Women of the Hour

I don’t think I will ever get bored of talking about womanhood. It is my safe space, on and offline. Listening to other women’s experiences helps me to make sense of my own, of struggles I am included in, as well as those I am not.

I rarely feel this more keenly than when I am listening to Lena Dunham’s Women of the Hour podcast. Every week Dunham presents a different theme – friendship, work, sex and being trapped are some examples – and invites a variety of smart women to talk with her about it.

This show is honest, funny, painful and absolutely not, as I have seen it described ‘Girls in podcast form.’ Girls is a show built on satire, while Women on the Hour is all about sincerity.

To state a controversial opinion, I don’t believe Dunham deserves 90% of the shit she gets (the other 10%, I have to allow, but I don’t really think she messes up more than the average narcissist with a Twitter account (so, most users)). My arguments in favour of Lena Dunham are as follows:

  1. She is wildly, frequently and – I think – deliberately misquoted. As someone who has read her memoir multiple times (review here), I have had many frustrating arguments with people who haven’t about its contents. All this without even mentioning the ‘voice of a generation’ thing – a joke from the first season of Girls widely attributed as Dunham’s opinion of her work that she herself has accepted will likely be etched on her tombstone. Before judging Dunham – actually before judging anyone – please read the essay, listen to the interview or watch the show in question. The source material they provide will often give you a better idea of a person than clickbait designed for outraged sharing.
  2. I find it strange that in the television business, which is, let’s face it, mostly white men giving jobs to other white men, it is Lena Dunham who is held responsible for the diversity problem. Let’s be clear, we need all TV to look like Shondaland (if only), we need different voices and groups to be represented. The fault of the total whitewashing of TV however, lies with the majority of producers, directors and screenwriters (i.e. the white men) rather than Lena Dunham.
  3. Lena Dunham would get away with so much more if she was a man. The main reason she gets shit for her radical honesty, her open emotions and her mistakes is that she’s a woman. In a landscape overwhelmed with stories written by narcissistic men, one told by a narcissistic woman is jarring. Because she is – or she was, at the time Girls first came out, which was, let’s remember four years ago – one of few such amplified young female voices, she was given the task of representing everyone, an impossibility for anyone, let alone a bohemian rich white girl from New York. Male screenwriters like Josh Radnor and Dan Harmon – who are, for some reason, only ever expected to represent themselves – can spill their emotions all over screen, tie them up neatly with a joke and be considered great writers. If Lena Dunham does the same thing she is a selfish naval gazer with nothing better to do than obsess about herself. When men write introspective satire its art, when women do it, it’s considered self-indulgence. The response to Dunham’s entire career thus far demonstrates this.

Rant over. Or paused, anyway.

After every episode of Women of the Hour, I have to dedicate a morning to googling the work of every woman interviewed. Shows so far have introduced me to so many women whose work I am now such a fan of. Janet Mock, the writer and trans activist, Ashley C. Ford, a journalist who writes so beautifully it makes me want to cry, hug her and bash my own head against a wall (because I will never, in all my days, be as talented) all at once, Mindie Lind, a singer-song writer with no legs who rides around on a skateboard and Anastasia and Alba Somoza, disability activists who have campaigned for their whole lives for people with disabilities to get equal access to mainstream education.

Also, Gina Rodriguez was on it one time, and she was every bit as delightful as you would imagine.

Just listen to the show. The only way to judge Dunham’s work is to experience it yourself. Most of what is written about her is wrong.

Everything I loved about season 5 of Girls

As with most shows, every time a new season of Girls airs, there is a parade of people waiting in the wings to dissect all the reasons why the preceding seasons were better.

I disagree with all such people.

I don’t know if it has to do with the show itself or my own circumstances, but so far I have found myself enjoying every new season a little bit more.

Writing this was hard. When I actually thought about it ‘everything I loved’ about this season, it turned out to be pretty much… everything.

Shoshanna in Japan

shosh in japan

I was so happy when Shoshanna ditched her boring boyfriend at the end of season 4 and moved to Japan for her job. Her whole experience there, from her rise to her redundancy totally spoke to the experience of growing up.

There are peaks and troughs, people.

