millennial girl

dunham

I am now reading this.

I like Lena Dunham. I am fascinated by the amount of people who don’t. Not people older than us (we’re the same age)–I have little interest in their foamy-mouthed vitriol, as their dislike largely stems from having something to do with their age, and the elderly’s resentment of the young and whatever new-fangled things they get up to will never change. Nor am I interested in the loathing of those younger than us, because again, it seems like she speaks from this place straddling the mass adoption of the internet and of terrorism that those who always had it can’t understand. What interests me is the disdain of we upper-end millennials. Because I want to know what drives them to this particular betrayal of one of their own.

It’s not, I hasten to add, as if all of their dislike makes sense, either. Most of the dislike I’ve heard from men tends basically to boil down to the fact that they want a specific kind of woman on their screen, to please themselves with, and if you aren’t that you should be derided. I have no interest in that predictable line of thinking, which (to take an example) my future brother-in-law shares. His fiancee, though–my husband’s sister–doesn’t like Dunham either, and that interests me. What would move her to feel so uncomfortable (and she was distinctly uncomfortable when I asked her about Girls)? Is it that the shallowness of Hannah Hogarth is a too-accurate mirror for her own? Is it a lingering infection of Good Catholic Upbringing that taints her watching of the show with unease? This seems too simplistic an explanation for me; she enjoys plenty of raunchier shows. What, then?

Well, I take that back. She enjoys shows that involve more sex or violence. But perhaps she, and many other women like her, draw the line and being shown things…not working out. Or going well. Things not going well for someone who resembles her too closely. Upper-middle-class upbringing, good school, crappy job, the threat of moving back in with your parents lurking. Hannah’s mother and my MIL are not dissimilar, it’s true. But she didn’t even get past the first season! What chased her away? Was it just that simple resemblance that sent her packing?

My reaction to that resemblance is the opposite. Specifically, this paragraph:

In fifth grade we all get screen names. We message with one another, but we also go to chat rooms, digital hangouts with names like Teen Hang and A Place for Friends. It takes me a little while to wrap my head around the idea of anonymity. Of people I can’t see who can’t see me. Of being seen without being seen at all. Katie Pomerantz and I jointly take on the persona of a fourteen-year-old model named Mariah, who has flowing black hair, B-cup breasts, and an endless supply of smiley faces. Aware of Mariah’s incredible power, we ensnare boys, promising them we are beautiful, popular, and looking for love, as well as rich off our teen-model earnings. We giggle as we take turns typing, reveling in our power. At one point, we ask a boy in Delaware to check the tag of his jeans and tell us the brand.
“They’re Wrangler,” he writes back. “My mom got them at Walmart.’
Feverish with triumph, we log out.

I read that and thought Hello, Childhood! Change “chat room” to “EverQuest” and you’ve got a favorite pastime of mine. Back in vanilla EQ, if you died and you didn’t get back to your corpse in time (or if it was somewhere impossible to get back to), all your gear disappeared. Poof. And it never ceased to amaze me that guys would routinely be willing to re-kit my character–medium armor, too, so not the cheapest stuff to purchase!–for a few utterly lame emotes. This was around the time of the Monica Lewinsky scandal, about which my mother turned to me once and said, “If you learn anything from this it should be the power of sex. You think he wanted this whole mess to blow up in his face? Whatever else he is, he’s not dumb, and yet still he couldn’t resist, and this happened. If even people with whole careers as presidents to lose can’t resist it, know what a powerful force it must be.” Thanks, Mom!

I read that paragraph in Dunham’s book, and I welcome the resemblance! I think “hey, this sounds familiar, someone shared(ish) my experience–cool, I wasn’t alone!” But maybe my SIL wanted to bury whatever part of her she saw reflected in the show. Maybe she wants to pretend that whole part of her life–if she is indeed past it–never happened.

I don’t understand how else you end up, as a millennial woman of roughly the same age and very much the same background, so vociferously planted against her. What did you hope your generation would achieve? It’s only in the infancy of its cultural relevancy. What sepia-toned meaning did you think we’d have concocted by now? And what will you have the rest of your life to compare to, if you’re so hell-bent on forgetting you ever were a self-obsessed, moderately well-off millennial girl?

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