The pilot episode of Girls goes out of its way to introduce a suggested comparison to Sex and the City - Shoshanna rambles about which character she identifies with, which is not uncommon amongst women. Just ask the pink “I’m a Charlotte” t-shirts at the HBO store. The notion that women seek a female character to identify with is not unexpected; however, I find it somewhat perplexing that we do so in a manner that categorizes us. “I’m a Samantha” is emblazoned across plenty of t-shirts - but there is no t-shirt that says “I’m a Bruce Banner” or “I’m a Han Solo.” (Let’s not even talk about how many female characters can be specifically identified by first name only - hell, Penny from The Big Bang Theory doesn’t even have a last name.) Girls specifically introduces the idea that women are prone to try and categorize themselves - “what type of woman are you?” - and suggests, through the subsequent stories told, that there’s no real answer to that question. In fact, each character reveals subtleties and nuances that defy their “label,” and that encourage the audience to allow them these gradations.
In this way, Girls provides a self-awareness of the expectations placed on young women about their identity, using the mold to create a starting point, and making commentary on the limitations of that mold by moving the characters away from an easy and unhappy absolute, towards a more complex and, hopefully happier, reality. I find it ironic, therefore, that these characters are frequently derided, misunderstood, and disliked. In some ways, to dislike Hannah, or Jessa, or Marnie, on principle, is to deny them their opportunity to figure themselves out. To cast off their Sex and the City labels, and reimagine the boundaries - or lack thereof - to their identities. Considering how important this is to the issue of portraying female characters realistically in the media, I can’t find it in me to write off Girls completely. With every nasty critique that fails to support its argument against the show believably, I can’t help but wonder if there’s simply an internalized lack of respect for a young woman trying to shuffle out her own identity on her own terms with her own mistakes, when it would be so much more convenient for society if we could just put her in a box.