Living in a Girls World

by Laura K. Garrison

Is Girls the antithesis of Sex and the City?

Created for the generation of young women who received their sex education from Sex and the City, HBO’s Girls casts an intimate and realistic light upon young women trying to make it work in the hipster slums of Greenpoint, Brooklyn. Like its Upper East Side predecessor, Girls focuses on the lives of four women for whom New York is the glue to their often tumultuous relationships: creator and producer Lena Dunham as Hannah Horvath, Allison Williams, daughter of news anchor Brian Williams as Marnie Michaels, Jemima Kirke, Dunham’s childhood friend as Jessa Johansson, and Zosia Mamet, daughter of playwright David Mamet as Shoshanna Shapiro. Whereas the fab four of SATC lived lavish (if often unrealistic) lives amongst Manhattan’s socialites, the girls of Girls are finding out (“one mistake at a time”) that a young woman’s life in this city is anything but glamorous.

“I try to look away, evolution won’t let me, because I want to know how to avoid… the burning embers that will undoubtedly be my third decade of life… I have an overwhelming sense of dread that I will end up like Hannah, an unfulfilled writer living in a city that I clearly can’t afford for experiences that may not be worth it.”

The first season of Girls premiered last April to mixed reviews. Many praised the honest approach with which Dunham’s series articulated life in New York, while others criticized it as a white-washed perspective of one of the most ethnically diverse cities in the country. Hannah is a young writer who has been cut off financially by her parents in the hopes that she will start taking responsibility for her life. She struggles to find a paying job while dealing with the emotional abuse of Adam, her sort-of boyfriend, whose bondage-driven fantasies clash with her sexual awkwardness. Marnie, Hannah’s roommate and friend from college, is struggling to move on from her unadventurous, longtime boyfriend Charlie and must deal with the sudden appearance of his new bohemian girlfriend, all while trying to strike a balance between her responsible, uptight nature and the daring, spontaneous person she wishes to be. Jessa, a free-spirited artist back in New York after traveling abroad, faces an unwanted pregnancy, the welcomed but guilt-ridden advances of the father of the children she babysits for, and running from her impending existential crisis. Jessa’s cousin Shoshanna, about to graduate from NYU, is youthfully naïve, at times vapid, and harbors deep insecurities about being a virgin. By the end of season one, Hannah is left boyfriend-less and money-less at the end of the subway line in Coney Island, Marnie is moving out of the apartment she shares with Hannah, Jessa is newly married to a wealthy venture-capitalist she’s known for less than two weeks, and Shoshanna loses her virginity to Charlie’s good friend and bandmate, Ray. The second season premiered on January 13th, with Hannah between boyfriends, Marnie without a job, Jessa in wedded bliss, and Shoshanna trying to make sense of her relationship with Ray.

We’re not sure what exactly, but Lena Dunham’s
definitely pioneered
something with her new show

Despite numerous Emmy and Golden Globe awards and being the water cooler topic on Monday mornings, does Girls really do us justice? In the pilot episode, Hannah proclaims to her parents, “I think I might be the voice of my generation. Or at least a voice of a generation.” Whether she meant it or not, this line will go down in popular culture as the moment Lena Dunham cemented herself as the official spokesperson for the overeducated, underemployed Millennial Generation.

I’ll admit, I’ve seen every episode of Girls. No matter how disgusted, angry, or depressed an episode happens to make me, I always take the time out of my week to catch up on the latest one. I liken my relationship with Girls to a car crash on the side of the highway: no matter how much I try to look away, evolution won’t let me, because I want to know how to avoid or escape from the burning embers that will undoubtedly be my third decade of life. In fact, as I stare down my twentieth birthday at the end of this year, I have an overwhelming sense of dread that I will end up like Hannah, an unfulfilled writer living in a city that I clearly can’t afford for experiences that may not be worth it.

Despite the impending doom that awaits me on my first foray into actual adulthood, I applaud Lena Dunham for creating a show that portrays young women as realistic, imperfect human beings. All four of the leads have appeared in some state of undress, displaying bodies not so different from those of normal girls on the street. It’s nice to see four actresses unafraid to put themselves in the awkward situations that we undoubtedly find ourselves in, wearing sweatpants with nary a swipe of mascara in sight. Though their flaws are often overwrought for the sake of television, perhaps our it’s so difficult to pick our favorite girl because we see too much of the ugly parts of ourselves reflected in them. And while it’s sometimes difficult to root for Hannah when she tells a rape joke at a job interview, something about the vulnerability of her and her friends speaks to the confusion and isolation we feel on the cusp of our own journeys into the real world. I don’t love Girls the same way I love Sex and the City, but I get my weekly fill because I want to watch the #mistakesGIRLSmake and know that I can do better.

Laura Garrison is a sophomore at Barnard and Managing Editor of The Nine Ways of Knowing.

Photos courtesy of Maisonneuve and New York Times.

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