Did “Girls” Romanticize a Rapist?

7595999544_66b00af182Like many of us who have been following the show, I’ve had lukewarm feelings about Girlscontribution to feminism. Though many commentators have raised valid criticisms about the show’s handling of race and class, it’s been refreshing to see a female lead with an “imperfect” body, and I’ve praised the show for focusing on young women’s lives—including awkward dating and awkward sex—in a way that at times feels a great deal more authentic than anything we’re used to seeing on TV. But it wasn’t until episode 9 of the second, just-completed season that the show really struck me as breaking important new ground.

In the final scene of the episode, the character Adam (Adam Driver) orders his new girlfriend Natalia (Shiri Appleby) to crawl to his bedroom on her hands and knees, then roughly picks her up and throws her onto the bed. Natalia is clearly distressed by Adam’s behavior; at one point she explicitly says the word “no,” but Adam simply tells her to relax and she reluctantly submits. After sexually penetrating her from behind, Adam flips her over and ejaculates on her chest while she’s telling him not to mess up her dress. After it’s over, Natalia quickly covers herself and seems near tears when she tells Adam “I, like, really didn’t like that.”

We’ve seen Adam in uncomfortable sexual situations with Hannah (Girls‘ creator and star Lena Dunham) in the past, including scenes that raise questions about consent. Hannah never said no, but she certainly went along with things that she clearly felt awkward and uneasy about. The scene with Natalia, however, took Adam’s behavior to a new extreme. Natalia’s distress is palpable. And though Adam claims he has no idea “what came over him,” the viewer knows better; we should be able to recognize this behavior not as a one-time anomaly of his character but as the peak of a gradually escalating pattern.

As many women are painfully aware, these scenarios are all too common in real life. They are the kind of sexual encounters that leave us feeling violated and traumatized, yet uncertain whether we are entitled to apply the label “rape” to what took place, and even less sure of how to articulate the awfulness of the experience if we feel the word rape does not apply. We find these events especially confusing when, like Natalia, we’ve consented to sex with the guy in the past, are in a relationship with him, or said “yes” to one kind of sex but not to the kind of sex that actually took place. My feelings about seeing this scenario play out on a TV show were echoed by Rae Alexandra at the SF Weekly blog, where she wrote:

This one incident on Girls is so universal and so unspoken and so prevalent that seeing it on television was incredible and revolutionary—it makes us want to track down writer Lena Dunham and hug the crap out of her for putting it in the public consciousness.

Arguably one of the most important things about this scene is that Adam’s character is complex. Though we may have loathed him in the beginning, we’ve come to see him as multifaceted; there have been plenty of moments when we’ve sympathized with and actually liked him. He’s made us angry but he’s also made us laugh. There is something frequently endearing about his awkwardness. And this is the reality of most men who commit rape and pressure women into uncomfortable sex: They are not simply villains with no appealing character traits. They are guys we know and like and sometimes love. Adam is turbulent and volatile, but he is not evil. And understanding that actual rapists do not adhere to our profile of the dark, predatory stranger is as vital as understanding that rape itself does not often unfold as a brutal attack in a dark alleyway.

In spite of Girls many shortcomings, I was extremely thankful to see these unspoken realities of sexual violence actually depicted in a way that felt genuine. But my gratitude turned out to be short-lived; by the end of episode 10, Adam was a romantic hero, and any hope I had of Girls making a powerful statement about rape and rapists had been dashed.

In a closing scene that seems to purposefully paint the “strong, handsome man saving the day” as a laughable cliché, Adam runs shirtless through the streets of New York while dramatic music plays in the background. All the while, he is talking to a distraught Hannah on Facetime, telling her to hang on and that he’s on his way. Hannah is alone, suffering from a breakdown, and Adam is the one who is going to rescue her. When he arrives at her apartment and she refuses to get out of bed, he breaks down her door. Instead of this being portrayed as violent or intimidating behavior—from a man who was previously arrested for refusing to leave this same apartment—it is clear that we are supposed to see this act as one of heroism. As the episode draws to a lose, Adam is cradling Hannah in his arms, telling her that he has always been there. And with that, all of the feminist possibility of the previous episode has quickly been tossed aside.

