On Sex, Rape, Addiction and Adam From ‘Girls’

Screen Shot 2013-03-12 at 10.31.30 PM

In this guest post, Hugo Schwyzer weighs in on the most controversial episode of Lena Dunham’s “Girls” ever. 

Since Sunday’s airing of “On all Fours,” the darkest and most troubling Girls episode yet, there’s been plenty of debate about whether or not what happened between Adam and Natalia was rape, bad sex, or something else that’s difficult to name. (I liked what Amanda Hess and Emily Heist Moss have to say.)

Like so many, I found the episode emotionally triggering to watch. Witnessing anyone—whether they’re friends or fictional characters of whom one has grown fond—relapse into destructive, humiliating, or dangerous behavior is painful. I have always had a lot of sympathy for the darkly brooding Adam (played so well by the magnetic Adam Driver), not least because he’s in recovery, having struggled with alcoholism since his teens. In this most recent episode, we see Adam make the conscious choice to drink again. As an addict who has been clean nearly 15 years (and who was in and out of Twelve Step programs for 11 years before that) I’m captivated by relapse. I want to watch it up close, partly because I will always be drawn to the fantasy of going back to drugs and alcohol, and partly because studying the mechanics of another’s fall is a kind of prophylaxis against making a similar decision.

What haunts me about Adam isn’t just that he’s a fellow drunk with a compelling mix of social awkwardness and sexually-charged charisma. It’s the way in which he externalizes his own self-destructiveness. Driver is a good enough actor that he’s able to show us two Adams at once: the disconnected narcissist and the vulnerable boy who knows that he’s capable of empathy if he can only, only get out of his own way. We never doubt why women fall in love with him, and we never doubt why they will invariably leave.

I’ve been Adam, both with the alcohol and with the sex. Watching him assault Natalia (I’m not gonna quarrel about words), I remembered how easy it is for the addict to use sex to disappear into one’s own pain, one’s own rage. And I remembered—as Girls will surely show Adam remembering—the mix of shock and fear and disgust on the face of a woman who trusted me.  ”Where the fuck did you go?” one ex asked me in bewilderment and anger. I’d fumble with an apology, with remorse, with soothing words that always stood in painful contrast to what had just come before. Like Adam, when I had sex high or drunk there was almost always this nearly instant post-ejaculatory regret, as if my orgasm had purged a demon and I could return to being present, empathetic, and tender. (One reason I had to be celibate in early sobriety was to learn how to connect sexually, how to stay present even when my clothes came off.   That wasn’t an easy lesson to learn.)

It’s dangerous to over-identify with a fictional character. I’m not Adam. But we’re similar enough that I was shaken to my core by the reminder of where it is I can go if I’m not “doing my work.” I was also reminded that that destructive disappearing act, that vanishing into sexualized cruelty, had nothing to with the women I was with. On Twitter, some of my friends were suggesting that what happened was partly Natalia’s fault for not understanding Adam’s peculiar kinks; “this is why Hannah was better for him,” they claimed.

Men don’t drink and disconnect and (yes) rape because they’re with the wrong partner. It’s both a dangerous oversell of female power and a devaluation of men’s responsibility to suggest that a woman’s empathy—or sexual adventurousness—is enough to restore an addict to sanity. Men like Adam (and the me that was) don’t need a particularly adventurous and understanding sex partner; we don’t drink and disappear into rage because we’re misunderstood. The love of a kinky woman won’t save us for long. We drink and disappear because we’re not working our program, because we’re not winning the fight every damn day against a disease that leaves us incapable of empathy, of sustained kindness.

The good news is that when we start to win that fight we change; we can become completely different people. In sobriety, I learned how to be present, how to listen, how to play with humor and tenderness. In the program, we’re reminded that we only have “a daily reprieve contingent on maintaining our spiritual condition.” On Sunday night, I watched someone lose that “daily reprieve,” and inflict so much stupid, cruel, unnecessary pain as a consequence.

Monday morning, I called my sponsor.

 

 

Originally appeared at HugoSchwyzer.net

Sponsored Content

Premium Membership, The Good Men Project

About Hugo Schwyzer

Hugo Schwyzer has taught history and gender studies at Pasadena City College since 1993, where he developed the college's first courses on Men and Masculinity and Beauty and Body Image. He serves as co-director of the Perfectly Unperfected Project, a campaign to transform young people's attitudes around body image and fashion. Hugo lives with his wife, daughter, and six chinchillas in Los Angeles. Hugo blogs at his website

Comments

  1. “He externalizes his own self-destructiveness…”

    “It’s both a dangerous oversell and a devaluation of a man’s responsibility to suggest that a woman’s empathy is enough to restore an addict to sanity….”

    Thank you for your insightful words….the behavior of an addict/alcoholic is so bewildering and so easy to blame onto their partners….so easy for the partner to blame herself/himself for the “sexualized cruelty”….

