André Anthony Moore, LMFT

Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (New York State License: 001435)

Ketamine and Psychedelic Assisted Therapist certified by The Integrative Psychiatry Institute Practitioner of Eye Movement, Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)

Use Nonverbal Sensorimotor Techniques to deepen Emotionally Focused Therapy

Who Are the Ladies in HBO’s Girls?

The trailer introducing each episode of the first season of Girls begins with Hannah asking the question “Who are the ladies?”followed by provocative hints of how they currently live:

  • Marnie, as if she’s staring at a ghost, tells her boyfriend Charlie who’s just shaved his head, “I feel like I don’t know you anymore.”
  • Shoshanna has her first experience of oral sex as if she’s undergoing a medical examination.
  • Marnie’s roommate Hannah, in the bathroom with Marnie wrapped in a towel as she shaves her legs, wonders why she never sees her naked and Marnie answers pertly, “I only show my boobs to people I’m having sex with.”
  • Jessa – defensive and palpably anxious (we learn why later in the story) – tells Hannah, “If I wanted to go on dates, I would. But I don’t because they’re for lesbians.”
  • Then Hannah spread-eagle in a clinic being examined for HPV as the nurse tells her somberly, “You could not pay me enough to be 24 again.” Hannah answers with stoicism that barely conceals her fear, “Well they’re not paying me at all.”

Who are these ladies!?

I wonder what Hannah, Marnie, Shoshanna and Jessa would make of the statement popularized by Gloria Steinem back in the seventies: “A woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle”? I can imagine Shoshanna and her role model, Carrie Bradshaw in Sex in the City, answering with a perfunctory “Is that supposed to be news?” The world inhabited by the Girls is a far cry from Gloria Steinem’s world, that of their mothers in the 70s, and their grandmothers in the 50s. Can we get some insights on who the Girls really are by comparing their new millennium world to those of their grandmothers and mothers?

When their grandmothers were in their early 20s, although deep cultural changes were beginning to alter the role of Women in America there were still huge differences in the salaries of men and women and pervasive sexual harassment in the workplace. When Ruth Bader Ginsburg graduated at the top of her class from Columbia Law School in 1959, she didn’t get a single job offer. Neither did Sandra Day O’Connor when she graduated from Stanford Law. Ginsburg landed her first job with a federal judge in Manhattan, working on a project studying civil procedure in Sweden, and she had to learn Swedish for the job. And surely, no woman dramatizes the historical context of the Girls’ grandmothers more than Betty, in AMC’s Madmen. Hindered from pursuing a successful career as a model, she suffers through her first marriage to a philandering husband, is inconsolable in her second marriage and throughout all of it mothers two children who on her best days she treats with passive aggressive indifference and on her worst with barely disguised hostility. Betty is a tragic figure hopelessly chained to Gloria Steinem’s metaphorical bicycle. Yet many of the Girls’ grandmothers married, had children and enjoyed happy, deeply fulfilling lives in the late 50s and 60s. Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s magnificent 56 year marriage to Marty Ginsburg is a superb, indeed inspiring, example. But Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Sandra Day O’Connor, Betty in Madmen and virtually all the Girls’ grandmothers lived at a time in which men had greater financial and political power, a time in which most women could rely upon a sturdy, male driven bicycle, even at the risk of being chained to it.

This state of affairs continued throughout the 60s, 70s and most of the 80s. Kate Bolick  in All the Single Ladies tells us that when her parents married, her mother was a highly educated high school teacher and her father was well on his way to a solid legal career. Similarly, Hannah’s parents in Girls probably married while they were in graduate school and went on to live financially secure lives as college professors. Bolick and her Gen X cohort – positioned mid-way between the new millennial Girls and their mothers – cites compelling statistical differences between them: The Girl’s mothers married at 20, their fathers at 23. Today, the Girls marry at 26, their boyfriends at 28. And the marriage rates of 25 to 34 year olds across all four generations have declined dramatically: from approximately 78% for the grandmothers, to 70% for the mothers, to roughly 58% for Bolick and the Gen Xers and now 52% for the new millennial Girls. What socio-cultural and political developments account for these changes?

