HBO’s [White] Girls, White Feminism and How It’s Connected to Think Like a Man

I know you are thinking #allcity, how in the hell is the connected? It is, trust.

So yesterday, Andrea on Racialicious posted on tumblr about a writer, Aymer, who feels that while Girls is White, it isn’t the Lena Dunham’s problem. Dunham created the show.

Here is part of Aymer’s post,

I think the show is smart, and (c) I agree with Seitz: race is the industry’s problem, not Lena Dunham’s. She is privileged, yes, but–let’s be honest–also got lucky with a sweetheart Louie-like deal: cheap production and relative freedom in lieu of high ratings (Girls‘s paltry 0.4 rating in the demo would get it canceled everywhere but HBO, and maybe FX**).

Here is what Andrea says,

I disagree with Aymer that Lena Dunham isn’t to blame. Her show—which is fueled by her imagination—is another vehicle for Hollywood to continue maintaining the idea of whiteness at the expense of people of color. She is part of the problem, so she has a part in the blame. What I do agree with is that people have done incredible analyses on this racial problem with Dunham’s creation.

Here is my response,

Given my intense focus over the last 4 months on the ways in which Black men and White corporations earn millions of dollars on the stories featuring Black women’s dating and relationship narratives (Think Like a Man, Precious, Jump the Broom, For Colored Girls) I am inclined to think that the darker the US gets the Whiter television will get.

My rational? Symbolic domination is tied up in economic, spiritual and other forms of domination. So the thinking is, so what Ya’ll brown folks might be swoll in numbers, but ENTERTAINMENT- the number 1 US export will not reflect you with nuance; full stop.

They need to just call the show “White Girls”. #Done.

And now I will add this. Think about it. We have a Black man in the White House and a brown skinned, Harvard Law educated, elegant Black first lady.

Conversely though, George Lucas can’t get a film about African American fighter pilots distributed in Hollywood. the film version of the book Think Like a Man, a heterosexual, patriarchal dating advice book for Black women, earned 33 million dollars in it’s opening weekend and it has been the number one film in the US two weeks after it opened.

Dig it, you can have The President and Flotus all over tumblr, buzzing around each other like two SPIRITS who like and Love each other; but, seeing a hetero OR queer Black couple be intimate on the silver screen in a way that is NOT patriarchal and rooted in stereotypes. Good Luck with that shit Gina.

What is the connection to White feminism? Well when I say White feminism in this instance I mean third wave White feminism that pivots on the idea of “women” being “equal” to men or what I like to call equalism. A few weeks ago my students were throwing around this “women being equal” to men mess and I turned to them and said “I am going off my lesson plan here, but I need to ask you all a question; What is the difference between being equal and being free. Please do not answer immediately as I want you to take your time and think about it.”

Someone eventually responded saying that a woman can be equal to a man by possibly earning to same wages in a certain career, but she wouldn’t be free if everytime she walked out of the house she was bombarded with messages about how ugly she was, or how she needed to lose weight, lighten or darken her skin,  get married, have a baby or (I thought to myself ) if she suffered street harassment on every hot summer day.

So. With that being said Dunham has appeared apologetic saying that while she writes based on her experiences, she didn’t realize that because the characters came from a personal place, that they would be all White. This points to a very interesting moment in popular culture where the impact of racial segregation on the pop culture is crystalized. Dunham doesn’t want to write about folks of color, because they are not apart of her life and she doesn’t want to tokenize them. Is that legitimate? Wouldn’t it be interesting to create a story arch of a young White girl dealing with her Whiteness on an HBO show? Making friends with folks of color? Examining racial privilege?

I thought Dunham’s response was interesting because often times folks have three defenses when they are called on their racism, sexism, transphobia or homophobia which is a.) I was just being funny b.) I didn’t mean any harm c.) I don’t have to be PC, I am an artist. However, I don’t know the last time someone said “Well, this IS based on my experience and I don’t want to tokenize.”

