(Girls Versus The Sopranos)
(Yes, you’re right to read the title of this blog in the voice of Mr. Humphries from Are You Being Served?)
I’m taking advantage of my boyfriend being away and re-watching the entire box set of Girls. Not that he doesn’t enjoy Lena Dunham’s masterful mid -teenies creation. To him an episode of Girls is no different to the ethical porn I allow him to watch. In that it features realistic, empowered, unashamed female bodies who only care about their own pleasure.
However to many people the fact that these four girls please themselves is the very ‘problem’ of the show. All of them are wildly, unashamedly selfish, so say all the victims of internalised misogyny that I know (basically all my friends, except the two that have never even contemplated waxing their arms).
It’s like they took the self-obsession of Sex and the City’s Carrie (a show which it is often compared to) to create Hannah and then sprinkled her with the privilege of the love child of a Made in Chelsea star and Laurence Fox. Jessa appears to have been concocted by reducing the criminality of Killing Eve’s Villanelle, down from a pungent murderous sauce to a barely legal bitter, tart jus, then topped with generous gratings of anyone who sends you a Facebook memory of when you used to have collagen. As for Marnie she is a culmination of any bride who chose to create her own website for her wedding day combined with all the personalities from Huffington Post’s list of the top humble brags on social media. And Shoshana? Who is often regarded as the most tolerable of the four leads- she’s the millennial’s answer to Phoebe Buffet if Phoebe Buffet also rubbed herself in all of the Kardashians and then fell into a pool of Regina George from Mean Girls. In fact, Mean Girls a show about girls who are mean has more likeable main characters than Girls a show about, just, girls.
Why are these women so very unlikeable? Why I ask you?
Whenever I bring up this ground-breaking show I always get the same response.
“They are all so awful!” My boyfriend howls along with the rest of the Patriarchy and its’ victims. But when I bring up the other show that I am currently binge watching which just so happens to be largely similar to one of the less known subplots of World War 2 in that it features very scary Italian men killing people, I get “Oh my goodness, best TV show of all time!”. No I’m not talking about Gina Decampo’s section of This Morning. I’m talking about The Sopranos.
QUESTION: Why does Lena Dunham get more flack for playing the ‘unlikeable’ Hannah in Girls than James Gandolfini does playing the ‘iconic’ Tony Soprano. (Clue: It’s got nothing to do with the fact that Gandolfini is dead).
ANSWER: Sexism is real, guys!
Male characters can kill people, lie to their families, make meth, never see their children, cheat on their wives, treat their secretaries like sexual commodities and be known as one the best TV characters of all time. But when a female character is spoilt and rude to her parents, can’t commit to a job, messes with her boyfriend’s head, isn’t supportive of others, shows her pussy to her boss, shows her pussy to her boyfriend’s flatmate, shows her pussy to pretty much everyone, they are ‘unlikeable’.
What annoys me is what Dunham actually does is presents female characters as not unlikeable but real. Where Sex and The City leaves us with sugar coated female friendship, with its’ togetherness, sisterly solidarity and fixation on shoes. Dunham in many scenes doesn’t even wear shoes. Instead she presents a less appetising but ultimately more realistic version of female friendship. The girls in Girls do not get together for weekly brunches where they catch up and support each other on the turmoil of love, whilst wearing the very best Couture clothes. Hell, most of the time the girls aren’t even wearing clothes. Instead it deliberately separates all four characters who go off and do their own thing and occasionally check in on each other via their mobile phones. That is real female friendship right there. More connection via WhatsApp than in real life.
Dunham speaks the truth about female friendship. It isn’t full of cosmopolitans and dancing to Beyonce. Female Friendship is ugly, flawed, annoying, exasperating and sometimes ultimately heart-breaking where the only solution is to publicly shame your best friend via a broadsheet newspaper, break up with them and move on.
What I also love about Dunham is unlike male TV characters who mostly just die at the end or create the iconic Coca-Cola ad, Dunham redeems her characters.
Jessa channels all her derangement into becoming a therapist. Marnie stops seeking male validation. Shoshana finally graduates and gets new friends!
And most redempted* of them all is Hannah. She becomes a mother. The ultimate selfish character does the ultimate selfless act.
So next time you talk about Girls, or other shows with universally ‘unlikeable’ female characters, stop and think do you actually mean, real, complex, flawed characters who break down the myth of the perfect Stepford wife- like ‘lady’ and the all pleasing fake woman barbie doll and instead build a nuanced, multi-dimensional character who is like many of us-going through the tapestry of life, trying, learning and making mistakes doing both good and bad things and NOT KILLING PEOPLE.
*Yes, its a word