I’ve been thinking a lot about feminism recently. Everything from this Joss Whedon speech from 2006 where he keeps having to answer questions about ‘strong women characters’ to Hadley Freeman’s recent article about why feminism doesn’t need a makeover to this blog post about what isn’t ‘feminist’. I’ve also been watching the HBO series Girls and Star Trek: The Original Series on a regular basis over the past few months. With all these different views and portrayals of women swirling in my consciousness, I can’t help but reflect on these ideas. I’m struck most by how little, sadly, things have changed from the era of Star Trek to Girls.
In Star Trek, it seems women were supposed to wear their short skirts, take notes and/or invariably fall for Kirk. Even Lt Uhura, for all the progress of having not only a black person but also a woman as a major character in a network show at the time, fell into this trope in at least one episode, albeit against her will (S3.E10, ‘Plato’s Stepchildren’).
In Girls, the main characters either bemoan their lack of boyfriends or struggle in their relationships, still wearing those same short skirts. While they are more self aware of their own sexuality and faults than any of their Star Trek brethren, in some ways this actually makes them sadder characters. These girls are never happy in their current situations and have almost no self-esteem. The main character, Hannah, has mentioned on numerous occasions that she hates herself (in part for being ’13 pounds overweight’) and puts up with a sometimes verbally abusive boyfriend; whilst her best friend Marnie can’t decide if she loves the ex-boyfriend she actually loathes, or hates herself for being the ‘boring’ girl who never experiments. They’re all so self-obsessed with the image of trying to be liked by others that they can’t actually accept it when they are actually liked by others.
Nominally aimed at the Sex and the City for 20-somethings crowd, Girls is a dramedy that struggles to tackle the bigger issues it sets up. All the characters are college-educated and while this does not add much life-wisdom in this day-and-age, the four girls of the show seem especially naive. Whether it’s Hannah living off her parents’ money (or Jessa, or Shoshana, for that matter) no one has any experience living an adult life. At least Shoshana has the excuse of being at university, but almost everyone I knew at university had student loans, a job or, often, both. In the first few episodes of the show Marnie is the only one of the four with a paying job. Later, Jessa works as a part-time babysitter, and Hannah as a part-time barrista, though how any of them could afford to live in New York on those wages remains to be seen. I know television takes many liberties with finances (I’m looking at you, Friends, Seinfeld and every other New York-based show!), so the girls’ lack of income is not the point. Yet when the characters bring up the need to pay rent and owing each other money, then gloss over those topics in future episodes, something is amiss. Considering they all have enough money to buy food, take taxis, attend parties and even in one episode buy drugs, the realm of believability falls a bit, at least in my eyes.
That is my biggest problem with Girls, in fact. Star Trek was set in a distant future yet was aware and critiqued modern society, while Girls is a contemporary show that portrays the lives of four ‘ordinary’ New Yorkers. Yet in many ways I find Star Trek to be the more believable show. It’s not the casual sex or complaints about relationships that makes Girls so hard to watch — there were plenty of both in Star Trek, that’s for sure — it’s more the lack of societal awareness or repercussions for anyone. Hannah gets a part-time job, quits it, finds another, calls out sick or leaves early on a regular basis in that, yet still has the job later. Marnie gets laid off from her job because her female boss is sleeping with the only other, male, employee, yet Marnie accepts it without question or a benefits package. There wasn’t one character I actually liked or felt sympathy for, so I stopped watching. Because what’s the point, if I don’t like any of the characters (I felt the same way about Breaking Bad — I must be one of the few people who didn’t like the show).
It doesn’t surprise me that there are people like this. No, instead, it surprises me that there are so many people like this. And that we as a society continue to perpetuate these thoughts by tuning in to such shows.