What HBO's Girls taught us about female friendship

Lena Dunham’s thoughtful take on the present generation of young women offers a warts and all portrait of modern life, says Paula Burns.

The premise for Girls was set from its inception. In the very first episode the shows creator Lena Dunham aka Hannah Horvath proclaims to be the voice of her generation. 

We were entering the rabbit hole of a millennial take on what life is really like for a generation best known for being self involved and entitled. 

This ever evolving selfishness of being a product of a certain generation or by just merely being in your 20s allowed for the most discombobulated of female friendships.

Girls has created a persona for being crude and this doesn’t exclude the friendships between the four main characters, Hannah, Jessa, Marnie and Shoshanna. But is this crudeness warranted when it comes to depicting female friendship? 

Dunham is renowned for her feminist views and values so why does it seem that throughout the six seasons these girls have gone past go, ignoring the hotel of girl power instead opting for a stay in the back-stabbing jail?

Lena Dunham as Hannah Horvath, Jemima Kirke as Jessa Johansson, Zosia Mamet as Shoshanna Shapiro, and Allison Willliams as Marnie Michaels in the hit show ‘Girls’.

Our idea of female friendship has been depicted through TV friendships for decades. Shows like Sex and the City taught us that our female friendships were the most important ones in life. 

That men would come and go, they would hurt us but we should never experience that hurt from our girlfriends. They were our rock in the unhinged land of dating. 

Our friendships would last forever. But is this over-positive view of female friendship sustainable? Can we ever successfully bring a friendship from our 20s through to our 30s?

It is its unpolished sometimes even obscene way of conveying life that is the beauty of Girls. Hannah is not the common denominator of this friendship instead it’s the wild, Bardot beauty drug addict Jessa who in season one doesn’t even turn up to her own abortion while the other three bond in the waiting room through the retelling of their past sexual encounters, or lack of, as in Shoshanna’s case.

Being the youngest of the group and a friend by default of being Jessa’s cousin has allowed Shoshanna an almost omnipotent view of the circle. Despite riding on the cusp of the friendship even she hasn’t avoided falling victim to betrayal when Marnie starts sleeping with her ex. 

But being on the periphery has given Shoshanna the opportunity on more then one occasion to call the girls on their so-called friendship.

As far back as Season 3 it’s painfully obvious that the ‘friendship’ between the girls is on the rocks. On the request of Marnie the group head to North Fork in the Hamptons in an effort to bond. 

Her hope of creating a weekend ‘to prove to everyone via Instagram that we can still have fun as a group’ emphasises these millennial are as deluded as the fakeness of the society they have grown up in.

Despite the craving of the ‘perfect’ life, Shoshanna calls the weekend for what it really is. In a pivotal scene the baby of the group drunkenly accosts Hannah for being the narcissist she is so well known for being.

‘I wanted to fall asleep in my own vomit all day listening to you talk about how you bruise more easily than other people,’ she then continues to call the rest of the girls a ‘bunch of whiny f**king nothings’.

Really Shoshanna is exclaiming exactly what the audience is thinking. What should have been a relaxing weekend of female bonding was instead taken over by each of the girls’ own agendas and selfish wants. 

Other shows taught us that our own selfish needs should take a back seat when it comes to friendships. Just like any relationship there needs to be boundaries but throughout the six seasons these boundaries were constantly being tested and more often than not, disregarded.

Maybe this isn’t their fault. Here is a generation of women whose lives thus far have been played out in the realm of the Internet. Thanks to living online our lives have become an open platform where boundaries are rarely made. 

Our realities have become blurred with what we portray on our social platforms, but instead of falling in love with our reflection in a pool of water, the pool of water has become our Instagram or Facebook profile.

It is the penultimate episode that lays the friendship of these girls bare. And yet again it is the kinda weird, over-the-top Shoshanna who calls time on this toxic friendship. In a cramped bathroom she announces that she is done with ‘whatever’ this is. 

‘I have come to realise how exhausting and narcissistic and ultimately boring this whole dynamic is, and I finally feel brave enough to create some distance for myself.’

The newly engaged Shoshanna has decided to make new friends who are pretty, have jobs and purses and nice personalities. Just like an Instagram feed Shoshanna has decided to delete the toxic, egotistical one for the more appealing and attractive profile.

But isn’t that what entering your 30s is all about? Leaving behind the turbulence of your 20s including those toxic friendships. Despite being the youngest, Shoshanna has decided what is she wants in life and from the relationships she has. 

Unlike the others she is brave enough to let go freeing herself for a new chapter. This should be applauded.


More in this Section

Revisiting the legendary street photographer who became the man on the bridge

New book revisits the games they just don't make anymore

Ask Audrey: What’s the story with having sex five times a week?

A mother’s love knows no bounds


Lifestyle

A helicopter put a piano on the 150-foot roof of Blarney Castle and other stories from the Cork Jazz Festival archives

Jazz Memories: Famous faces share their favourite moments

Live music review: The Horrors - Icy genius in a thrillingly intimate setting

Choosing a sheltered spot for Maples is vital

More From The Irish Examiner