I was surprised by Betsy Woodruff's piece in National Review Online regarding Lena Dunham's HBO show, Girls. I was surprised because I was truly amazed that a woman of Betsy's youthful age could be so out of touch with the modern feminist. Her column was out of date -- out of reality -- and seemed to be written to cater to the elderly and the bitter. As a young woman myself, I find that Lena Dunham's show is honest and real. And sometimes reality is ugly and involves a truth which not all will be happy to recognize.
First I would like to address Woodruff's point that Girls is about women who refuse to grow up. Women are more responsible than they were 20 years ago. More women are in the workforce, more women are working demanding jobs and more women are entering and succeeding in male dominated fields. However, the problem with today is that the economy that college and post-graduates entered 15 years ago doesn't exist anymore. Unpaid internships are the norm. To have a paid, stable job at 24 is a big deal. Hell, to have a job that pays decently and offers health care benefits is about as common as a unicorn. The opening scene of the Girls pilot is profound: Lena Dunham's character's parents cut her off and tell her she must be self-sufficient. Fifteen years ago the idea that one would still rely on their parents was weird; today, many millennials depend or are moving back in with their parents.
Another point: My generation is growing up in a world without social codes. For the most part, men are no longer "gentlemen" and women are no longer "ladies." Rather we feel more comfortable getting naked and having sex within the first few hours of meeting each other, but coffee and dinner dates are intense and scary. Men have stopped asking women out (not least out of fear). To quote Aziz Ansari, Why won't I go up and talk to a girl at a club? "Because that woman is going to be mean as sh** to me for no reason."
My generation also faces a romantic crisis. We've grown up being told that old-fashioned love and romance is outdated, fanciful, unrealistic -- or simply doesn't exist. Hook up culture is a natural reaction to that idea. Why search for Mr. Right when searching for Mr. Right Now is so much easier? Or, if you are seeking some sort of stability, you end up getting involved in a sudden and intense relationship which usually ends, oh, after about six months. No one is thinking practically; no one is approaching dating as an enjoyable and purposeful way to meet different types of people, and using it to explore the sort of partner he or she wants for a husband or wife. Instead, it's become this terrible, hurtful, lawless world where no one trusts each other anymore.
To say that Girls adds to this problem is ignorant. Society has problems. Lena Dunham is just one of the few honest observers. Unlike Sex in the City, single life isn't just about feminists who want independence and Manolos and a good screw. The modern urban feminist believes that she can control her emotions and that she can have sex like a man -- but that doesn't discount her wanting to meet a Prince Charming. This type of feminist believes she can have it all, even while her own behavior and that of the men she meets is completely at odds with the long-term dream.
Woodruff, for her part, believes that modern women should hearken back to the outdated and disproven ideals of the Second Wave feminism of the 1970s, which taught that women could be -- and would want to be -- completely independent of men.
Second-wave feminists lionized the independent woman who paid her own rent and busted through glass ceilings and ran for Congress. Being totally self-sufficient was the goal. The idea was that women didn't need men, whether those men were their fathers or husbands or boyfriends or presidents. By contrast, Dunham's new vision of women as lady parts with ballots is infantilizing and regressive.
Girls isn't about women who refuse to grow up -- it's about women who are trying to grow up in a world in which economic prospects are dim; a world in which men and women can't seem to connect meaningfully or trustingly with each other at any level. We're jaded and we've seen a lot of love go really, really bad. We're growing up in a hostile world. Lena Dunham -- and all of us -- are just reacting to it.
Follow Miranda Frum on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@mirandafrum