The problem is not that women on the show continue to be involved with Adam. I was not angry, at the opening of episode 10, to see Natalia back in bed with Adam; on the contrary, it felt sadly realistic that she would continue to attempt a relationship with him even after he had violated and dehumanized her. And the problem with the final scene is not that Hannah still has feelings for Adam, but that the viewer is clearly intended to be swept up in this great romantic moment, with Adam playing the role of dashing hero. This is not okay. This is like telling millions of women to root for Team Edward even though he creepily stalked Bella Swan in Twilight, or to swoon over Christian Gray even after Ana Steele experienced his behavior as abuse in 50 Shades of Gray. However low my expectations might have been, I expected better from Girls.

It’s incredibly valuable to portray rapists as more complicated characters than one-dimensional, evil men. But it is dangerous to expect viewers to continue to romanticize those characters after we have seen them commit acts of sexual violence. This only encourages women to overlook atrocious acts, to accept them as a normal part of our lives and our intimate relationships. We can and should see the men who commit such acts as complex human beings, but not glorify them as romantic ideals. I can forgive Dunham and Girls for failing to challenge patriarchy as much as I’d like. But I can’t forgive them for actively upholding it.

Photo courtesy of Diesel Fragrance Factory via Creative Commons 2.0.

Comments

  1. “But it is dangerous to expect viewers to continue to romanticize those characters after we have seen them commit acts of sexual violence. ”

    Who says this is the expectation? Maybe the expectation was for people to question it and open up a dialogue as you are.

    • I agree with LP. Also, I found the end of episode 10 to be dark, not romantic. In light of Adam’s recent behavior, the romantic cliche of the closing scene seemed to mock Hannah’s decision to do what’s easy.
      Over the course of the season, Hannah’s character struggled to face new challenges with her career and she eventually responded to pressure by retreating into the arms of the man she previously decided was bad for her. To me, this was true to life, especially concerning the trials and choices of young adults (particularly women).

  2. Thom Siemsen says:

    “And with that, all of the feminist possibility of the previous episode has quickly been tossed aside.”

    You never know what Lena Dunham is going to do with the show, and especially with their relationship. I think I would hold out for the feminist possibility in Season 3, because Hannah has a very confusing track record with Adam, and I wouldn’t put it past Dunham to have her character find out about the rape/have a realization of her own. Let’s just see how it pans out! I was, too, uncomfortable, this season with her introduction of her character’s OCD in the episode “It’s Back.” As someone with OCD and on multiple medications for it, it was frustrating to see the episode treat it as something that could be introduced and dismissed in an episode. The continuation of its presence in the next two episodes has made me feel hopeful about her commitment to creating a dialogue about it! It helps having a relatable character, someone whose illness brings them to forms of self-harm in attempts to “clean oneself,” and her relating with fellow OCD-sufferer Fiona Apple makes me feel like I have multiple pop culture examples to validate my OCD, which very often, is an isolating condition.

  3. I absolutely love this interpretation of the events on the show. I left episode 9 feeling disgusted and personally violated. Which is a good feeling with television because as an art form, it made me feel something. But what girls has been lacking this season is continuity. Every episode seems like a short student film. There is little connection between the episodes and I don’t feel as if any scenario has been fully developed and finished. I’ve been VERY dissapointed with season two.

  4. Pat Tibbs says:

    I have not watched Girls and don’t plan to, especially after reading this post. NO woman should accept such treatment. NO woman should make allowances for such behavior. Feminists need to be educating young women, including Lena Dunham, about what constitutes rape, how to recognize it, and that the only response to it is STOP!

    • penny white says:

      Thank You for this very sane comment. I have read about this show, tried to watch it, but simply cannot stomach it. The sex scenes are gross and sadistic. And I am so disgusted with so-called feminists claiming that “most rapists” are “not simply villains with no appealing character traits. They are guys we know and like and sometimes love.” Yeah, well the same could be said of serial killers and pedophiles. Let’s not muddy the issue with the fact that decent people are easily fooled. Rape is a serious crime and rapists are REAL CRIMINALS. It really doesn’t matter how “nice” they can seem when they aren’t raping someone. Ted Bundy was a sweetheart most of the time. He even volunteered on a rape crisis line. But he absolutely was a “villain.” All rapists are.

