Alessandra Stanley, NYT TV critic recently reviewed the new HBO series Girls, which she writes is the “much anticipated comedy about four single women in New York.” I have not and will not be watching that show but I found Ms. Stanley’s review of it rather enlightening. What she finds to be the theme of Girls is that “[t]he economy fluctuates, neighborhoods blossom or decay, but men never cease to disappoint.”
Some 40 years after the sexual revolution, all this sex, immorality, and “freedom” for women has failed to improve the lives of young women at all! Basically, Stanley declares the sexual revolution and feminism to have been an absolute unmitigated failure; well, okay, she doesn’t actually declare that, but it is really her point:
Lena Dunham’s much anticipated comedy about four single women in New York, which starts on Sunday night, is worth all the fuss, even though it invites comparisons to Carrie Bradshaw and friends, and even though it incites a lot of dreary debate about the demise of feminism. There are obvious parallels between “Girls” and that earlier HBO series, but the theme of female friendship and romantic disappointment stretches back long before, all the way to the early 1940s and Mary McCarthy’s first novel, “The Company She Keeps.”
One reason that “Girls” is unsettling is that it is an acerbic, deadpan reminder that human nature doesn’t change. There was a lot of sex in the ’60s, but not much sexual revolution. For all the talk of equality, sexual liberation and independence, the love lives of these young women are not much more satisfying than those of their grandmothers. Their professional expectations are, if anything, even lower.
That’s right, feminism is dead and despite all the sexual escapades, the lives of women have not improved. Based on this television show, the lives of twenty-something women are unsatisfying, humilating…in fact, downright debasing. The characters include the lead, Hannah who is described by Stanley as “unpleasant in ways that are only occasionally endearing” and a “parasite sponging off her parents,” and Jessa who “is a sexual free spirit but not particularly joyful.” These girls are being portrayed as having all the fruits of the women’s movement, being freed from the expectation of marriage and motherhood they are free to pursue careers, relationships without commitments, and self-interested hobbies and leisure activities. Why then are the young women of Girls so unpleasant, selfish, unambitious and unhappy? Could it be that the fruit produced by the radical feminist agenda is not as sweet as we have been (repeatedly) told?
Perhaps becoming self-aware halfway through her review, Ms. Stanley admits that Girls portrayal of modern femininity might be seen as “a cautionary tale” but cannot bring herself to admit in print that this apparently accurate portrait has it’s underlying roots in the failure of the feminist movement and the sexual revolution. Instead, she backs off her previous indictment and then takes a swipe at those of us who see and call the failure for what it is. She sniggers:
The depiction of slacker life in New York, which includes tattoos, drugs, casual sex and abortions, is presented with wry humor, but it could easily be interpreted as a cautionary tale written by the religious right: the lifestyles of these modern women, untethered to responsibility, faith or morality, are parables that could scare Amish youth away from Rumspringa and wayward Mormons back into their temple garments.
Har har, see what she did there? She admits that all the drugs sex and abortions “could” be viewed as an indictment of the modern hedonism, but only by weird anti-cultural sects like Mormons and the Amish; you know, the “religious right”. No rational religion would condemn all this sex and unhappiness, and the only good Christian for the Left is one that is shacking up with their significant other. Only the fringe folks like you and me get all uptight about commandments and moral living. I can hear her sniggering at her own cleverness, because of course nothing works better for the liberals like dismissing legitimate worries over the effects of immoral societies as dangerous fringe thinking.
One can guess what Ms. Stanley would make of the teachings of Pope Paul VI in Humanae Vitae, in which he correctly predicted the effects of contraception on the relationship between men and women.
Responsible men can become more deeply convinced of the truth of the doctrine laid down by the Church on this issue if they reflect on the consequences of methods and plans for artificial birth control. Let them first consider how easily this course of action could open wide the way for marital infidelity and a general lowering of moral standards. Not much experience is needed to be fully aware of human weakness and to understand that human beings—and especially the young, who are so exposed to temptation—need incentives to keep the moral law, and it is an evil thing to make it easy for them to break that law. Another effect that gives cause for alarm is that a man who grows accustomed to the use of contraceptive methods may forget the reverence due to a woman, and, disregarding her physical and emotional equilibrium, reduce her to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of his own desires, no longer considering her as his partner whom he should surround with care and affection.
I don’t know if Ms. Stanley as read Humanae Vitae, but maybe the writer and star of Girls, Leah Dunham has because the “liaison”-the, er, sexual hookup- between the lead character Hannah and a character named Adam is described by Stanley as “debasing”:
Adam lets her visit his apartment for sexual gratification — his own — and ignores her desires; most of his sexual fantasies seem borrowed from video games and porn videos. He is just as callous about her feelings…
Pope Paul VI predicted the outcome decades ago, and was vilified, and shamefully much of the vitriol was from the clergy and laity of the Church. However, he was right. Contraception and the freedom of the sexual revolution did not advance the cause of women. We have become things, objects, tools.
Here we have a cable series that is being described by people who profess to know these things as “gritty”, an “honest romp the through New York City’s social landscape [sic]”, one Huffington Post critic going so far as to compare her twenty-something woman writer experience point by point to that of the Girls main character. I will assume that the HBO show is then, basically reality for many 20-somethings and that makes me sad for them. In a world in which these girls can have attachment-free sex at any time, can pursue careers and self-interest leisure activities freed of the burdens of matrimony and motherhood…well, aren’t they supposed to be happy? Didn’t they get what they were promised would buy them happiness? Based on Girls, it would seem not. As Ms. Stanley of the NYT portrays it, these women seem to be selfish, debased, joyless, ambitionless, and unsuccessful.
But what do I know? I am a cave woman, expected to be barefoot and pregnant by my Neanderthal husband. At least, I’m pretty sure that the staff of the NYT thinks so.
[note: for whatever reason, my original essay got eaten and I’ve tried to recreate it from memory. It’s late now and I am bummed because my original was much better. Perhaps my memory will improve with sleep and I’ll edit this tomorrow.]