It’s been hard to escape talk of writer/actress Lena Dunham and her television show Girls, which recently aired its season two finale. In mainstream media, Girls is lauded as ‘the show of a generation‘, a program that women everywhere can relate to.
While subject to much praise for its daring and honest portrayals of twenty-something life in New York City, some critics continue to discredit the show due to its lack of representation for non-white characters.
Unfortunately, non-white representation in television shows set in one of the most ethnically diverse cities in the world is rare and Girls is not the only program to lay the blame to. Friends, for example, rarely had people of colour in roles other than minor, background characters for its entire ten-season run. A more recent example is How I Met Your Mother, another show based around a group of white characters, where interaction with, or storylines with, non-white characters is noticeably absent.
What’s worse in this situation is that a) Girls is portrayed as a television show about our generation’s young women and b) that the show’s creators and supporters have an incredibly flippant attitude towards representation of people of colour (poc) in television. By presenting Girls as a television show about women, a show which includes zero women of colour (woc), and with white feminists arguing for more representation of women in television, while simultaneously stating they do not care about woc on television, white feminism and mainstream culture is saying: women of colour are not ‘women’.
Lesley Arfin (now ex-writer for Girls) responded to criticism by writing ‘What really bothered me moth [sic] about Precious was that there was no representation of ME.’ She then wrote, ‘Without thinking, I put gender politics above race and class’ in response to backlash from her previous comment. Quite simply, Arfin separated gender and race issues, therefore dismissing black women’s politics by implying that they are not a part of ‘gender politics’. Again woc do not count as women.
The lack of intersectionality in mainstream white-feminism is depressing and stubborn. Too many feminists do not see ethnic-minority women’s issues as women’s issues and exclude race, and woc voices, from mainstream discourse.
Dunham herself insisted that it was a complete accident that the cast of her show is completely white, and has slipped up many times by engaging in ‘hipster racism‘. She claims she does not know how to write women of colour, as though woc characters are two-dimensional beings whose entire lives revolve around their race and do not have the experiences and lifestyles that the characters on her show do. However, what was most upsetting was Dunham again implying that women of colour are not women.
In her Golden Globe acceptance speech in January of this year, Lena said she was accepting her award ‘for any woman that’s felt like there wasn’t a space for her’. Keeping in mind the large amount of criticism Dunham has received and responded to regarding a lack of woc on her show, that statement was an insult to many women of colour. Women of colour consistently raise their disappointment and anger that they are underrepresented in American television and feel they never have a space or accurate representation in tv & film. When Dunham claims her award is for women, she really means that her award is for ‘white women’, as is so often the case in mainstream feminism.
The main point to take from all of this is that Lena Dunham and Girls are important symbols of white feminism, and of women’s success and mobility in entertainment and culture. Women of colour are not relevant to feminism and do not count as women, according to many mainstream white-feminists, and once more woc are erased from mainstream culture.