It's Complicated: Playing The 'Girls' Card

  • by April 29, 2016

“Hillary would be a horrible president. The only thing she's got going is the woman's card."

That, of course, is Donald Trump, the Republican “presumptive nominee” and freshly minted Tele-Prompter-reading-school graduate, who used the occasion of his five-state-victory-speech this Tuesday to conk his blonde competitor over the head about gender. 

He pressed on, saying, “The beautiful thing is that women don’t like her,” which is a classic line from a bully (“Nobody likes you! Go home!”) but at the same time pretty much contradicts his original statement. 

I mean, some women must like her, especially in the role of President.

Either way, Hillary had a robust response to the Donald’s pulling-of-the women’s-card-card: “Deal me in!”

It’s complicated. Women are not in lock-step, of course, and, unfortunately, there is no one-card-fits-all. There isn’t even a dedicated, federated witches coven big enough to fit us all in at once anywhere.



And in response to his remarks, plenty of men suggested that Trump is playing the (joke about small hands and manhood goes here) card.

So it’s not the “old binary” as Lena Dunham put it in such a modern way, while accepting her Matrix Award at a luncheon this week, among a roster of incredibly powerful honorees, each of whom was introduced by her own incredibly powerful personal-hero/mentor. 

The ceremony, sponsored annually by New York Women in Communications, featured so much “we’re-all-in-this-together” joyful-female-collaborative-energy that it practically blew the roof off the joint (the joint being the Waldorf-Astoria.) And having been levitated as an attendee allowed me to shrug off Trump’s remarks with a Mary Pat Christie-type eye roll. 

Indeed, developing the ability to overcome the feeling of being different, of being an outsider, of worrying about not being liked, was an issue that came up again and again in the speeches of the honorees. 

Which led me to think of the consciously provocative road taken by Lena Dunham. The youngest of this year’s Matrix winners at a month shy of 30, she’s a writer, producer, director, creator, and star of HBO’s Girls, the lightning-rod comedy series which she deliberately did not name anything close to “Women.” 

At the luncheon, Dunham was introduced by her hero, women’s movement activist and Ms. Magazine co-founder Gloria Steinem, who, though you’d never know it, is more than 50 years older than Lena, but like her, has from Day One taken plenty of shrapnel over her sisterly politics. 

Dressed in a very proper Lady who Lunches dress, (while Steinem wore an incredibly cool beaded motorcycle-style jacket and slim black pants) Dunham (who says the thing she hears most regularly is that she’s “thinner in person”) got up there, old Trump-style, in an off-the-cuff speech with no notes.

She said: “We get to determine what it looks like and feels like and I am so lucky to be doing the work of what it means to be female right now.” 

And her “truth," at least in playing the sometimes truly tedious OCD character Hannah Horvath, provided a picture many of us were not prepared for. 

Girls wrapped its fifth season last week, and will come back for one more. That makes sense, as it was all based on Dunham’s authentic 20-something voice. (She always made fun of the fact, with anything that Hannah wrote, that she proclaimed herself “the voice of her Millennial generation.”) And next year, Dunham will be 30.

Girls has probably made a huge cultural impact bigger than the size of its viewership.

As a viewer, I admit that I had dropped off after Season Two. I found Dunham’s character, Hannah, excruciating to watch: lazy, narcissistic, obnoxious, and too frequently naked. Not just because she has, as she so often puts it, “an unusual body type” but also because her exhibitionist/undersized, sometimes bizarrely toddler-like, passive-aggressive wardrobe seemed designed to provoke an angry, sexist response. And also designed to weird people out, considering the contrast of her wardrobe with her very grown up and graphic (messy, upsetting) sexual style.

But by now, my sort of reactionary Hannah-hate has become a cliché, along with all the standard anti-Girls talking points: that watching these massively entitled, under-employed 20-somethings (many of whom have upper-class artist parents) being hideously oblivious to each other and the world, while hanging out in Brooklyn was becoming quasi-sickening. 

