In the weeks since Girls first aired on HBO, the topic of the show’s apparent lack of racial diversity has truly been beaten to death. I’ve read so many opinion pieces on different blogs and news sites that criticize the show’s creator, Lena Dunham, for making four white girls the epicenter of the show and for ignoring the miniority-majority population of Brooklyn in its story lines. I had planned to write a big long treatise on why these race accusations are flawed, but the more essays I read about it, the more I realized that they aren’t entirely wrong. The world of Girls is a really white world, but Lena Dunham is not the only person to blame for that.
In the spirit of full disclosure, I have to confess that I love Girls. I think it’s hilariously brilliant, and not because I’m a white girl who only likes to watch television shows about white people; it’s hilariously brilliant because it’s really well-written. A person’s 20s has its own language and lexicon that Dunham captures so well, and the level of specificity employed makes these characters and the situations they find themselves in feel real in a way that most television shows don’t. I can’t help but compare Girls to the early seasons of Friends (which, interestingly enough, never received much criticism for its glaring lack of diversity during the ten years it spent on television), and when I compare the girls from Girls to Rachel, Monica and Phoebe, they seem so much more fully-realized and multi-faceted, containing multitudes the way that women do in real life, than the one-dimensional archetypes of Friends. Additionally, Girls doesn’t glamorize aspects of female life that have always been unnecessarily glamorized by male television writers; it is jarringly honest about the bleakness of dating in your 20s, the awkwardness of sex, and typically taboo topics like abortion and STDs, and that honesty is refreshing. As Maureen Ryan wrote on The Huffington Post, “This is a show in which a particular female point of view is not filtered or adulterated or otherwise bastardized. It’s not a show in which female characters are neutered, cute-sified or created to please male viewers… part of what makes it so refreshing is that it isn’t editing itself or censoring itself in order to avoid offending any particular audience segment. The specificity of the show’s female point of view is part of what makes it a good show.”
That being said, I’m confused at why so many people are up in arms about this show.
A television show about the travails of women in their mid-twenties that’s actually written by a woman in her mid-twenties should be a victory for women everywhere, should it not? Why is everyone putting the responsibility of representing marginalized groups squarely on Lena Dunham’s shoulders? She’s a young girl who’s just starting out in the world of television writing, so it seems unreasonable and unfair that people are so upset with her for not getting it exactly right on her first try. Perhaps it’s the broadness of the show’s title that has caused people to expect an all-encompassing and wholly universal account of the female experience, but the show itself has never claimed to be that. It’s a show about a very specific demographic of women and Dunham’s writing is largely autobiographical. As Dunham herself said, “The idea that I could speak for everyone is so absurd. But what is nice is if I could speak for me and it’s resonant for people, then that’s about as much as I could hope for.” If we’re really concerned about a lack of diversity and unique female perspectives in our television programming, then we need to hold all television shows to the same standard instead of targeting one individual show as the sole embodiment of these problems. Girls is not the problem, it’s a symptom of a problem that is widespread and too often unchecked. I can’t help but wonder if a show called Dudes that centered on the lives of four white guys would receive the same level of criticism that Girls has, and I can say with certitude that the answer is no. The overrepresentation of white male perspectives on television is largely accepted as the norm, and that is a problem in itself. The fact that a show like Girls is on television is sort of miraculous, and I don’t think it’s naive to think that this well-written, refreshingly unique and honest show about primarily white women could end up being the foot in the door that’s needed for well-written, refreshingly unique and honest shows about women of color to find a welcome place on television rosters. That this isn’t a present reality is not Lena Dunham’s fault; it’s television’s fault.
Have you watched Girls? What do you think of the show?