      • Penny, your response illustrates Angi’s point very well. Rape is an evil crime, but what Adam did does not at all comparable with Ted Bundy’s crimes. Evil does not completely reside in one person (even Bundy), and the way Adam treated Natalia, while unacceptable, is not his defining characteristic.

        Feminism fall over when it loses perspective. Women should not be kissed without consent, for example, but some feminists insist – as a matter of principle – on conflating a non-consensual kiss with rape.

        The article, while understandably critical of the way the other characters accept Adam’s behaviour, acknowledges that he’s NOT a Ted Bundy, he’s just a person with a bad streak, like most people. Many women have found themselves torn between not allowing their principles to be trampled, and using up their credibility capital by responding disproportionately.

        • Penny raises an important issue. If all rapes are equally heinous, then does it follow that all rapists are equally heinous? As such, isn’t Adam infinitely closer to Ted Bundy than a non-rapist?

          Is Adam (and men like him) the ‘same as’ Ted Bundy or is he different? Is he irredeemably evil? If so, does that mean that his nice or generous acts within the show are deceptive, or are they merely irrelevent in the face of his crime?

  5. Thank you for writing this, because I found the leap from rapist to rescuer similarly jarring. I think it’s possible Dunham is doing something more thoughtful with Adam busting down Hannah’s door and rescuing her. It might be meant to parallel and contrast with the scene where he breaks into her apartment and she accuses him of “space rape” and calls 911. Basically showing how the macho rescuer fantasy romanticizes abusive and violent behavior. I guess we’ll have to see how it plays out, but it’s disturbing that so few viewers have noted the dissonance here.

  6. Shane Thomas says:

    You’ve pretty much summed up my opinion on the last 2 episodes of the season. Although, I agree with Thom’s overall point that Dunham can still rescue this storyline in future seasons. However, yes, the tone of the finale was off-putting, and also pretty cliched. Whatever issues I’ve had with Dunham’s writing, one plus point was that is was often unpredicatable, and didn’t fit plot archetypes. Sadly the conclusion didn’t live up to that.

  7. In a way I feel like that final episode with Adam literally running to Hannah’s rescue was exaggerated to the point where it becomes satirical… As if Lena Dunham is poking fun at this image of heroism.
    And in response to LP: I like the idea of the scene opening up a dialogue. I so badly want to have faith in Lena Dunham!

  8. Women in their twenties in a show called “Girls” featuring nudity, unprotected sex and aggressive behavior closely resembling a date rape scenario? What a formula for setting the perception of women’s rights (including the rights of girls and teens) back into the Stone Age. With great power to communicate essential human rights, equality and respect for women (of every age) the show, to me, is underdeveloped and exploitive in nature and spirit. There is great skill and potential in the writing, acting, producing and directing talents of everyone involved. I hope they choose to use their opportunities wisely to make a more meaningful longterm contribution through their storytelling and entertainment. I think the show has more value to offer and more to gain from digging deeper and getting real on the issues it confronts on the surface of things. Wishing them all the best for the future.

    • Shirley Adams says:

      I am happy to see someone addressing this episode. I am going to write this quickly so excuse if it isn’t as well written as I would like. Frankly, I was appalled by that scene! And it wasn’t just that S&M demonstration and the violation in the bed which was utterly disgusting to me, there was the opening closeup sexual scene of oral sex (the boy literally wipes his lips after doing it, very icky) and the other one where Adam has the girl (forgot her name) up against the wall and asks “do you want my c….k”, and she repeats it. I cannot even write the word. I’m no prude, but there is far too much unprotected and gratuitous sex in this series; it borders on being pornography and the cussing and bad sexual innuendos and anything goes attitudes is shocking , even for cable. Maybe it’s because it is young females that have the lead roles in this series that it bothers me so much and maybe it’s because of the recent Steubenville rape, but it’s a bad influence on young women and men watching these scenes week after week. Is this the way women in their early 30′s conduct their romantic lives? If so, then God help us, they are going to have to expect that men are not going to respect them and all you have to do is look at the current rape culture that is happening unfortunately today.

