“People are saying this is ‘Sex and the City’ for the next generation,” said Conan O’Brien, speaking to Lena Dunham, on last night’s episode of “Conan.” The Los Angeles Times called Dunham’s show “Girls” “the uncomfortably true voice of millennial women.” And The New Yorker attacked “Girls” for its lack of inclusivity: “‘Girls’ also paints a revealing picture because of what, or whom, it leaves out. The show’s young women are protected, in part, by privilege,” notes writer Margaret Talbot.
Never before has one women’s show had so much riding on its shoulders, it seems. All the sudden, Dunham and “Girls” seemingly have the whole world waiting with baited breath — not just because the show is being heralded as the second-coming of “Sex and the City” (yeah, no thanks), but because in this era of bleak birth control debate and reproductive rights one-upmanship, “Girls” has quickly garnered a rep for its honest and awkward portrayals of Sex Right Now. It’s a sexual landscape, says Dunham, that was honed in a pro-porno world. “Guys my age watch so much pornography,” she told the Times. “When I first started kissing boys, I remember noticing things, certain behaviors, where I thought, ‘There’s no way you learned that anywhere but on YouPorn.com.’”
Critics are seemingly obsessed with the awkward sex on the show — much of it which is had by Dunham’s character Hannah. I suspect that part of the fascination with Hannah’s sex life — the unspoken quality of the fascination — has to do with Dunham’s less than model-ish body. Her curves aren’t perfectly contained in a typical TV actress frame, and critics are just fascinated (fascinated!) that women who don’t look like actresses can have sex.
But that’s not all. Beyond even the obsessive analysis of the “Girls”‘ girls’ sex lives, is the way the show’s been picked apart, analyzed and examined as if it must speak for all women. The media seems to want to look at “Girls” as a catch all for all women’s shows — and is all too ready to take Dunham down for not covering every base, for not writing things authentically enough, or for writing about sex too authentically. Dunham, like any other writer, is writing from her experience. And it strikes me as odd and troubling that we hold her to such a strangely high bar, while completely not turning a critical eye to total brofest shows like “Two and a Half Men,” and oh, basically every other television show.
Lena Dunham isn’t the voice of a generation, and that’s okay. She shouldn’t have to be. There’s no reason why so much expectation should be placed on Dunham and “Girls.” It’s setting her and the show up for failure by utilizing the misogynistic notion that women’s shows and products should all reflect one monolithic vision. Which it seems is exactly what some critics want.