One Woman’s Trash, Or: More Thoughts About Girls And Lena Dunham
I’ve been thinking a lot about this week’s episode of Girls. The episode itself was very good; Hannah being out of her element in the “dream home” of a(n initially) kind and adoring stranger allowed for a great contained character arc as she started out unsure of herself, gained confidence in who she was and what she was doing there, then finally dropped her armor. But, as seems to be required for any episode of Girls, the reaction to “One Man’s Trash” has been just as intriguing.
Yesterday, I posted a Jezebel article examining how numerous online articles reviewing the episode got hung up on the idea that Lena Dunham, a woman who is not “conventionally attractive,” could hook up with the conventionally attractive Patrick Wilson. I have said in the past that there are legitimate criticisms that one could make toward Girls, but I really don’t see how this is one of them. Tracie Egan Morrissey, writer of the Jezebel article, did a great job of calling out the other writers’ sexism and objectification. In particular, she pointed out that many of the same people who complained that the first season of the show lacked people of color are assigning value to women based on how they look.
After posting the article, I felt that I had said my piece on the subject by bringing attention to someone else’s well-written thoughts. And then I realized I had to say more. A friend of mine, currently my best and closest friend, replied to my Facebook post of the article. She had this to say:
I started thinking about all the media in which we are just supposed to accept that overweight, slobby man children can not only get attractive women to have sex with them, they get them to marry them and raise kids with them. And it’s not like this is an uncommented upon cliche. There is a TV Tropes page dedicated to it, labeled “Ugly Guy, Hot Wife.” The one-sheet poster for the film Knocked Up (which was directed by Girls executive producer Judd Apatow) directly addressed this idea, asking women how they would feel if the not-conventionally-attractive Seth Rogen became the father of their child:
Hell, even the Slate article (written in a conversation format by two guys) mentioned in the Jezebel piece addresses this. After the first author states that he could not buy the Hannah/Joshua pairing because they were so “clearly mismatched - in style, in looks, in manners, in age, in everything,” the other author claimed that he “wanted to suspend [his] disbelief,” the way he has done for multiple unlikely pairings in the past. (Emphasis in original.) He gave the following examples of mismatched couples: Al and Peggy Bundy; Homer and Marge Simpson; Jim Belushi and the actress who played his wife on According to Jim. Notice how all these pairings are of the ugly guy, hot wife variety? What allows him to suspend his disbelief for them, but not attractive Joshua and not-conventionally-beautiful Hannah? (By the way, as I wrote yesterday, I still don’t understand all the attacks on Dunham’s looks; she is by no means a model, but I personally find her very easy on the eyes.)
The Slate authors try to answer that question, but the answer falls flat. One author states that the reason he can’t buy Hannah and Joshua together is because Hannah was “especially and assertively ugly” in the episode, and lists examples of her being ungraceful (playing naked ping pong), rude (asking about why Joshua’s wife left him), and selfish (asking Joshua to make her orgasm first). Leaving aside the excellent points made by Morrissey in the Jezebel piece, they make these complaints the very sentence after conceding that “[n]arcissistic, childish men sleep with beautiful women all the time in movies and on TV.” How are narcissism and childishness any less “especially and aggressively ugly” than the qualities they mentioned in Hannah?
Even beyond the realm of film and television, how often do we accept pairs that are “clearly mismatched - in style, in looks, in manners, in age, in everything”? We have a term called “trophy wife” to refer to young, attractive women who marry older men. Just look at pictures of a certain real estate tycoon/reality show host/clown who shall remain nameless and the women he marries. Could there be a greater divide between style, looks, manners, and age than between him, who John Mulaney once described as a hobo’s vision of what a billionaire should look like, and the models he marries?
The other two articles each posited that the majority of the episode was just a dream. This brings me back to something I said near the beginning; in the traditional ugly guy, hot wife examples, not only have the unattractive men convinced the beautiful women to sleep with them, they also convinced the women to marry them. Let’s think about the Girls episode for a second. Were we ever supposed to believe that Joshua saw Hannah as a long-term love interest? He was kind and welcoming to Hannah, but did he really go above and beyond what basic respect dictates? He thought Hannah was cute enough and interesting enough to have a fling with, and once she dropped her armor and let some of her raw self show, he lost all interest. At that point, he even did act below the standard level of respect by leaving her behind without a word and acting put off and afraid of her complete self. Is that really what Hannah would fantasize? Meanwhile, we unquestioningly accept that Cheryl David remains committed to Larry David through much of Curb Your Enthusiasm, despite him looking kind of like a frog and being among the most socially maladjusted man ever. Or what about Al and Peggy Bundy? Peggy stays with Al even though he can barely provide for her and chairs a group committed to misogyny. And then there are Homer and Marge Simpson. Homer treats Marge as both wife and mother. When pressed to come up with what he can offer her that no one else can, he proudly responds “complete and utter dependence.”
Looking back now at all these works, I must say that the Hannah/Joshua pairing is much more realistic than anything mentioned above.