And then I binge-watched this season, and found it particularly a joy, and collectively, a show that was beautifully observed and also at times full of depth. 

I don’t have room to review the whole season,(but could spend another column on it, if you demand it!). 

It worked on so many levels: commenting on other TV shows, famous movies, and literature, the timeless psychological components of the human condition --  even throwing in a commentary about the 1964 Kitty Genovese murder -- while also exploring very specific details about contemporary friendship, for both men and women, and how it differs tremendously from the stereotypes created by Sex and the City. Of course, the show also ran during a veritable Renaissance for female comedy, with so many new shows featuring brilliantly quirky female anti-heroes, created by female showrunners obviously influenced by the genius of Tina Fey. 

The big difference for Hannah (and the characters on Broad City) is that they are not nude as a way of showing anyone their bodies, or to be sexy or flirty. They are nude because they are comfortable living in their bodies. And on Girls, at least, it seems the most ethical, moral characters are the men, especially Ray, the post-Millennial who owns a coffee shop. It’s also brilliant about the whims of hipster culture. Ray’s shop is being killed by “Helvetica,” the much hotter place across the street. It’s so trendy, Ray complains, “that it’s named after a font and has a breast-feeding section.” Boom. Then he adds: “A guy with a monocle just came out.” 

The season ends the way some of us are feeling in this uniquely chaotic and cartoonish political campaign season: sad, sometimes amused and moved, but mostly surveying the wreckage and wondering what to do.

Beautiful work, Lena. I guess we all got swept up into Hannah-hate, when in fact Lena is an innovator who seems preternaturally wise about growing up and the human condition. 

At the luncheon, she mentioned her concern about a “a level of aggression between women that is painful to watch.” She also underlined the importance of “intergenerational female friendship.” 

“Our job is to grab up here (reaching above her head) and down here (reaching kneeward) and move together in strength to make a big old change.”

It’s all over for the “old binary.” Deal me in. 

7 comments about "It's Complicated: Playing The 'Girls' Card ".
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  1. Sara Trujillo from Trujillo Public Relations, April 29, 2016 at 9:20 a.m.

    Loved the column and agree with you. I also stopped watching after season 2, but found myself binge watching each season towards the end are loved seeing the growth of each character and their journey. This season has been brilliant -- all the characters have shined and the performances.

    Wish I had been at the lunch.

  2. Aarona Jordan from CBS Digital, April 29, 2016 at 9:49 a.m.

    Bravo Barbara! Always a pleasure to read you-few in our industry connect the dots so well with prose so perfect.  And, you've no doubt activated a ton of binge watching for "Girls"! 

  3. brad berger from aim high tips, April 29, 2016 at 10:02 a.m.

    Women need a 1 day National Strike along with men supporting them demanading Congress vote on the ERA bills before the conventions. 

  4. Elissa Moses from Ipsos, April 29, 2016 at 10:30 a.m.

    Deal me in too. Great column!

  5. Jane Farrell from Freelance, April 29, 2016 at 10:53 a.m.

    Great column as always, Barbara. Dunhan is not only a creative force, she's a brave one - persisting, as Hillary Clinton has done and continues to do, in the face of so much vitriol.

  6. Don Perman from self, April 30, 2016 at 8:14 a.m.

    Excellent column.  One of your best. You tied together so many threads, from Lena to politics to your own experiences.  Thanks for the superb read.

  7. Valerie Graves from Valerie Graves Creative, April 30, 2016 at 2:09 p.m.

    I love this column. It perfectly captures the range of my feelings about "Girls," which often have not squared up with my admiration for Lena Dunham. I really support Dunham's call for "inter-generational female friendship. Since my grown nieces have left NYC, I have actively developed friendships with other young women; something I believe has been mutually beneficial to me and my new "girl" friends. Oh, and screw Donald Trump, ladies. No man is afraid to play the "guy card," least of all Donald the penis-measuring gas bag.

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