      I’m shocked by Girls and the way the boys treat the women, esp brawny and confused Adam, and will not turn watch it again. I am a Mom but if I had young girls at home, I would not subscribe to HBO as I feel it has become nothing but soft porn. Everyone tries to analyze the deep meanings and brilliance of Dunham’s writings and I say that anyone can write such garbage. These female characters are no role models for young women of today that’s for sure!

  9. I have difficulty calling what Adam did rape. However, there is a big problem with a framework that only concerns itself with the legal definitions that might land a guy in jail, which is the framework of “consent”. It places the goal of staying within the law as the aggressor’s only concern, rather than avoiding causing harm, or – gasp – ensuring an engaged, respected partner. That is the shadow side of rape culture, and I’m glad we are finally starting to have *that* discussion.

    Adam’s behavior with Natalia is still deplorable because:

    a) He had no discussion with Natalia before hand to see if she’d be into it. He instead turned their fun sexy time into a power dynamic she didn’t want or expect, and the gray area of being pushed that way in the middle of it is harmful and confusing. She didn’t fight him off because she was confused – she liked him, she was turned on and wanted to have sex with him, and she thought she was clear that she did not enjoy being degraded as part of their connection. But he ignored her obvious discomfort and still harmed her emotionally.

    b) It was an act of self-destruction for him as well, clearly driven out of his own need to drive her away because he felt ashamed by his encounter with Hannah. He saw how raw and off-kilter she was, but chose to leave her on the sidewalk and go back to Natalia and her friends and her normalness – and then broke his sobriety to drown it out. He knew what Natalia’s reaction would be, because he does actually listen and pay attention. He wanted to make her feel as low as him. People test each other in weird ways like this all the time, and it’s horrible to experience.

    In the season 2 scenes with Adam and Hannah, she may be an unsure partner, but she *is* willfully exploring darker consensual themes and she does not feel negatively affected by them afterwards.

    Not all rough or uncomfortable sex is rape. Not all sex is fun. This is the murky gray area that Girls exposes to us.

    • I completely agree with your assessment. Adam was clearly trying to make Natalia leave him, or at the least feel terrible and low like him. I’m not saying Adam is right for behaving that way and disrespecting Natalia, not at all. I just think his motivations were different than what most people seem to be thinking. I have been with men very similar to Adam, including the weird and uncomfortable sex that left me feeling off-kilter. I agree that sex is not always fun and full of love, and I don’t think it needs to be. Sex is about power and dominance some time (for some people all of the time). Sexuality has darkness to it. I know mine does anyway. So maybe Dunham is really exploring that aspect of sexuality and not “rape”.

      • The thing is, I question why sex is about dominance and power. I don’t think embracing darkness is anything laudable unless it’s constructive. Really analyze Adam’s behavior – why do you think he called Natalia a “whore” for liking his cock? It’s clearly a critique of porn culture, where the women are perpetually referred to as variants of slut and whore, where a sexual woman is automatically equated with skank. It’s internalized sexism. He wasn’t the least bit respectful to her.

        If people enjoy treating others in a debased way, then this speaks volumes about inherent cruelty and sadism. You cannot have these thoughts without simultaneously having these undercurrents to the thoughts. To me, the only thing that separates the ego high from seeing another human being degraded and humiliated (which, I’m sure, makes many men feel like “the man”) in a bullying manner versus in a sexual manner is the consent. Altogether, it’s sad that people are really just animals, and not nearly as civilized as they’d like to think. Much of mainstream porn is the most blatant example of this.

    • I completely agree with your comment. I think that while Adam’s behavior in this episode doesn’t quite fit the legal definition of “rape,” it still qualifies as what I would call “red flag behavior.”

      As the author of this article writes, “They are the kind of sexual encounters that leave us feeling violated and traumatized, yet uncertain whether we are entitled to apply the label “rape” to what took place.”

      It’s ok to be creeped out by red flag behavior. I think that often, those of us who have been on the receiving end of it often try to talk ourselves out of being upset about it. (I speak from personal experience here.) But it’s ok to realize that, even if someone doesn’t legally rape you, he (or she) might have some dark psychological issues at play.

