meet her somewhere and then never showed, as Jessa does to Marnie and the crew for the abortion.

I also think that Marnie is concerned (at least in the early episodes) with Hannah’s happiness rather than being controlling when she discusses Adam’s pillow talk. Hannah is clearly uncomfortable with the way Adam talks to her and treats her. Marnie is giving friend advice, just like Hannah advises Marnie to break up with Charlie. That’s not seen as controlling, though?

I suspect that the real anger lies (or lied) in Marnie’s treatment of Charlie. Marnie is annoyed by pretty much everything Charlie does, yet for some reason Charlie still fawns all over her. Marnie doesn’t want to have sex with Charlie, she snaps at him for almost everything, and yet she still refuses to break up with him. One of my guy friends once said about Marnie, “She is the reason guys hate girls.”

Besides sounding especially apt because of the title of the show, I think my friend is onto something. Why do all the men hate Marnie?

Marnie’s ex-boyfriend Charlie.

Most of my guy friends really hate Marnie, and obsess about her treatment of Charlie. One friend admitted it was because he is always worried he will be The Charlie in a relationship. Another just couldn’t understand why Marnie didn’t break up with Charlie sooner. A third was simply infuriated that Marnie couldn’t (or wouldn’t) return the level of love Charlie offered her.

But many of the women I spoke to seemed to identify with Marnie. Marnie-Charlie relationships are quite common, and it speaks to the brilliance of Lena Dunham that she could depict this dynamic so realistically on TV– a dynamic that I don’t think has been represented elsewhere. I believe it bothered so many people because it is so real.

Marnie doesn’t enjoy tormenting Charlie, and on some level she knows he makes her miserable. But she’s afraid to be single. She’s come to depend on Charlie– to build her furniture, to hang out with her 24/7, to just be there. Marnie is afraid to be alone, and Charlie won’t (or is afraid to) stand up for himself. Although Marnie might be a coward, Charlie is just as much to blame. Everyone outside of the relationship seems to see how terrible the two are for each other, but somehow Marnie and Charlie can’t see it’s over.

I wouldn’t argue that what Marnie does to Charlie is okay. It’s not. But I do think it’s interesting that people hate Marnie because of the way she treats Charlie while absolving (or at least ignoring) Adam’s treatment of Hannah (again, just focusing on the early episodes). Adam’s character is, though repulsive, “oddly winning.”

Although Adam treats Hannah terribly– and has dirty talk weirdly reminiscent of pedophilia– it’s almost impossible to really dislike him. Some blame Hannah for continuing to visit him, others blame his age and immaturity. Either way, he’s not indicted for the same level of emotional abuse as Marnie.

I enjoy contrasting the two relationships, in part because the power dynamics are so clear: Marnie and Adam have the power, while Hannah and Charlie struggle for love and recognition. I wonder if the Adam-Hannah relationship garnered less anger simply because it’s one that audiences see most often; people are familiar with the jerk who keeps women at a distance, only occasionally returns texts, and seems totally unconcerned with the sexual needs of their partner (think John Ham in Bridesmaids).

Marnie’s character, however, is a completely different breed than most people are used to seeing on TV. There are sexually adventurous women with power (like Samantha from Sex and the City,) but Marnie is different. She is full of the contradictions of young womanhood. She has power over Charlie but it doesn’t make her happy. She’s new and different and unsettling in her familiarity. And I love that about her.

Marnie starts spiraling almost immediately after she breaks up with Charlie

In April, Elanor Barkhorn called Marnie “TV’s Latest Beautiful Control Freak” in an Atlantic article, comparing her to Charlotte from Sex and the City and Betty Draper from Mad Men. Barkhorn notes that beautiful control freaks– on TV at least– are usually headed for a fall. In Marnie’s case, she is not wrong.

Although Marnie’s character seems to have been miserable from the very first episode, after she breaks up with Charlie she starts spiraling. Charlie gets a new girlfriend, Hannah starts dating Adam, and her friends stop listening to her complaints about Charlie. Stevenson asks in Slate’s “Guys on Girls: Your Crack Spirit Guide,” “Were we all sated by Marnie’s long-overdue comeuppance?”

Personally, I am not sated because I don’t think Marnie needed quite so hard a fall. For all of my friends, when they escape a relationship as toxic as Marnie’s, they are usually excited by the independence. They grow, discover new things, and seem generally happy to be free of a relationship that made them completely miserable.

In the end, I agree with Stevenson’s colleague Rosin: “They were a little too hard on Marnie.”

