Writer Crush: Lena Dunham

When I read about the show Girls earlier this year, I anticipated HBO’s answer/follow-up to Sex and the City and a show that could potentially speak to my generation. I remember Sex and the City fondly. It showed me things my small town teenage mind could only dream of–a glamorous setting, complex adult relationships, and thoughtful, successful, funny women who broke away from the normal expectations of a woman and instead pursued their careers. I admired this show; I wanted to be Carrie. But I never really saw myself in it. These were women in the their thirties and forties dealing with the problems of people in their thirties and forties.

A unique word choice for the show’s title. “Girl” can often be used as a derogatory term, one to demean a woman by aging her down, in essence belittling her. Has Lena Dunham reclaimed this word by making it big and bold and putting it in all caps? 

I had read all the reviews of Girls, all the praise and all the criticisms, but it wasn’t until I sat down and watched the first episode that I could really form my opinion of a show that everyone seems to have an opinion of these days. I am head over heels in love/infatuation/obsession with this show and with its creator, Lena Dunham. I watched the first three episodes in a row on an otherwise uneventful Sunday. I waited impatiently every week following for the next episode. I needed this show because, through all its humor and drama and silly situations, it showed me a reflection of myself, my friends, and my age group in a way that no other show ever has. The four main characters–however diverse they may be–are twenty-something women at a time when it is both extraordinarily exciting and terrifying to be a twenty-something woman. They are out of college (or close to being) in a time of high unemployment rates and a sluggish economy, when a degree in English or Art may as well be a ticket to underemployment in a coffee shop, and a time when an unpaid internship sparks the same excitement in a college graduate as a steady job would have her parent twenty years ago.

Yet all hope is not lost, at least for Lena Dunham. This is also a time of Tina Fey, of Jennifer Egan, of  Kathryn Bigelow and Sophia Coppola, of Bridesmaids. Never before have so many prominent, creative women put their voices out and have had so many people listen. Remember last year when the biggest discussion surrounding Bridesmaids was the revelation that women could be funny? That they could utilize crass humor alongside the best Hangover cast member? That conversation grew annoying very fast. My hope is that Lena Dunham and Girls finally puts that discussion to rest. Yes, female characters on television and movies (and the women who write them) are funny. Yes, they end up in awkward situations (Shoshanna in the episode “Welcome to Bushwick a.k.a. The Crackcident” comes to mind). And yes, they can bare their bodies to the world even if they don’t look the svelte stars of Gossip Girl. Lena Dunham and Girls are so imperfect, they’re perfect.

Jessa, my favorite character on Girls gave the best line of the season. “I cannot be smoted. I am unsmoteable.”
I wish I could tattoo that line on my psyche. 

And it’s all because Lena Dunham had the tenacity to write a complex female character and a complex female-driven show. Lena’s character Hannah is whiny, don’t get me wrong. She’s selfish and a bit spoiled, but she’s also a talented artist, so I really wouldn’t expect much else from her. She has a lot of growing up to do, but I don’t think she should be faulted for that. Hannah is attempting to pursue  a difficult dream (writing professionally) in a notoriously difficult place (New York, city of crushed dreams). Dunham explored this character and idea before, in her critically acclaimed indie film Tiny Furniture. In it, one can see the beginnings of character development and themes that she stretches and explores in Girls. The main character of Tiny Furniture is probably whinier than Hannah in Girls. Perhaps, Dunham thought it best to tone down this character flaw. She is nonetheless the same type of woman, an artist in her mid-twenties struggling to find her voice while at the same time coping with the very un-artist like situations of having to find a job, pay bills.

I can’t help but assume that Hannah is a close resemblance of her creator, so I can’t help but think that Lena has struggled with much of what her character struggles with–body acceptance, self-esteem issues, dating the wrong men, and questioning her talent as a writer. And I can’t help but wonder how many women see themselves in Dunham’s Hannah. I know I do. And because of all of this, I can’t help but feel happy for Lena Dunham, fellow twenty-something writer, fellow woman struggling to present a genuine voice. Lena Dunham is my new inspiration, my new idol. Just as the title of her show announces itself each week with bold, blocky, and colorful letters, Lena Dunham has announced herself as a new, worthwhile voice. Someday, I hope it won’t have to be a discussion when a female comedian proves herself just as a funny as her male counterpart or when a television series focused on women is entertaining and captivating enough to interest both sexes. Until then, I’m thankful for Lena Dunham and Girls for giving me something to laugh about. I’m thankful that Dunham is showing me on the screen.

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