After all my frustrated and repetitive attempts at trying to explain the difference between porn and images of naked bodies and the difference between objectification and images of female sexuality that aren’t exploitative or sexualized, Sunday night’s episode of Girls basically did it all for me.
Go watch it, if you can, but here’s a super brief recap for those who missed it: Hannah meets a hot doctor dude (Joshua/Patrick Wilson) who comes into the coffee shop she works at to complain about the shop’s garbage ending up in his trash cans. Hannah, being the secret culprit, goes to his place to apologize, kisses him, and they spend the next two days humping. Good times.
The point I’m often trying to make with regard to pornography and pornified images of women is that objectification defines pornography and, in large part, explains why pornographic imagery contributes to the oppression of women. The thing about objectification is that, though we very much like to pretend that it’s somehow ‘natural‘ or unavoidable, it isn’t. It isn’t necessary for women to be objectified onscreen and simply seeing women’s naked bodies or being attracted to a woman doesn’t necessarily mean those women are or must be objectified. It is possible for there to be depictions of sex and sexuality on television and on film and it is possible for female bodies to exist on screen (even naked!) without those images constituting pornography or exploitation.
It isn’t about skin or sex or even voyeurism. It’s about the choices made with regard to context and, essentially, camera angles. The camera is responsible for putting the audience in the position of the objectifier and of forcing us all to see women onscreen through the male gaze. The camera can make different choices. Directors can also make different choices about the kinds of bodies (friendly reminder: all bodies can be objectified, so objectifying less conventional bodies is not radical, per se, BUT putting non-conventional/imperfect bodies onscreen and not making those bodies the butt of a joke is a good thing) that are depicted onscreen and the contexts within which those bodies are depicted.
So while everyone on the internet is busy talking about whether Hannah/Lena Dunham could bag a dude like Joshua/Patrick Wilson in real life, they’re missing the actually interesting and revolutionary (yes, I realize I may be a little overexcited about a whitey TV show about rich kids in NYC, but let me have this one, please?) aspect of the show, which is NAKED FEMALE BODIES THAT AREN’T PORNIFIED. It’s possible and it happened.
Yes, dudes are choked because WTF is up with women on screen that aren’t just masturbatory material and actually look like normal, real, people, but this, of course, is a sign that Dunham is doing something right. You want proof? David Haglund and Daniel Engber thought it was the worst episode ever. I, on the other hand, thought it was the best episode ever and felt swoony inside my cold, black heart after watching.
I’m pretty positive that the way to be absolutely sure that we’re doing something right as women is if a bunch of internet dudes are pissed off about it.