The final season of “Girls” won’t premiere until 2017, but even in the off-season the iconic HBO comedy is starting conversations about the way we see women on screen.
Today’s edition of Lena Dunham and Jenni Konner’s newsletter Lenny Letter highlighted a fresh example of the sexism women face in the industry, with Konner writing about an encounter she, Dunham and members of the “Girls” staff experienced after wrapping production. (The letter says that the incident happened “last night,” though that may have been when the note was written and not when it was published — according to social media postings, “Girls” wrapped production last week.)
As Konner describes, a group of the “Girls” crew went to grab a bite to eat after filming, when they encountered some members of the crew from a different show that shoots nearby. “Within five minutes, a producer/director of that show had cornered Lena,” Konner said in the letter.
The rest of the group was able to overhear the unnamed producer ask Dunham if she’d meet with one of the actresses on his show, in Konner’s words, “because he wanted Lena to persuade the actress to ‘show her tits, or at least some vag’ on TV. Surely Lena could make a compelling argument. After all, he continued, ‘You would show anything. Even your asshole.'”
What’s notable about Konner’s story is that apparently this sort of thing happens to Dunham a lot: “This is fairly common behavior with strangers and Lena. In my most generous moments, I can see their nervousness, their familiarity with her frank sexual work, and their desire to make a connection.”
Of course, the producer took it a step beyond acceptable by confronting Dunham with his requests (as well as a photo of “a mutual friend with a cock next to her face, ostensibly a still from his TV show but shown at a completely inappropriate time”).
While the producer in question’s identity remains unknown (at least for now), Konner’s frustration over his behavior goes beyond this encounter as an isolated incident. Konner concludes the story by explaining why she decided to speak out: “It’s not enough to be mad. It’s not enough to know it’s wrong. When we share, we unlock other women’s stories, and suddenly secrets don’t seem so necessary. The only thing standing between men and outdated, hideous behavior is their ability to get away with it.”
What this unnamed producer seems to have missed is that the reason Dunham’s sexuality has had such an impact on our public perception of her as a writer and performer is that she’s in complete control of it. When Dunham does a nude scene, it’s not because a male director “convinced” her to do it — she made the choice herself. And thus it’s rarely exploitative or gratuitous; instead, it’s just honest.
It’s a distinction that seems lost on many who interrogate “Girls” and Dunham’s work in general. She owns the way she and the show’s other female characters are seen on screen, ensuring that their stories are told authentically, even in their most unflattering moments. That’s the difference between seeing an actress naked — and seeing a woman really reveal herself.
“Girls” returns to HBO for its final season in 2017.