Cersei Lannister: Unfairly Treated by Audiences Everywhere

5 Jun

I’ve been increasingly bothered by my male friends’ reactions to several female characters on TV recently, most notably: Marnie from Girls, Cersei from Game of Thrones, and Betty from Mad Men. Their extreme dislike of these characters is often coupled with their adoration bordering on idealization for male characters in the show, flawed though those characters might be. This phenomena immediately reminded me of the oft noted fact that female politicians and business leaders are demonized in ways that their male counterparts are not.

There seems to be a link between political vilification of women and character vilification– and I think it’s connected to power. Consider, for example, the beautiful “ice queen” and mother of the king, Cersei, from Game of Thrones.

This picture was taken from a top ten most evil characters list. For real. She ranks ABOVE her son who tortured two strippers and his queen to be.

George R.R. Martin apparently treats Cersei much more harshly in the novels, and the TV show really tries to humanize her. I’ve heard (I haven’t yet read the books) that we don’t get her back-story  until book 4, whereas in the TV show Cersei constantly talks about her past. The TV show depicts Cersei as bitter about the limited role women can play in the period. Cersei laments that she was not born a boy, noting that her gender created a gulf between her and other male Lannisters. Because she is female, Cersei was “sold like a horse at auction” to a drunk who hits her, cheats on her, and humiliates her publicly and often.

Though her father, a hard and calculating man, was quite harsh with her, Cersei displays a loyalty for her family that is briefly disrupted in her assassination attempt of her brother, Tyrion– and arguably, this can be seen as an attempt to protect her son. In a show where family members often become enemies when the throne is up for grabs, this is unique.

Despite this rich back story the creator of the show, George Benioff, noted in “‘Game of Thrones’ Queen: Lena Heady Lights it up in a Dark Role,” that most actresses saw Cersei as wholly evil. It took actress Lena Heady to finally humanize her on screen:

“We had seen a number of excellent actresses, but everyone had interpreted the character as an emotionless ice queen. Lena took her in a different, stranger and more interesting direction. In her hands, Cersei embodies endless contradictions. The queen can seem both ruthless and fragile, often in the same scene. She can exhibit extreme cruelty but also utter devotion to her own children.”

Though the HBO series tries to show a nuanced, complex character by introducing Cersei’s back story early and by casting Heady, most viewers insist on seeing Cersei as a ruthless, evil woman. This could be because she is partially responsible for the crippling of the young Bran Stark, who saw Cersei in bed with her brother, Jamie. Still, Jamie does the actual pushing-Bran-out-the-window act– not Cersei. So why does she catch all the blame?

Now I’m not saying that Cersei is a saint– she is sleeping with her brother and cheating on him occasionally with other male family members. But let’s explore this further. Why is everyone so concerned with her sex life? Her husband cheats on her ALL THE TIME, in front of her face, and has, like, a million children with various strippers.

Yet I’ve heard time and time again that it’s acceptable because he is the king, and that’s what kings do. Or, even better, because “Robert is a warrior, not a king. So it’s understandable that he’s a terrible ruler.”

Are we seeing the double standard here yet? Because Robert is the king, he is allowed to sleep around and treat his queen like crap. But if the queen finds solace in the arms of someone else, someone who is there for her when she is scared or in pain, she’s evil. Makes perfect sense. And I don’t think it’s just our culturally constructed hatred of incest– this is issue is absolutely gendered.

***Side Note: This is just further evidence for my theory that “historical” or “period” dramas force us to operate in their outdated morality systems rather than emphasizing how far we’ve come as a society or emphasizing that the morality system is wrong. But that’s for another post.***

I’ve also heard people compare Cersei to Catelyn Stark, a woman who was arranged to marry Ned Stark and learned to love him. In a world where arranged marriages are expected, people just have to make the best of it! But somehow, that responsibility is entirely on Cersei rather than Robert, and this argument doesn’t take into account that Ned is a much less brutal and nasty man than Robert. Moreover, the argument is just plain medieval— Cersei has no obligation to be faithful to Robert, and hating her for not doing so is ridiculous.

It seems that Cersei’s sexuality is highly connected with viewers’ dislike of her character. It also seems as though her desire for power and security through spying and secrecy is looked down upon in ways that Tyrion’s games are not. Moreover, Cersei is “crazy” whereas Joffrey is just in-bred and stupid. Double standard, anyone?

This ends my post on Cersei’s character, but I’ll be exploring Marnie from Girls next week, and hopefully Betty Draper from Mad Men after that.

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