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Why I'm Deeply Skeptical of HBO's Super-Hyped Show 'Girls'

Why 'Girls' may not be the feminist godsend we're being told it is.

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I also realize that, from a credible critical standpoint, it is not a good look to predetermine how one feels about a work of art without having experienced it first. But I can determine what I’m afraid “Girls” will be.

Most of all, I’m afraid that “Girls” will be a “Sex and the City” redux, racially speaking: that its portrayal of New York City, the most ethnically diverse metropolis in the nation, will reduce its vast swathes of residents of color to background noise, to bit parts, to token roles in the lives of its privileged white main characters. The trailers depict as much, but for a token voice of wisdom in the form of a gynecologist, and I fear that this show will be another in a string that minimizes its own whiteness by touting its "liberalness." In her New York Magazine rave, Emily Nussbaum calls “Girls” “FUBU: for us by us,” and yet I’m worried that a lot of “us” aren’t going to recognize ourselves in this so-hailed feminist milestone of a show.

I’m afraid it will depict a single top strata of economic concerns — those of extreme privilege. One main conceit seems to be that Dunham’s character is roiling, lost in a downward spiral after her parents cut her off economically. As @TaylerSometimes, an awesome teenaged black feminist I follow on Twitter, put it to me, “I wish I had the opportunity to be cut off.” I deeply appreciate that today's college students face a maelstrom of issues, from lack of available jobs to crushing student loans, but I am afraid that these humanizing concerns won't be incorporated. Meanwhile, the actresses portraying the main characters include the daughter of a famous feminist artist (Dunham’s mother is Laurie Simmons), the daughter of famous rock drummer (Jemima Kirke’s father played in Bad Company), the daughter of famous playwright (Zosia Mamet is the daughter of David Mamet), and the daughter of a famous primetime news anchor (Allison Williams' dad is Brian Williams). Even if “Girls” is a “scathing critique” of a generation, as Nussbaum put it, I wonder how much those of us without wealthy parents or white privilege will even be able to comprehend it as such.

And I’m afraid that "Girls" will fulfill all my fears, and that it also really will become “the voice of a generation,” and that once again young women will be cornered into a concept that is only representative of one strata — a strata that, economically and racially, frankly isn’t all that different from “Sex and the City.”

"Girls" airs on HBO this Sunday, and I'll be watching and praying that all of the preemptive dread I fear is simply a side effect of seeing bad shows rise, and good shows (like my beloved "Ugly Betty," which really did speak to me) get cancelled. I hope that I am wrong, and that Lena Dunham truly did deliver a wonderful show that lives up to its critical hype, because women deserve to see ourselves on television in a developed and dimensional way. And I hope that it shows a variety of women of varying racial and economic backgrounds and of varying sexual orientations in a multidimensional capacity, because that's the New York I live in, and that's the New York I love. 


Julianne Escobedo Shepherd is an associate editor at AlterNet and a Brooklyn-based freelance writer and editor. Formerly the executive editor of The FADER, her work has appeared in VIBE, SPIN, New York Times and various other magazines and websites.

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