Phoebe Maltz Bovy, in There’s No Perfect Age to find a Husband, describes the changes as a consequence of the drive for feminism experienced in a dramatic first wave by the mothers of Kate Bolick and her Gen X cohort as well as the mothers of the new millennial Girls; a tacit entitlement to independence and self-fulfillment along with the unquestioned assumption that romance, relational commitment and marriage and family would naturally follow. The Gen Xers and new millennials learned from their mothers – still steeped in the clarion calls of Betty Friedan, Shirley Chisholm, Bella Abzug and other prominent feminists – to prioritize independence and self-sufficiency. But their mothers didn’t tell them that this wouldn’t leave much time for falling in love, getting married and having children. Phoebe Maltz Bovy succinctly describes this dilemma: “Women are now asked to live by second-wave feminist principles until, boom, they’re informed that they need a man no less than women ever did.”

If the above emotional boom wasn’t enough of a shock to the Gen Xers and their new millennial younger sisters, the housing bubble and unprecedented financial crisis of the past seven years have hit them like a one-two punch. They’ve resulted in a serious deterioration of the male economic condition, a frightening development that their mothers and grandmothers never had to cope with. Kate Bolick, drawing from Hanna Rosin’s The End of Men, points out that “A 2010 study of single, childless urban workers between the ages of 22 and 30 found that the women actually earned 8 percent more than men. Women are also more likely than men to go to college. In 2010, 55 percent of all college graduates ages 25 to 29 were female.” And of all the young men dramatized by Lena Dunham in Girls, only one is affluent, a highly stressed venture capitalist who frets over wine being spilled on his $10,000 rug. Where are the young lawyers, accountants and doctors on their way to financially secure lives in Girls?

Leslie C. Bell, in Women in Their 20s Shouldn’t feel Bad About Wanting a Boyfriend, describes the emotional plight of the Girls as splitting or a painful manifestation of cognitive dissonance. In Lena Dunham’s compelling drama, the Girls live their daily lives in Brooklyn and Manhattan continually torn between their need for a career, independence and control and their repression, (in Jessa’s case deep denial) of their life-giving need for relationship, desire and vulnerability in the arms of a caring lover. From a neuroscience perspective, I wonder what fMRIs would tell us about the impact of the Girls’ emotionally stressful lives on the millions of axonal projections of the corpus callosums that connect their thinking and feeling brains.

Anne-Marie Slaughter, in her review of Sheryl Sandberg’s new book, Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead, neatly summarizes Sandberg’s Yes You Can! message to younger women: “…excuses and justifications won’t get women anywhere. Instead, believe in yourself, give it your all, ‘lean in’ and “don’t leave before you leave” — which is to say, don’t doubt your ability to combine work and family and thus edge yourself out of plum assignments before you even have a baby. Leaning in can promote a virtuous circle: you assume you can juggle work and family, you step forward, you succeed professionally, and then you’re in a better position to ask for what you need and to make changes that could benefit others.” Sheryl Sandberg, just three years older than Kate Bolick, also lives mid-way between Lena Dunaham’s new Millennium Girls and their mothers but, unlike Bolick, Sandberg is ideologically much closer to their mothers. And the girls in Girls – even more than Bolick and not nearly as clear about life as their more mature older sister – are in no good place to hear the well-intentioned exhortations of their mothers, still steeped in the clarion calls of the first wave feminists. In a recent New York Times interview, Lena Dunham describes the place of the new millennials by comparing them to her Gen X older sisters: “Sex in the City, which I grew up on and deeply respect, was about women who had figured out…career, figured out their friendships and were really trying to lock the love thing down. To me there’s this time of life where you don’t even know what you want, and you don’t know how to want it. It’s much more abstract and wandering.” Implicit in Dunham’s statement is that Carrie Bradshaw and her cohort in Sex in the City enjoyed a relatively stable economy and a much greater choice of affluent men to figure out the love thing with; a crucial advantage not available to their younger sisters. The opening scene in the first season of Girls, says it all. Hannah, eating dinner in a restaurant with her parents, can’t hear her mother when she tells her, “We can’t keep bankrolling your groovy lifestyle.” Hannah is much more concerned about wolfing down her pasta and ordering more food before her mother calls for the check. And then there’s that telling scene later in the story when Hannah takes a painful tumble off of Adam’s bicycle.

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