  10. I also didn’t find the scene of Adam coming to Hannah’s rescue as farcical as others did. I felt it completely accurate to his character. Running to help the “crazy” distressed girl was an act of self-preservation for him as well. He rejects the “normal” or “functional” world that Natalia shares with him because fitting into it is a lie, one for which his coping mechanisms fail as he returns to alcohol to be a part of it. Keeping Hannah on the phone and running to her is exactly what you would do for someone you love whom you know has a history of self-harm, especially if you’ve been involved in dependency recovery and have been there yourself.

  11. I have an 18-year-old daughter and although we don’t watch Girls together we can discuss it. I love it because despite the horrible things that happen it is the nearest to real life issues that I have ever seen on telly. I love it that the skinny girl is so insecure and desperate for boyfriend – and so is her mother, I love it that Hannah has an unfashionable body and is so irresponsible and self-obsessed and I particularly love her parents’ efforts to make her stand on her own two feet at last – yes, personal echoes. I love its imperfections. Clearly I have missed some dodgy rape-type scenes but let’s face it, our daughters are likely to meet and love these men. I know I did and although I would not take such shit now I did for a very long time. Long live girls and long live Lena Dunham. Off to catch up missed episodes on the iplayer.

  12. Charlotte B says:

    I reject the false dichotomy that this was rape. If you watch the scene and listen, Adam states something akin to “I’m going feel your walls” and Nat says “okay”. Adam then procedes to do his thing, with the bare minimum of consent. They then procede to have some kinky dominance centered sex. I’m not arguing this is the ideal way to introduce a partner to kinky sex or something outside of one’s comfort zone, but I get very offended when people refer to this as rape and feel it illustrates a strong bias against the BDSM community and any sort of dom/sub sexuality. I also feel there is a strong bias against women in general when we refer to this scene as rape. At any time Nat could have said no, or withdrawn her consent. But she didn’t! Don’t mistake this comment as victim blaming as Adam got consent in the first place. Are we supposed to expect Adam to read Nat’s mind for her and guess what she’s thinking and what she wants? What she doesn’t want? I feel this sort of expectation robs Nat of her agency as a strong, independent woman, and her ability to say no. Adam doesn’t know what’s best for her, nor do we. She tries something weird and new, and doesn’t like it. It sucks and I’d argue Adam was a bad sexual partner and introduced Nat to kink in a very poor way. But in no way, shape, or form was this rape. There was consent. And using the term rape here superfluously is a mistake at best and at worst, takes away from the real meaning of the word while showing disrespect towards dom/sub aspects of sex. I wouldn’t even call this a gray area. It’s consensual sex initiated by a bad partner.

    • It’s hard to see dom/sub sexuality as anything positive when it involves people who get a thrill off debasing and humiliating other human beings. What does that possibly say that’s positive about the person?

      Either way, I agree it wasn’t rape and it’s a bit offensive to refer to it as such.

  13. Caroline says:

    There is one more option to the ending of season 2. It might all be in Hannah’s head. She’s under a lot of pressure finishing that book, and her editor told her to write a novel. Maybe this is how she would prefer things to be. She would prefer for everyone to have a happy ending. She would prefer to have Adam come back to her, shirtless, and give Marni and Shoshanna what they want, too.

    Maybe, just maybe, season 3 will open with the realization that Hannah only imagined it, maybe even wrote it down. I wouldn’t be too quick to dismiss this ending.

    Although, if in fact this is how everything actually went down, and Lena Dunham won’t deal with the “is-it-rape-and-if-it-is-its-not-ok” situation, I would be very disappointed.

  14. Nickclicks says:

    I saw the commentary with Lena D after episode 9 where she called the sex between Adam and Natalia “dark.” I called it assault. She did not seem happy and he did not stop.

    Despite this, I was also “extremely thankful to see these unspoken realities of sexual violence actually depicted in a way that felt genuine.” NO does not only need to be spoken. I’m just not convinced Lena D saw the act through the feminist lens that we do.

  15. i don’t know why they force Dunham to be the voice of feminism… i like the show from a completely different perspective, it concentrate on people who aren’t that right.. that has mental problems, or think they do because it’s quite popular now..

    that specific scene looked to me like a clear case of someone who’s screwing up his life on purpose, someone that push away the people who are closest to him, for 1 reason or another… and i know that guy, i’ve seen that.
    and also that sexual behaviour from both him and the girl is something that happens, maybe too often even.

    in general, some people likes being “mean” in bed, or a relationship, and some people like it that others are mean to them…

    who are we to judge them?

