What I Learned From “Girls”

HBO's Girls
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Sunday night’s episode of HBO’s Girls concluded its first season. This show has been lauded by many TV connoisseurs for writer, director, actress’ Lena Dunham’s raw writing style, humor, and originality, but has been censured by others, particularly because of the often-graphic sex scenes and all-white cast in the cultural mecca of New York City. As an 18-year-old who is off to join Dunham’s alma mater this fall, I couldn’t help but panic a little bit at the end of the first episode.

While Hannah did seem to offer up a certain sense of entitlement, I saw a bit of myself in her – as a somewhat neurotic teenager, who also suffers through the emotions of loneliness, fear, and anxiety. I wonder, with trepidation, if my life will be like Hannah’s and her friends when I graduate in four years. Looking at your early twenties, even when armed with a college degree, doesn’t seem all that great from the point of view of the main characters in Girls.

Dunham’s show may be unique because it shows a raw and emotional side to her characters, and she really lets her characters be more like people than actresses on a typical TV show. Sure, sometimes Hannah’s actions are sometimes repulsive (one of my friends described her actions as “lessons of what not to do”), but there are other times that I also pity and sympathize with her. Hannah and her friends are flawed, but they are learning – about themselves, about jobs, about friendships and relationships, and about how they can combine all of them as they try to create meaning and success in their lives.

Hannah, Marnie, Jessa and Shoshanna are all insecure about something in their lives, but each manifests it differently. Together, their varied responses have shown and taught me some new things about life that I hope I can always remember and think about – in college and in the future.

Here are the four lessons I’ve learned from Girls:

1. Life after college is hard. It is going to be hard because you still have to learn how to talk to your employer or be in an office (take Hannah in her job interview and her awful joke about rape). It is going to be hard because it still might not be clear what you want out of a relationship, whether it’s ongoing (like Marnie and Charlie’s) or a shorter, more casual relationship one (like Hannah and Adam’s). Girls is a complicated show because it is written almost as if it is a stream of Dunham’s own consciousness, so it does feel very real. It has shown me firsthand that I should expect this when I get out of college. It also showed me that I should be very careful of what I say in professional situations. It made me think about what I want out of relationships before and while I am in them. Finally, while in college, I also should be thinking about the kind of life I want to live so that I don’t feel so unprepared like these girls seem to be.

2. Sometimes, the only person you have to count on is yourself. Hannah is suddenly cut off from her parents monetarily and she becomes financially dependent on Marnie. Marnie loses some of Hannah’s trust after her not doing her part to pay their rent, and she feels abandoned, lonely and isolated after she separates from her long-time college boyfriend. These two girls often act selfishly, and this can get in the way of their relationships with others (their romantic ones, and even with each other). Girls has taught me that it is okay to feel these types of feelings once in a while, but to be aware of when and why you are feeling them so that they do not interfere in your most significant relationships with friends and loved ones.

3. It’s difficult to feel stable after college. Thinking about being stable and being in one place for a prolonged period of time is scary, especially when you want to explore and learn more about the world, as Jessa does, even if it means not living life with a great sense of consistency. All of the characters in Girls are doing this in some way—Hannah going from job to job, Marnie’s world being flipped upside-down when she breaks up with Charlie, Jessa’s constant travel and Shoshannah’s desperation to start that lack of stability and “pop her cherry”. What Girls has shown me, however, is that everyone feels that way to some extent, so even when you feel like you are alone with your fears, you’re really not. Furthermore, it has taught me something about stability itself – that what makes you feel stable, even if you don’t always feel physically or mentally stable, is what you always have with you from day to day. Take the time to really think about what you have and appreciate those things as much as you possibly can.

4. No one is entirely good. No one is entirely evil. No one in the world is entirely anything, nor should they be, and when you think of someone, think of them holistically rather than just dwelling on one part. Each character in Girls can be repulsive, hilarious, egotistical, witty, terrified and original. They, like real people, are complicated characters with good and bad in them. These girls make mistakes and these girls make you laugh hysterically. Girls is a unique show because it draws on these individual pieces that make up the whole person. The most important thing that Girls has taught me is that everyone is multi-faceted and if you judge someone, most of the time, you’re probably just judging one part of them, and they deserve to be judged as a whole person, just like you do.

Willa Rubin, WYSK Campus Contributor About Willa Rubin, WYSK Campus Contributor

Women You Should Know Contributor Willa Rubin is an 18-year-old native New Yorker. She is currently pursuing her interests in writing, history, the arts and technology at Oberlin College.

  • JBFD

    I’ve never seen the show, but have heard all of the buzz about it and Lena Dunham. I’m 40 and not sure this is my speed at this point in my life, but I know I would have been a HUGE FAN had it been on in my 20s.

    More importantly, I’m so impressed with Willa, the young woman who wrote this piece. Her writing is fantastic and she seems incredibly astute and bravely introspective.

  • judith

    what a well written piece. I do not follow the show, but obviously it touches the right nerve of the younger set. I am happy to see that there are still people that can express themselves in such an adult manner.

  • Nicoleincos

    Great article. I especially agree with #4. This show is honest. People are complex.

    JBFD, you must try to watch! I am 37-years-old and this show really resonates with me, despite my age. I have my husband watching it now, too, and he loves it, too. It is just a brilliant show and while it may focus on people in their 20s, it expresses feelings and experiences we have all had.

    • JBFD

      Thanks Nicoleincos! I appreciate the viewing recommendation. Like the author’s point #4 that you agree with, just as with people, I guess I should not judge the show based on assumptions of what I think I know about it from only the little pieces I have seen. Now isn’t that a full circle conversation. :)

  • Kevin

    Willa, make sure you go to school with an open mind and don’t worry about four years from now for another three years at least. I also like watching Girls, actually catching up on TiVo right now, really enjoy getting the woman’s point of view. Keep up the great writing and don’t stop exploring.

  • tucker

    this article is better than the show!!

  • Shirley & Sy

    Your review of the series was outstanding. You are an amazing and talented writer.

  • Karen

    What a wonderfully written article with interesting and well expressed views and opinions. I look foward to reading more from you Willa! Good luck at college. It can be a really great time in your life! So many things to learn about and a great and safe place to grow, explore and experiment. One of these days I will try to catch an episode of this show. I am curious and scared at the same time!

  • jen

    Interesting piece … I especially enjoyed your point #4. Especially when we are young, we are so raw and unformed and can be so many different kinds of people all at once. I found that was part of the joy of being young!

    I would caution you though in applying sociological insights from the show to your own life, as if this kind of lifestyle is inevitable.

    Firstly, this show portrays a very elite subsection of educated twentysomethings, the kind that can depend on their parents post-college not just for housing but for their own apartment in one of the most expensive cities in the world. While a subsection of young people pursue internships and depend on their parents for subsidies, as many twentysomethings in NYC support themselves through work at consulting firms, investment banks, advertising agencies, and media companies. Interestingly, this latter group is more likely to be educated “people of color” who are absent from “Girls”, often Asian/South Asian, African, Latina, etc. These young people are more stable professionally (perhaps because they have to be, given their need to depend on their own efforts).

    Secondly, society changes, and your economic reality may look different than that of these “Girls”. Many Gen Xers graduated from college in the early 90s into what was considered the worst economic recession in twenty years. Check out “Reality Bites” to see a depiction of the “slacker” lifestyle. However, this same demographic then lived through the rise of the internet, and Gen Xers graduating in the mid-late 90s found high-salaried jobs in the tech industry. Your college education will mean that you’re prepared for shifts in the economic landscape, since no matter what this country needs knowledge workers.

    Good luck at Oberlin and beyond! Keep writing …

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