Girls Season 4, ‘Female Author’ Review: Is Lena Dunham a Secret Men’s Rights Propagandist?

This week’s Girls is more evidence for my conspiracy theory that it’s actually written by The Manosphere–that group of bloggers united against feminism and preaching the saving power of masculinity.

Not once but twice in “Female Author” do we see male characters calling out the women leads for being foolish or fake, and instead of defying their patriarchal judgment, the girls respond in submission and reward the men for showing some backbone.

Thankfully, this episode spends much less time with Hannah (Lena Dunham) than last week’s “Triggering.” We learn her only responsibility is one class a week, and she’s already dissatisfied with Iowa while her gay roomie Elijah (Andrew Rannells) has become a midwestern social butterfly. Hannah’s fallen into old, old, season 2 habits: still making excuses for putting off work (“I’m in a more pre-writing phase”), still trashing her peers (another joke about men having a male perspective!), still pining for her boyfriend Adam (Adam Driver).

And Adam, we learn, has laid down a rule that they only speak to each other once a month, because he won’t put up with filler. “All she wanted to do was talk about stupid shit,” he vents to Jessa (Jemima Kirke). “Like they sell donuts at the movie theater or whatever. Nothing real. I mean, she couldn’t have been getting anything out of that. I thought talking less would keep us from having stupid conversations about fucking zero.”

Dunham, sans co-writer on this episode, stumbles on a pretty sad truth here. In person, that kind of vapid talk can be fun and charming; we call them “sweet nothings” for a reason. But for a relationship built on a foundation of casual sex, talking about zilch loses its luster rather quickly when the distance between bodies goes from 0 to 1,000 miles.

If Dunham allows one flaw in Adam this episode, it’s that he fails to realize the giving of his time and attention are more important to women than the content of the interaction is to men. But he sticks to his guns–if there’s nothing in it for him, he’s not wasting his time–and Hannah responds with desire, not resentment.

To his credit, Adam does worry that he may offend Hannah by throwing out her fridge magnets. “This whole thing is why I hate relationships between white people,” Jessa sighs.

She and Adam spend a lot of time together this episode, clearly sowing seeds for an affair. They don’t keep too many friends, they’re both recovering addicts, and Jessa has a knack for sucking up bystanders into a vortex of needless drama. She decides to pee in the street–not even ducking into an alley but squatting between cars, bare ass facing the whole world, as two cops drive by. Of course, she mouths off and rips up her citation, then resists arrest, so Adam rushes the cop to protect her from being “hurt” (the cop is oh so viciously pulling her arms to fit her in handcuffs). In her version of the story, Jessa has quite a hot take: “It was abuse. It was stop and frisk.”

HBO

HBO

When the two get bailed out of jail, Adam goes full dad on Jessa, calling her a “bad influence” and vowing not to spend time with her anymore. “I don’t need any more friends,” he mutters, and she shoots back: “So none is enough for you?” And here’s where Dunham channels Dalrock and company; instead of being put in his place, Adam gets vindicated. He keeps walking away–“abundance mentality,” they call it. Instead of having the last word, he confirms he wasn’t bluffing, and Jessa’s attack on his pride fails. Meekly, she calls out, “Adam, I do. I really need you to be my friend.”

We see the same dynamic between Ray (Alex Karpovsky) and Marnie (Allison Williams), who’s still messing around with her songwriting partner Desi (Ebon-Moss Bachrach). She finally decides she’s not going to continue their FWB relationship, and the reason why is telling. Hannah appealed to Marnie’s sense of justice, of sisterhood to Desi’s girlfriend, and failed. Ray appeals to Marnie’s pride. All along she has felt that being Desi’s mistress has increased her self-worth, showing she can compete–and hoping to win–in a direct contest with a woman who seems pretty put together.

HBO

HBO

However, Ray clearly lays out that she’s devalued herself by giving him sex without commitment, that she’s buying lame excuses about why Desi won’t leave his girl (e.g., taking care of her while she’s afflicted with “fevers and rashes”). Ironically, she rewards Ray with sex, practically jumping him–but as we saw last season, a man unafraid to criticize her in spite of her looks is pure catnip to Marnie.

When she confronts Desi, his sniveling, passive-aggressive reply stands in stark contrast to Ray’s soft-spoken advice. “I think that’s a very culturally specific statement,” he whines as Marnie states that they should be monogamous like a “normal” couple.

Whether Dunham intends it or not, this shows there’s a very real difference between being male and being masculine. While Desi may have charisma, he doesn’t have a moral center, but the show has established over time that Ray and Adam do.

I can’t quite unpack the point Dunham’s trying to make. Of course the show will have fatally flawed female characters; it’s a comedy, and comedies mock human folly. But to make the women of the show so dishonest, so self-absorbed, and have the male arcs overcome all major flaws more than a season ago–how is that feminist? When Shoshanna’s (Zosia Mamet) only scene this week is a job interview where she admits she’s practicing, wasting a business’s time so she can jump up the ladder–while Ray’s worst act is a heated monologue about law and order after he drops $3,000 to bail out Jessa and Adam–what other conclusion can I draw besides a secret fandom for Chateau Heartiste?

Perhaps there’s some torturous logic about men having it so easy that only their lives can be in order. Perhaps I’m supposed to think they have it all wrong. Whatever it is, the feminism of Girls is a lot less clear cut than the rest of the entertainment world makes it out to be.


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