HBO’s Girls and the Politics of Stereotyping

February 11, 2014
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HBO’s Girls is not my favorite show, but I respect the hell out of it. I think it’s well written, funny, honest and unafraid of painting unflattering images.

In one of the earlier episodes this season, one of the characters was wearing a sign around her neck that said, “FEMALES ONLY.” A female friend of mine told me that when she saw this, she immediately started designing a line of them in her head, in various colors to go with her outfits. While I can appreciate the cuteness of the moment, it also took me back to an attitude I hadn’t been around since I was in junior high school.

A lot of the criticism surrounding Girls has been the lack of ethnic representation and its focus on the lives of white privileged twenty-something girls, but that’s not really my problem with it. I think their story is as valid as anyone else’s.

Girls
A lot of the criticism surrounding Girls has been the lack of ethnic representation…

Last week I was procrastinating on the Internet and I saw one of these annoying personality quizzes. “Which character of Girls are you?” I cringed immediately. It dawned on me that the Sex and the City model will never leave television. There will always be a show with four carefully designed, very different female characters that bring out the inner 12 year old of even the brightest of girls. My beef is not with Lena Dunham or the show, but with the effect this seems to have on a lot of the people who watch it.

I’m not a woman, of course, and I don’t claim to understand what it’s like to be one, but maybe this is all a bit segregational. These shows – especially Girls – are perceived as all-inclusive, female-empowering shows that are advancing some kind of feminist movement in the 21st century, but mainly just hold on to a stereotype.

I hate Sex and the City. It was a dumb show, designed to appeal to insecure women with a desire to belong somewhere in a flawed double-standard-filled feminist rhetoric. Ditto for Desperate Housewives, a show that also added some soap-opera bits to the format.

Sex In The City
It dawned on me that the Sex and the City model will never leave television.

Of course you want the viewers to identify with certain characters, but while empathizing with a character is a good thing, distributing those into crafted either/or teams is lazy, and a bit cult-minded, if you ask me. This would be understandable on a Disney or CW show on Saturday mornings, but it’s hard to keep a straight face when discussing a feminist view while deciding if you’re a Charlotte or a Miranda. I’ve never felt the need to tell my male friends why I’m more of a Walter White than a Jesse Pinkman. There are traits we empathize with, and that doesn’t make us that character.

Sure, you could make the argument that a lot of women don’t feel represented in male-dominated shows, and these shows give them some kind of platform to identify with popular culture characters. But it’s still very forced to put them all in one show and wave a pseudo-feminist flag that claims to represent all women. There are ways to do female characters that are all intelligent, compelling and likable without resorting to a cheap tween girl attitude. But then again, it doesn’t matter how good a show is, its marketing will probably never accept the societal changes that go with it. Women are incredibly smart, but Hollywood still needs to catch up with that concept.

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  1. Agree. Just the other day a co-worker asked me “so which character in Girls are you?”, and she looked really puzzled when I said “none”.

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