‘Body politics’ in Lena Dunham’s Girls influenced by feminist television and indie cinema

How Lena Dunham’s hit US television series Girls treats the female body and sexuality is explored in a study published in Feminist Media Studies.

According to Jessica Ford of the University of New South Wales, “Girls has … shifted popular discussions about feminism, post-feminism, and body politics in film and television.”

Ford suggests that Girls must be understood as the product of two ‘distinct lineages’ – feminist television and indie cinema. The programme, currently airing in the UK, is ‘part of a complex and ongoing conversation about feminism and post-feminism across time, genres, and mediums’.

In terms of Girls’ feminist credentials, Ford argues that a clear line can be drawn from ‘Lucille Ball to Mary Tyler Moore to Roseanne Barr to Tina Fey to Dunham, as they are all author-stars who utilize their star-image within their series’.

However, there is little consensus among feminist television scholars about what kind of feminist or post-feminist politics Girls is performing.

Ford writes: “At first view Girls’ particular brand of feminism shares a number of characteristics with post-feminism; it is individually focused, primarily white, and interested in sexual empowerment and body politics. Yet at the same time it actively critiques post-feminism through its performance of a personal politics of sexual exploration, which negotiates the pressure of performing bodily femininity, and is anchored and directed by Dunham’s feminist star-image.”

Girls’ stylistic debt to indie cinema is also essential to its success. As Ford observes: “[Girls’] gender politics are enabled by and articulated in concert with its smart tendency, specifically its low-key aesthetic, blank style, irony, and reflexivity.”

“This idea of blankness is cultivated through Girls’ filming of the nude female body without spectacle or titillation, which is a key aspect of how it performs its body politics.”

By not sensationalizing the female body, nudity or sex, Dunham portrays ‘a mode of female sexual subjecthood’ in a way that is at once ironic, emotionally intimate and reflexive.

By being the main character in her own show, Dunham’s own body performs the series’ body politics and aesthetic. As Ford writes: “Girls ’particular brand of body politics is characterized by [Dunham’s character] Hannah’s simultaneous celebration and critique of her body. On the one hand, she recognizes that her body does not meet the white, thin, fashionable ideal promoted by women’s magazines and post-feminist popular culture, while on the other hand she refuses to aspire to those ideals.” Sex and the City it most certainly isn’t. 

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Taylor & Francis Group partners with researchers, scholarly societies, universities and libraries worldwide to bring knowledge to life. As one of the world’s leading publishers of scholarly journals, books, ebooks and reference works our content spans all areas of Humanities, Social Sciences, Behavioral Sciences, Science, and Technology and Medicine. From our network of offices in Oxford, New York, Philadelphia, Boca Raton, Boston, Melbourne, Singapore, Beijing, Tokyo, Stockholm, New Delhi and Johannesburg, Taylor & Francis staff provide local expertise and support to our editors, societies and authors and tailored, efficient customer service to our library colleagues.

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