Sunday, April 23, 2017

"Girls" and the Post-Patriarchal World

Ross Douthat is both a Catholic conservative writer and a huge television fan, and he has written a few times about the HBO series "Girls." Now that the show is over he reflects that while the show was billed as a feminist work, it was not exactly a great argument for feminism:
Meanwhile the girls themselves were all, to varying degrees, antiheroic: as self-destructive and narcissistic in their way as the embattled patriarchs familiar from other HBO productions. (Though, yes, rather less murderous.)

From the beginning, the unattractiveness of their behavior inspired some queasy responses to the show from liberal and feminist critics, and some celebratory rejoinders about how the freedom to make a mess — sexually and otherwise — is the central freedom that feminism sought to win.

Probably the latter interpretation was closer to the showrunners’ conscious intent. But successful art has a way of slipping its ideological leash, and the striking thing about “Girls” is how the mess it portrayed made a mockery of the official narrative of social liberalism, in which prophylactics and graduate degrees and gender equality are supposed to lead smoothly to health, wealth and high-functioning relationships.

In large ways and small the show deconstructed those assumptions. The characters’ sex lives were not remotely “safe”; they were porn-haunted and self-destructive, a mess of S.T.D. fears and dubiously consensual incidents and sudden marriages and stupid infidelities. (Abortion was sort-of normalized but also linked to narcissism: The only character to actually have an abortion was extraordinarily blasé about it, and then over subsequent episodes revealed as a monster of self-involvement.) Meanwhile the professional world was mostly a series of dead ends and failed experiments, and the idea that sisterhood would conquer all even if relationships with men didn’t work out dissolved as the show continued and its core foursome gradually came apart.
This connects so something I have thought and written about a lot. I am dubious of the ability of most people to make in through life on their own, without guidance from society or tradition. Like the characters in "Girls," they seem to make rather a mess of it. On the other hand I find that many of the traditions we received from our ancestors are too sexist, racist and so on to be worth following. So the imperative is to create new traditions, like the modern model of the equal marriage, to serve as guides for life in a post-patriarchal, post-colonial, post-segregation world.

No comments: