The Girls Season Finale: Second-Guessing Steinem Feminists
If there's one refreshing thing to be said of the season finale of Girls, it's that Lena Dunham is not a stereotypical feminist after all.
The series finale of Girls opens with Hannah bumping into Adam's looney sister who is now living with her equally nutty downstairs neighbor, Laird. Newly returned from a hippie commune, the pair are expecting their first child. Hannah asks and is granted permission to touch Caroline's womb, which she does so with an expression of both doubt and awe. In the next scene, Hannah walks into her own apartment and she touches her own womb in absent-minded contemplation. She is then quickly distracted by an acceptance letter to graduate school in Iowa.
In her typical selfish fashion, Hannah presents her grad school acceptance to Adam minutes before his Broadway premiere. If it wasn't so sweetly presented you'd think it was a vengeful move. Consequently, Adam feels that his performance has been thrown off. As a result, their relationship goes into full meltdown at the stage door after the show. Adam is outraged that Hannah presented her success to him before he went live: "Why can't anything ever be easy with you?" he questions angrily.
The well played plot point mirrored Shoshanna's own struggle at Ray's rejection. "If memory serves, you're the one who jettisoned me a while ago," Ray comments before Shoshanna interjects, "I want you back," explaining, "I made a mistake...this entire year of freedom was just f-ing stupid...you make me want to be the best version of myself, and I just want to pretend that I was never not your girlfriend before." "You pushed me forward in a lot of ways and I'm eternally grateful for that," Ray explains before finishing with, "but right now, we're in two different places with very, very, very different goals."
In the post-episode commentary, Dunham focused on the idea that "relationships aren't easy," but the full impact is smarter than that: The episode that begins with the announcement of a pregnancy ends with Hannah's excited expectations for what Iowa may bring. Embracing second wave feminist legacy, Dunham's pregnancy metaphor introduces the next battle in the Children versus Career war, questioning the point of male/female sexual relationships.
Rupert Holmes once penned a beautiful line regarding two characters parting in the series Remember WENN: "This is what happens to love when people are in love." Love is more than a sexual high, a status symbol, or a comfort zone. Love is required work, firstly on the part of one's self. In their me-driven environment, second wave feminists created the idea that a romantic relationship, not unlike a commune, is nothing more than the temporal cohabitation of two individuals with shared interests. That ideology gave birth to the "Selfie Generation" of which Hannah Horvath is Queen.
Adam and Hannah fulfilled that second wave vision and found out it wasn't enough. Shared interests don't travel physical space, whether that distance is defined as a few blocks or a few thousand miles away. Especially not when they are trumped by individual goals; it was inevitable that Adam's temporary move would lead to Hannah's intense retaliation. No one crosses the Selfie Queen.
Hannah's idea that she and Adam could find a way to work out a long distance relationship is as naive as Shoshanna's belief that Ray will take her back and they could just "pretend they were never apart." For Adam and Hannah, the temporal part of the feminist relationship has kicked in. He needed her to kick some nasty sexual habits. She needed him to kick her OCD. Just like Ray and Shosh, each motivated the other right out of their lives.
It's a lousy way to depict a sexual relationship, but it's an honest one. Feminists didn't design a mode for male/female relationships that would last, because feminists didn't see the point. If the essence of sexual relations is physical gratification, why worry about the rest? So much for your Downton Abbey-esque love stories, girls; for the Selfie Generation, there are no pining Annas, no steadfast Bates's. Dying for love is relegated to the women and men of Generation X. Hannah's caress of her own womb in the show's opening juxtaposed neatly with her end-of-episode excitement at being accepted to graduate school, leaving one to wonder if Dunham was making a statement about delaying children, or simply deferring the hard work of relationships to pursue a less messy, less emotional, and seemingly less destructive singular method of self-gratification called "career".
Which brings to mind the third plot twist at the end of the season finale. Not to be relegated to feminist stereotype, Dunham scripts Jessa into assisting photographer B.D.'s suicide. The now-disabled single career woman begs a sober Jessa to score on her behalf, only to end the episode begging "Call 9-1-1! I don't want to die!" The reality of end of life loneliness cast an eerie shadow over the worldwide celebration of still-single Gloria Steinem's entry into 80. While I doubt she planned it, the complex interrelationship of these plotlines suggests that perhaps Dunham isn't a cookie-cutter feminist after all.