For a forthcoming issue of The American Spectator I have been writing about Lena Dunham’s brilliant but painfully funny HBO series "Girls," whose power to generate buzz on the media’s ever vigilant distaff side is almost more impressive than the series itself. Most fascinating to me has been the way in which female journalists tend to read everything that strikes a nerve with women, as "Girls" certainly does, in feminist terms — even though, like "Girls," it may also be read as anti-feminist — at least as feminism is understood by most people today, as the yoke-fellow of the sexual revolution. Alessandra Stanley of The New York Times is one of the few who sees that Ms Dunham’s portrait of the daily humiliations suffered by young women experiencing the reality of what they imagine as the "Sex and the City" lifestyle "could easily be interpreted as a cautionary tale written by the religious right," though she gives no indication that she sees them that way. And most of the series’ female fans seem to take it for granted that Ms Dunham intends some kind of feminist statement.
Perhaps she does. But talk about not getting the joke! Here, for instance, is Emily Nussbaum in New York magazine
Even before the Republican candidates adopted The Handmaid’s Tale as a platform, Dunham’s sly, brazen, graphic comedy, with its stress on female friendships, its pleasure in the sick punch line, its compassion for the necessity of making mistakes, felt like a retort to a culture that pathologizes feminine adventure.
I suppose that anyone who imagines that the Republican candidates have adopted The Handmaid’s Tale as a platform could hardly be expected to know that the world has moved on since the days, a century or so ago, when the culture pathologized — though that’s hardly the way the culture of the time would have seen it — female adventure. Now female adventure is celebrated by the dominant culture. Why, even the Marines are preparing to send women into combat. What could be more adventurous than that?
The irony is that, if anything, it is Ms Dunham’s TV series which pathologizes feminine adventure — at least if by that we mean that she makes her heroines’ sexual adventurism look like some kind of pathology. In Russia, under the Putin/Medvedev duumvirate, the joke was that there were two rival parties in the Kremlin: the Putin party and the Medvedev party. The only question was which one Medvedev belonged to. The same might be said of Lena Dunham as was said of Mr Medvedev. Does she belong to the Lena Dunham skeptical party who dare to call into question the now long-established assumptions which inspired the sexual revolution or is she, like Emily Nussbaum, so reflexive and unreflective a feminist that she herself doesn’t realize the real import, in terms of sexual politics, of her own genius? Perhaps in subsequent episodes of "Girls" we will be able to get a better idea of which it is.
Incidentally, Ms Nussbaum in New York writes that Ms Dunham has "very large brown eyes flecked with gold." But Rebecca Mead who interviewed her extensively for The New Yorker when Tiny Furniture came out claims that "Dunham has attentive blue eyes." Perhaps between the two interviews she obtained some colored contact lenses? Or else took them out. Anyway, she certainly seems to be enjoying all the attention she has been getting — as you might almost expect from someone who began her film-making career by posting a YouTube video of herself stripped down to a bikini and performing her morning ablutions in the Oberlin College fountain. She has now moved on from mere celebrity to real influence, but my guess is that she is also like Dmitry Medvedev in understanding that if she wants to preserve that influence and the power that goes with it, she will stick close to the feminists, at least in her public statements.