  16. Ian Green says:

    Although thought provoking, I do not believe that this article really touched the point of the “rough sex/rape” scene in question. There was no mention of the fact that before that scene occurred Adam had made the rash decision to drink again after being sober since before the age of 18. In previous episodes Adam had mentioned his reasoning for sobriety was that he did not like who he becomes when drinking.

    To understand the scene, one must understand the mind of a desperate alcoholic. Being an alcoholic myself and having sat through many Alcoholic Anonymous meetings, I have come to understand the lack of control many alcoholics suffer while drinking. Any terrible thoughts that most human’s have but would never act on become acceptable in an alcoholic who is drinking. Adam has shown in previous episodes he is somewhat of a “sexual deviant” through his previous sexual relations with Lena Dunham’s character. He has shown this characteristic while struggling to maintain his sobriety. His lack of control, and selfishness are exposed once he picks up a drink. You could see the attitude change occur in the bar scene previously.

    In no way do I support Adam’s actions, I just feel that the reasoning behind the “rough sex/rape” scene was not primarily an attempt by Lena Dunham’s to bringing to light these “walking the line of rape” situations that happen everyday. I think it was to really solidify the true depth, complexities, and mindset that Adam’s character possesses both as a sober alcoholic and a using alcoholic. Based on the last episode it appears that he may be back in a relationship with Hannah and it will be interesting to see if he continues down this alcoholic path of destruction while bringing Hannah with him for the ride or if he makes an attempt to get clean again because he loves Hannah and wants to be in control for her. He has yet to go back to an Alcoholic Anonymous meeting.

  17. Angi Becker Stevens says:

    Thanks to everyone for the thoughtful discussion here!

    I just want to make a quick note about the concerns that have been raised about how sexually dominant/BDSM type behaviors are being characterized here… I completely agree with those who are saying that plenty of people consensually have these dynamics in their relationships, and shouldn’t be judged. What Adam is doing here, however, is not negotiating these dynamics ahead of time. He’s springing them on women without any prior discussion or consent to these dynamics. If anything should be blamed for being a negative portrayal of those who do engage in dominant/submissive sex, I think it should be the show itself for portraying that kind of sex in a not-exactly-consensual way, not the writers who are critical of Adam’s behavior. It would be great to see characters on TV who are dealing with those dynamics in a responsible and ethical way. But that’s not what I see Adam doing here, and I think his character does a disservice to those who are engaged in responsible, ethical, fully consensual dominant/submissive behavior.

  18. Just watched the episode (again) and clearly the act of intercourse was consensual – the character of Adam even asks the young lady (whom he identifies as his girlfriend) during the act of intercourse if she likes him and she says “yes” – it was the possibility of the act of ejaculation on her dress was not consensual and it is vocalized as “no, no not on my dress” and the young lady is shown as really displeased by the experience – and – it is almost made quite clear the dress was pushed out of the way – Adam is remorseful – and he uses his own shirt to clean up – which doesn’t make it right – yet – doesn’t quite make it rape, either. The writing, casting and production qualities on this show are excellent and some of the most disturbing scenes are realistic as well as thought provoking and challenging. Personally, I’d rather see a show like ‘GIRLS’ than the overabundance of laugh track driven shows that are seriously misogynistic and without the ever present moral compass that Lena Dunham is clearly searching for within her writing and for her characters on the show. I find it more disturbing that people would ‘cry rape’ when clearly it was an unpleasant encounter and unhappy ending between the characters; the act of intercourse was consensual between them. Perhaps, if the show was called ‘WOMEN’ it wouldn’t have been too challenging for the patriarch branch of the network executives at HBO? The title ‘GIRLS’ may sound less threatening to most adults but therein may be the power of perception and the responsibility of the pen.

    • In a way These female characters are girls, none of them are women yet, sure their age says diffrently but they havent matured enough mentally or socially or even found there way for us to lable them women……… and as for the male characters in the show Thay are indeed boys real men dont act like this, chasing a girl hoplessly boring her to death but never giving up or having no aspirations to do anything but serve coffee at a cafe…. or in adams case being adam.

