In 2012, Lena Dunham appeared on television screens across America and declared herself, or rather, her character, Hannah Horvath, the ‘voice of a generation’. Suddenly, HBO’s Girls became one of the most buzzed-about and analyzed programs in recent memory as hundreds of think pieces swarmed the internet, and critics dissected the very essence of Dunham’s millennial-driven show. Though it may be marketed to the young female viewer, and although some guys may have an aversion to Dunham’s brand of feminism, there are quite a few reasons as to why men should be watching Girls.
The show, throughout six seasons, has not shied away from controversy and has used its platform well. From tackling delicate issues like coming out as gay, mental illness, body image and drug abuse, to inflammatory topics like the line between rough sex and rape, Girls has consistently told the stories that not enough men are listening to.
While it shouldn’t be shocking, the fact that there are accurate portrayals of the average man and their relationships is something that Girls ought to be lauded for. We don’t see overly-muscled, oiled sex bombs that dominate network TV, just as we don’t see blondes in bikinis. Contrary to some of the think pieces that popped up around season three, Dunham does know how to write male characters, and when it comes to the active portrayal of men, Girls does wonders.
The depiction of men like Ray (Alex Karpovski) and Charlie (Christopher Abbott) is so noteworthy, it’s a wonder how under-the-radar it is. Ray is not the older, creepier guy who likes to sleep with young women, but a man who is in tune with his feelings, intellectual and has needs just as the women do. Ray, while not representing all men, offers a different, and grounded, take on a male character in a comedy, who not only vocalizes his perspectives against the narcissistic tendencies of the leading ladies, but has no trouble discussing his emotions, an attribute not usually associated with masculinity.
Charlie, as viewers will know, left the show, at the end of the second season, but reemerged in season five’s universally beloved ‘The Panic in Central Park’. in his introduction, Marnie (Allison Williams) was dissatisfied with her relationship, for reasons that ultimately boiled down to the fact that she didn’t think he was masculine enough, because he didn’t fit her ideas of what a man, or boyfriend, should be. How often do stories like these get told? Marnie eventually realized she just was not on the same page as him, relationship-wise, but when do we see such real representations of the struggles some couples have?
Even today, talking about what you’re feeling, or about women’s issues, can elicit shaming, or can end up with someone calling you gay, but the guys of Girls show a world where a man like Ray can have opinions on feminism, and people like Charlie can speak up about what they’re comfortable with in a relationship. The commentary on the unspoken stereotypes that men have to conform to is astounding, and sadly, not enough guys are paying attention.
In perhaps the most controversial episode of all, season two’s, ‘On All Fours’, viewers witnessed Adam (Adam Driver) and his girlfriend, Natalia (Shiri Appleby), engaged in what some have declared a heinous act of rape, and others said was a misunderstanding. Adam forcibly encouraged his girlfriend to crawl to his bed, before launching into rough sex, and ending with Natalia saying ‘I really didn’t like that’.
It sparked debates, articles, essays and critics accusing Dunham for making a rapist the ‘hero’, and others calling it an unneeded glimpse into the type of sexual activity some couples engage in. Interestingly, the conversation around what that scene meant was far more muted under the internet uproar.
It’s dark, uncomfortable, yet very necessary; no matter what you’d call it, this simple scene showed the reality that the line between consent and rape can be blurry. We, as men, need to see this, to understand it and reflect on our relationships, and our communication with our significant others, because these are issues that should be addressed, and in many cases, they aren’t.
Though Girls is all about the younger characters, it offers one of the most heartfelt and complex father-daughter relationships in popular culture. In season four, Hannah’s father, Tad (Peter Scolari), came out as gay to his wife and daughter; while there are plenty of LGBTQ characters on air, rarely do we see the portrayal of a 55+ year old man, a father, coming to grips with his sexuality.
It was handled in a delicate way, and shed light on something that many men have trouble understanding in the real world, how someone can come out as gay at such a stage in their life. Tad’s struggles are ones that some others grapple with, and this unadulterated representation is something that people, most of all men, need to see, because it isn’t as uncommon as you’d think.
At its core, Girls is about being young and figuring out what you want out of life, and while it may not be highest on the average guy’s TV watch list, it is essential viewing for the modern man, no matter your age. Six seasons later, it’s still pushing boundaries on what can be shown on TV, and now more than ever, we should be aware of other people and their lives and stories; shows like Girls are a necessity in the 21st century.
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