What you see in Shoshanna’s experience – a theme they build on every season, I think – is the temporariness of any stage of life. Whether it’s her virginity, her employability or even her sense of home, all things in Shoshanna’s life – and all our lives – are temporary. This sounds like it should be totally depressing – and at times it is. When she yelled “WHY AM I HERE?!” at no one in particular on her return to New York my heart totally broke for her. But it’s also… kind of not. Sometimes life consists of digging oneself out of a series of holes, and as Shoshanna’s experience indicates, that’s actually okay.

Elijah getting his heart broken

If watching this didn’t wreck you, then you have no soul.

Adam and Jessa

It’s been obvious for a while now that these two were eventually going to fuck.

I wanted it and dreaded it in equal measure because we all knew how it was going to end… with Adam ripping his way, psychopath-style through a bathroom door.

adam

Even before they got together, Jessa said that they would destroy each other was their inevitable conclusion. And honestly, watching the fast decline of their relationship felt a little… performative, as if to an extent they were just acting according to their preconceived ideas of themselves as ‘destructive people’. They had already decided that their relationship would end in ruin, and played it out to an unnecessarily dramatic extent.

They might be perfect for each other. Or they might kill each other. I’m not sure.

In Adam and Jessa we see two people with an inability to change. Which makes way for…

Hannah not going crazy

While Jessa and Adam simply act according to the ways they’ve always acted in the past, Hannah, on finding out that her best friend and her most significant ex are now in love, contemplates going the opposite way.

Hannah’s analysis of how she could have reacted, and how she knew everyone expected her to react – with some serious crazy – was quite unexpected from a character who usually barrels through the world so blindly.

In a move in total opposition to Adam and Jessa and their inevitable conclusion, Hannah decides to wish them well and get on with her own life, for the first time without a significant other as a placeholder for something bigger. There is just her alone, facing the future.

Watching Hannah choose the not crazy option felt a little like growing up.

I have to end this with my favourite episode of the season (of the entire 5 seasons, actually), The Panic in Central Park.

marnie and charlie

This episode was perfection. It didn’t even feel like an episode. It felt like a movie.

The writing of Marnie, and Alison Williams’ portrayal of her has always been my favourite. Don’t get me wrong – I seriously dislike Marnie the vast majority of the time, but in a way that means I also enjoy her immensely. Her self-conscious posturing is so real and vulnerable that it makes me physically cringe. She’s just as lost as Hannah but desperately pretending not to be by throwing herself into relationship after ill-fitting relationship. She only got married to give herself a false sense of direction.

I loved how this episode dealt with the concept of identity. In the sudden reappearance of Charlie, we see a guy changed from the sweet puppy whose heart Marnie used to treat like a football (until he turned around and repaid the favour), to a drug dealer who hangs out on street corners with guys who yell at women as they pass by.

Marnie falls headfirst into his world for a night. It was intriguing to watch two people come together after so many years and renegotiate their relationship under the shadow of their past and present identities: Marnie, married and Charlie basically a mystery.

Knowing so little about each other, it’s easy for them to pretend, at least for a little while, that they might be the solution to each other’s problems.

Until morning, that is.

It seemed strangely inevitable when Marnie found the used needles in Charlie’s apartment and realised that he wasn’t only dealing drugs, but using them as well. When she realised that much of her magical night was just Charlie under the influence, any illusions she’d created about running away with him were instantly destroyed. But her determination to leave her marriage remained. Her determination to define herself remained – however temporarily – in terms of herself, rather than her relationship.

It’s beautiful, guys. It’s worth watching all the previous seasons just so you can properly appreciate for perfection of it.

Procrastinate like a Feminist

Am I struggling to keep up with blogging and NaNoWriMo?

Yes.

Yes, I am.

I owe this partly to my fantastic procrastination skills.

When I procrastinate by reading feminist materials, I class it as ‘learning’ and therefore not time wasting.
I think maybe it’s both.

As such, today, I figured I would help you procrastinate better.

Am I struggling to keep up with blogging and NaNoWriMo?

Yes.

Yes, I am.

I owe this partly to my fantastic procrastination skills.

When I procrastinate by reading feminist materials, I class it as ‘learning’ and therefore not time wasting.

I think maybe it’s both.

As such, today, I figured I would help you procrastinate better.