Historically, feminists of ALL races have said that experience is useful for theory and creative work, in fact it makes for some of THE most interesting work that we have created. But they have also said that experience does not mean that you are ABOVE criticism; Peace to Joan Scott.

I like this particular moment in the feminist blogosphere because it speaks to how feminists on social media are co constructing old media, and holding them accountable for how they represent their worlds. That shit is fresh.

So, as the US Browns, will TV and Film become more White?’

Why is it so hard for folks to recognize the connection between racial perceptions, electoral politics and representations in film?

I also think that it is interesting, in terms of power (relationships of power) that the director of  Girls has a small budget and creative license and little pressure to attract audiences, at least according to the blog post. Is that freedom?

What would a woman of color director do with those kinds of working conditions? What would Kasi Lemons, or Julie Dash, Nzinga Stewart or an Asian, Latina, Indian woman do with those kinds of working conditions? What would she create?

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Comments

  1. arieswym says

    So, as the US Browns, will TV and Film become more White?’

    Thinking about the permanence of whiteness as media outlets diversify. Univision often beats the traditional Big 4 networks (ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox) in the ratings but its lineup is filled with White Latinas.

    There are ten new cable channels coming soon as a result of the NBC/Comcast merger. “Of the ten channels, four will be majority African American owned, two will be majority Hispanic owned and two will be operated by American Latino programmers.” But I doubt they’ll challenge the permanence of whiteness on the small screen.

    How much of this is a dying medium/industry holding on for dear life? Ratings are down on network TV, there are concerns about cord cutters, people that cancel their cable subscriptions, legal online video streams of TV are increasingly tying online streaming sources to cable subscriptions for the last gasp of revenue.

    What does it indicate/How much does it matter that Girls is driving so much conversation with a 0.4 rating? Most shows with ratings that low are quickly canceled and forgotten. Independent movies rarely drive conversation, for example indie “Pariah” versus big budget film “Think Like A Man”

  2. Renina says

    Your point re Univision is material in that the focus is White Latinas. My students did an AWESOME and impressive presentation on Bollywood and how it navigates Whiteness.

    How much of this is a dying medium/industry holding on for dear life? …Dying ain’t dead. I follow the money. The majority of advertising dollars are still spent on the old media, so it remains relevant because of the financial support that it receives.

    What does it indicate/How much does it matter that Girls is driving so much conversation with a 0.4 rating?…Perhaps using a conceptual framework of “ratings’ is limited. Perhaps the ways in which Women of Color speak back to this particular show via social media is what matters.

    This isn’t just any independent. Remember, the shit hit the fan with GIRLS when one of the writers tweeted that, and I paraphrase “wasn’t represented in Precious”….that put them on the defensive AND it let social media WOC bears know that the streets (HBO) was/were, in fact, watching.

    In fact, the fact that the rating ARE that low and it is still is own bears to be interrogated. Black women had to stage a daggumit strike to get The Game back on. #ummhmm.

  3. says

    The following sentence slayed me.

    “What is the difference between being equal and being free.”

    I’m going to be thinking about this for awhile.

    Thanks #AllCITY!

  4. says

    Finally got around to reading this, but yes as America browns television & movies will get whiter. Seeing how it all serves as a vehicle of escape for the viewers, the people in charge will continue to try and hold onto what little peace of mind they have.

  5. M. says

    “I like this particular moment in the feminist blogosphere because it speaks to how feminists on social media are co constructing old media, and holding them accountable for how they represent their worlds. ” So insightful. Thank you.

    Agreed that those are the messages we are bombarded with (especially walking around on a hot day).

    I typically don’t watch tv… because what I have seen lately does not resonate with me. I am not an image-obsessed, party-seeking, drama-loving individual.

    I am ravenous for female-powered media which nullifies the status quo…. colored, shaped, real, female and gender-ambiguous but not stereotyped. I’m starting to wonder why I’m waiting around for it to happen, rather than taking some kind of action.

  6. Renina says

    I’m starting to wonder why I’m waiting around for it to happen, rather than taking some kind of action.
    ========
    This my dear is where the rubber meets the road.

    Best Wishes.