  19. (correction) if the show was called ‘WOMEN’ it may have been too challenging …

  20. I also think she’s going to do more with this and will turn it on its head in season 3 but to end the season in this way is potentially damaging. I think she’s portraying something in a way that’s meant to expose the problem but could be interpreted as condoning and thereby adding to it.

    Also, it wasn’t just Hannah who was ‘rescued’ by a man (and a man she broke up with earlier) – Marnie was too. I got the feeling that the three characters left had to be paired off with men for the series to end (even though Shoshanna broke up with Ray – we still left her in the arms of a tall, blond male).

    I guess the point is, though, that it’s not just that women are often portrayed in this way in the media, they also often feel like that in reality – like they need a man to take care of them. Again, it’s an expose vs condone problem – you need to be clear which side you’re taking but clarity equals simplicity and the point of girls is to show the messy reality.

    Conclusion: she’s attempting something impossible and doing a f*cking good job.

  21. The show doesn’t make it clear what is good and what is bad. I have doubts that women and girls that are (so many of them!) in similar relationships and sexual situations will recognize themselves on the screen and have an “aha!” moment. More likely, the scenes of going along with being poorly treated in bed will be normalized even further. That is why no “Girls” for me.
    The title itself irks me. What if we had a show about 25 year old young men called “Boys”? Impossible.

  22. I agree with most of this article, i was shocked and excited to see the down on all fours episode but unlike the autor of this post i did not see the problem with the final episode. I feel like the writer of girls paints adam a a very distressed human being almost child like, sometimes not knowing right from wrong, he seems to struggle through living a normal life and that the final episode was not ment to romanticize his character but to enforce the complexity that is his character. the two episodes spoke to both girls and boys telling them you are not alone, what you did was stupid but it dosent made you a bad person, move on and live your life as best you can

  23. My problem with this whole Adam/Hannah/Natalia relationship is the horrible reputation that the show gives to BDSM. As a student in the field of sexual diversities, you suddenly have a complete change in view points on certain aspects of sex. While I am personally a huge fan of the show, Lena Dunham’s pathologization of Adam as a sexual deviant is problematic. Rather than being referenced as a healthy expression of his sexual preferences, we know Adam as a recovering alcoholic who has issues with his parents. When he falls off the wagon and drinks with Natalia in the episode mentioned above, he ends up losing control and aggressively forcing his preferences on her without any sense of conversation or consent. It is this constant misrepresentation in the media of BDSM which gives it such a bad reputation and keeps the commentary on it at such a taboo level. Aggressive sex does not have to be equated with rape. It’s a shame that it is in this show.

  24. I know I’m late to the conversation, but I wanted to say thanks for posting about this. I just saw these ep yesterday and was really disturbed by it. There were no repercussions for Adam. When you violently fuck someone and act in a way that you know they won’t like and that will feel degrading you are stepping over a major boundary. That’s the kind of treatment that leaves scars in people.

  25. Seems to me Adam just really wants some kinky sex and, like most people with such fetishes, needs a partner who will give him a healthy outlet for them. When I saw that scene, I was completely turned on by it. I’m both a feminist and a woman who enjoys that kind of sex with my partner. I think it can be a part of a very healthy, loving relationship. Of course, in the context of the show, they weren’t in a real relationship, but two people who barely knew each other and had perhaps not reached that level of comfort. I’m not defending what Adam did in the show as “right” or “proper” but it’s also unfair to act as if every woman would have reacted the way she did in that situation. I, for one, would have been thrilled.

    Portraying him as some kind of a sex addict freak is equally damaging to women and men. Liking kinky sex or wanting to bang a girl from behind or accidentally cumming on her dress don’t make you rapist. The fact that we portray all men who like sex, want sex that isn’t romantic, gooshy “love making” as sex crazed freaks is wrong. It over simplifies human sexuality. If we empowered more men (and women) to act on their desires in the right way, there would be less rape and sexual assault. I believe shaming anyone because of their fetishes is wrong. It causes people to repress what they really want and need, which almost always leads to it manifesting in the wrong situations and the wrong times. Case in point, before the scene with Natalia, Adam drank for the first time since he was 17. This allowed for the desires he had been repressing to come out in a way that was, yes, borderline rape-y. But this probably wouldn’t have happened if he had had a healthy outlet for it.

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