To read:

Lenny

A feminist publication started by Lena Dunham and Jenni Konner. Sign up and you’ll get a weekly newsletter filled with articles about women fighting sexism in Silicon Valley, the results of gun wielding abusers (nothing good. When will it end?) and the experience of having a ‘vagacial’ (I didn’t know that was a thing, either).

To listen:

Women of the Hour (itunes)

Lena Dunham also just started a podcast. It’s wonderful. It has a pretty limited run I believe, and I have loved the first two episodes so much that I am pre-grieving it’s ending. There’s a subject a week – so far we’ve had friendship and bodies – and within that Lena hands the mic to the women who can best speak to it. The podcast features a pretty wide spectrum of feminists.

It brings out all of my emotions, and I end each podcast with a post-it filled with names of women I now must follow on Twitter, Instagram, etc.

One such post-it featured Ashley C. Ford, who was one of the speakers on the friendship episode. Since the show first appeared on itunes, I have read pretty much all of her work that I can find. She writes beautifully. One of my favourite pieces of hers was an interview with Rainbow Rowell. I wrote this quote in my journal:

‘When I asked if world-building was a coping mechanism, a tool of resilience for children in bad situations, Rowell takes a moment to respond. Then offers, thoughtfully, “I have really mixed feelings, because there’s this idea that kids are resilient, and I don’t really believe it. I think kids get by and do what they need to survive, and then they kind of turn into bombs.”

So, how do we defuse the bomb?

“Hopefully, you get to a place where you’re feeling secure and you’re feeling safe, and that’s when it comes out.” She takes a deep breath and exhales into the receiver. “That’s the most you can hope for.”’

To watch:

I listen to Beyonce while I jog. I had been meaning to listen to ‘that sample bit in Flawless’ forever. I finally did it. This talk is inspiring. Watch and fall in love with this lady.

We Should All Be Feminists – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Not That Kind Of Girl

The tag line of Lena Dunham’s Not That Kind of Girl is ‘a young woman tells you what she’s learned’ – and I totally agree with that. Reading this book is kind of like one of those slightly drunken chats you have in the kitchen with a friend at 2 in the morning.

I like Lena Dunham. Get over it.

I think that she has fallen victim to what women in media often do – a lack of women in media. There are so few female voices that when one appears they are expected to represent all women. Obviously this is impossible, and it’s an idea that does a disservice to both Lena Dunham and women in general.

With that out of the way…

not that kind of girl

The tag line of Lena Dunham’s Not That Kind of Girl is ‘a young woman tells you what she’s learned’ – and I totally agree with that. Reading this book is kind of like one of those slightly drunken chats you have in the kitchen with a friend at 2 in the morning.

Lena isn’t afraid of sharing the darkest parts of herself. She throws herself into taboo topics that we often avoid – I guess to protect ourselves from them. Lena herself says that ‘it’s not brave to do something that doesn’t scare you’ – and this attitude is one she seems to have employed throughout the book, because she doesn’t shy away from anything.

• BUDAPEST •

Not That Kind of Girl contains some frank and entirely unromantic portrayals of sex that jar with me a little. It doesn’t make for comfortable reading. The hateful behaviour she describes in the men that she has dated is upsetting to read both for her sake and because of the depressing familiarity of it. I think most of us have moments we look back on with regret because of how we allowed ourselves to be treated.

She talks about her difficulties in connecting with other people, whether that’s friends, or boys, or even family. She talks about how her anxieties have often controlled her life. She talks about feelings of disassociation from herself, her sex life, her relationships and her work.

eveningskies

One of the most impressive aspects of the book was her discussion of her anxiety, and how it has affected her life. Talking about anxiety is hard because it’s difficult to see. In many ways, anxiety is one of the least understood mental health problems, because in general people don’t have a lot of patience for the fear or others. It is easy to see anxiety as self-indulgent because fear is so often irrational. As such talking about anxiety is so important. I feel that actually this is a book that I would have benefitted from reading when I was seventeen and in therapy because I got so socially anxious I was making myself sick on a regular basis. It felt like such an impossible thing to explain to anybody, and here Lena has explained it.

The central theme to the book is art as a means of connection, something familiar to any of us who have ever felt compelled to make things. It’s a pretty beautiful message, actually.