Girls: Post feminism on TV

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Emmy award winning actress and director of the HBO television show “Girls” Lena Dunham has been both praised and attacked by the media for the contents on her show presenting the lives of four Brooklyn-based, 20-year-old women while trying to make a living for themselves after college and coping with interpersonal relationships. The show presents, in my point of view, the most up-to-date definition of post-feminism in America, portraying women shaped and accepted by general media.

Cast for the HBO Show, Girls.

Cast for the HBO Show, Girls.

After researching for the appropriate meaning of the concept “post-feminism” I discovered the many variants it has and how juxtaposed they can be to each other; thus after reading copious amounts on this modern philosophical theory I landed on two authors/philosophers that conjugate appropriately contemporary post-feminism:  Ann Brooks and Susan Bolotin. The first one states and conceptualizes post-feminism as “an expression of a stage in the constant evolutionary movement of feminism… once seen, somewhat crudely, as ‘anti-feminist’, the term is now understood as a useful conceptual frame of reference encompassing the intersection of feminism with a number of other anti-foundationalism movements including postmodernism, post-structuralism and post-colonialism”, which sums up what many other authors have stated but in a less radical manner.

On her end, Susan Bolotin –who was perhaps the first woman to use the actual term “post-feminism” on her 1982 New York Times article “Voices from the Post-feminist Generation”– explains how most young women on their 20’s at that time declared themselves non-feminist, since they saw feminism as a “too-radical” movement that would leave them “lonely and bitter.”

Feminism, as it was initially conceived seemed to be too “radical” for the women interviewed by Bolotin back in 1982, most of the arguments expressed by these women were that they were “overly individualistic”. On her article, Bolotin mentions that for a man would not be hard to find “a talented, funny, ambitious and, if it didn’t matter to him, liberal woman who is not a feminist”; these women were in fact concerned about equal rights and equal pay, but were far more concerned with being happy and yes… finding a man to be with. All of the women interviewed were also either college students or graduates, a fact that allows us clearly to see one of the benefits of feminism.

Ann Brooks explains on her book Post-feminisms: feminism, cultural theory, and cultural forms that post feminism is an ongoing struggle and an “everyday mind shifting” on women roles and behaviors, she states that “ women after feminism want what they had earned after feminism and what they wanted before it as well” meaning that they wanted, as I interpret it: options. Post-feminist women want to be able to choose between a life as a college graduate professional, or have the option to be a stay-at-home-mom, and none of these options should be blocked by anyone.

And these two interpretations of post-feminism are very well articulated, purposely or not, by the characters on the show Girls. For example, Hanna, interpreted by also creator and director Lena Dunham, is comfortably being in a feminist position when being financially supported by her parents while she finds a way to make it on her own, while on the other hand when she is forced to find a job and leave her non-paid internship, she waves (again… maybe unintentionally) a post-feminist flag by searching for a job that paid her just like a man would; illustrating Bolotin’s statement “Feminism means believing in equal rights” it just happened to be discriminating if found to be affiliated with that concept back in the early 80’s, but in the current scenario where these characters live, the word feminism is old and even passé.

One of the interviewees on Bolotin’s article, Julie Rothman, who graduated on 1982 of the University of Vermont explained why she viewed herself as a non-feminist on a clear manner:  ”For most people, feminism means having a strong sense of yourself as an individual, independent female… I give up too much of myself for the man I love,” she said as Bolotin reflected her thoughts stating that “Women who disavowed a connection with feminism while praising its political effects often sounded defensive when answering my questions, but no one felt as put upon as I did” which also allow us to see the big difference between two generations.

Another very clear example on a post-feminist idea presented on this show is one of the female body being as free to be shown by any women as long as she is comfortable with it, in perhaps a more radical and precise example, post-feminism touches the issue of women having the right to work in the porn industry. On this show women are portrayed as sexual individuals, but most importantly of all, presents the lead actress naked… a lot of times being completely comfortable with a type of physique that falls way out of the norm of “beauty” we all know.

Ann Brooks states that “Feminist theorists and practitioners have long been involved in media and film theory. Current postfeminist interventions into filmic and media discourses can be seen as an outgrowth and development from feminism’s involvement in this direction.” With this in mind we could perhaps review many films, books and television shows that present feminist values, but the particularity of Girls is how it is presented, in a manner empowering women, recognizing that they now have the choice many hard-core feminist fought for but sometimes, as stated earlier choose not to follow.

The show presents characters as contradictive as many concepts of post-feminism there are, they are smart girls who do incredibly non-rational things, they are ambitious but never really been through jobs, they know what they need to do and constantly end up doing the wrong thing; the show accurately presents the current 20-something-year old way of thinking for many women standing on a neutral position as far as what feminism is. Post-feminism is about a constant adaptation on what women need as the time changes, but that unquestionably started off as a radical movement called feminism.

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3 Comments

  1. That is such an awesome show, and so is your article. It was very smart to point out the feminist aspect of the show. I really enjoy watching “Girls” because unlike other shows this is more realistic.

  2. btw Alex Karpovsky, I met him in Austin and he is such a douchebag. Seriously, big time.

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