The HBO series Girls is about four women in their mid-20s, except for younger Shoshanna who is still in college. She was a virgin at the start of the show, but announced in season three that she was going to spend half her time on her university studies and half hooking up with strangers. Her friends commented, “Not to judge her sex life because we’re feminists and don’t judge sex lives but. . . does that seem unhealthy? I mean, does she not seem very unhappy?” It seems like many Fourth Wave feminist concerns revolve around sexual issues and appearance. The Girls aren’t active politically and don’t discuss sexism, with a lot of traditional focus on boyfriends, although Lena Dunham says she is a feminist. The tone is her 2014 book of essays is sometimes juvenile. In Not That Kind of Girl, Dunham describes herself, at age 28, as “a girl with a keen interest in having it all.” She concludes with the common sense advice “don’t put yourself in situations you’d like to run away from.” If you have to run, “run back to yourself, like the bunny in Runaway Bunny runs to its mother, but you are the mother, and you’ll see that later and be very, very proud.” Her book deal with Random House gave her $3.5 million and TIME Magazine selected her as one of the 100 most influential people of 2014.
Hannah is like her disowned or shadow self, to use Jungian terminology, including both having Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and trying too hard to please boyfriends to compensate for not having a model’s body. Dunham told radio host Terry Gross that it’s fun to play Hanna because, “She’s such a jerk; she lacks a filter to deal with the world, fires off and just can’t stop.” Dunham struggled with fears of her own about blurting out words she would regret, almost like Tourette’s Syndrome. Another troubled free spirit is the Girls character Jessa. Dunham reported many girls want to be Jessa although, “There’s a pathology behind it. She’s a wounded disassociated person. I think she wants to do good, but her desire to test the boundaries is more powerful.” In the third season, Jessa was arrested for urinated in the street and tearing up the ticket police handed her. A British writer, Catherine Scott asked, “What’s there to celebrate for feminism when a show depicts four entirely self-interested young women and a lead character having the most depressing, disempowered sexual relationships imaginable?”[i]
Dunham defines feminism as equality and equal opportunity and supporting other women to be “strong in the face of societal factors telling us to shut up.” She bemoans the fact that many young women are misinformed, thinking feminism is about not shaving armpits, bra burning and man hating. Dunham was influenced by her mother who is part of a women photographers’ group, and also by Nora Ephron and Gloria Steinem although she hasn’t met her.
[i]Catherine Scott, “’Girls’ is Not Diverse, Not Feminist and Not Empowering,” The Independent, October 24, 2012.