  2. Adam had the same kind of sex with Hannah when he was sober. The connection between his relapse and the incident with his new girlfriend is not that clear. It’s not like Adam is depicted as a nice guy when he’s sober and only a jerk when he’s drunk. We, the audience, get to know him in the first season as a selfish jerk with weird kinks when he’s together with Hannah. And at this time he’s sober for something like ten years. So I don’t think you can blame his behavior on the drinking or his addiction.

    • Joanna Schroeder says:

      I don’t think Adam dehumanized Hannah the same way, though. She always went along with it, and seemed to enjoy it.

      I think the difference is in how he reacted to her. He was TERRIFIED that she would stop liking him, he knew he’d violated her. He never showed that with Hannah. One could argue that this is because he valued Hannah less, or that she was less of a “high value” girlfriend or something (interesting commentary if that’s true) and therefore less of a loss, but it was different with Hannah for sure.

    • I think he was terrified because he realized that he went too far. As you said with Hannah it never really came to this point, but out of sheer luck. Hannah was more willing to go along with his kinks or even liked them. But the sex with Hannah wasn’t well negotiated either.

      That’s an interesting point about the “high value” girlfriend. Maybe it’s not Adam who values Hannah less as a girlfriend, but it’s us, the audience. Natalia is a very attractive woman. She’s neat, well dressed, seems to have her life together and seems to be a nice person. Hannah is not that attractive, always awkwardly dressed, neurotic and often oblivious to other people’s feelings. In short, Natalia is a much more sympathetic figure than Hannah.

      I wonder if the reactions to that sex scene had been so strong if Hannah had been involved instead of Natalia. Do we as an audience feel worse for Natalia because she’s depicted as a more likeable, more attractive person than Hannah?

  3. Tom Matlack says:

    Hugo this is the best piece you have written IMO. I thank you for the honesty and the first person focus. In this struggle you and I are equal and the same.

  4. Shocking, but on Monday morning Millions of addicts in recovery just got up and went to work, having watched TV and the episode that some have been finding triggering. Those millions are evidently highly dysfunctional, finding no need to find any place to inject a fictional narrative from a TV program into their own lived experience. One is so glad that the singular minority are so well placed as to be able to make up for the deficits of so many others.

    It’s dangerous to over-identify with a fictional character.

    Over-identify? In the world of professional mental health, identifying with fictional characters is seen as an issue – period. Especially when it’s an established pattern and damaging to all parties – including the reputation of the “Fictional”one.

  5. Thank you for writing this piece … I wasn’t sure what to make of that episode (and I’m still not) beyond being wildly uncomfortable, but it’s refreshing to hear thoughtful dialogue on these issues.

  6. I don’t watch this show so I only really read this article because I saw Hugo wrote it and I really respect Hugo’s work.

    “Men don’t drink and disconnect and (yes) rape because they’re with the wrong partner. It’s both a dangerous oversell of female power and a devaluation of men’s responsibility to suggest that a woman’s empathy—or sexual adventurousness—is enough to restore an addict to sanity.”

    This is simply boldly insightful. Hugo, your pieces always give me hope for a better future between men and women.

  7. If Girls wasn’t a show with a cast of all white women who were portraying bratty 20 somethings, but instead had an all Latina or all black cast, Feminist sites and writers wouldn’t be falling all over themselves to write about it.

    • Joanna Schroeder says:

      Are there any shows like that? I’d love to see a show about the lives of 20 something women who weren’t white, in the spirit of “Girls” which is a very honest examination of life in that age and class strata.

      I get stuck on the word “bratty” because it sort of ruins your point. I mean, are you saying the women in the show aren’t likable, or are you saying the show is too homogenous?

      Are you asking if a show about bratty 20 something Latinas or other WOC be as successful? Or would the WOC who were in their 20s not be bratty? Because women in their early 20s are often really bratty, regardless of race. I think a show full of heroic, always-good, never-bratty 20 somethings would be terrible, regardless of race.

      • I’m saying bratty in that they are unlikable and they would be regardless of their ethnicity. I don’t even want a show full of likable heroic people. My point is that the only reason this show gets so much press by Feminists and other cultural commenters is because the show is all white. If you were to replace the actresses with an all black or all Latina cast (or a mix of the two) it would be ignored by mainstream feminists. Instead this show is treated as some type of very important and cultural revelation that has many fem bloggers writing about it. I just think the gender warriors on the Internet really place a lot more importance on this show than it deserves because of its whiteness no in spite of it.

  8. I’ve tried to watch this show (Girls) just to see what all the noise is about. With 10 HBO channels in my cable package, it’s almost always on . I’ve never been able to make it through an episode. I just find it boring , kind of like Seinfeld, with a lot of sex added in.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] The Good Men Project republished a poignant piece of Hugo Schwyzer’s, On Rape And Addiction and Adam from Girls. [...]

Speak Your Mind