Like many of us who have been following the show, I’ve had lukewarm feelings about Girls’ contribution to feminism.Though many commentators have raised valid criticisms about the show’s handling of race and class, it’s been refreshing to see a female lead with an “imperfect” body, and I’ve praised the show for focusing on young women’s lives—including awkward dating and awkward sex—in a way that at times feels a great deal more authentic than anything we’re used to seeing on TV.But it wasn’t until episode 9 of the second, just-completed season that the show really struck me as breaking important new ground.
Natalia is clearly distressed by Adam’s behavior; at one point she explicitly says the word “no,” but Adam simply tells her to relax and she reluctantly submits.
After sexually penetrating her from behind, Adam flips her over and ejaculates on her chest while she’s telling him not to mess up her dress.
After it’s over, Natalia quickly covers herself and seems near tears when she tells Adam “I, like, really didn’t like that.” We’ve seen Adam in uncomfortable sexual situations with Hannah (‘ creator and star Lena Dunham) in the past, including scenes that raise questions about consent.
Hannah never said no, but she certainly went along with things that she clearly felt awkward and uneasy about.
My feelings about seeing this scenario play out on a TV show were echoed by Rae Alexandra at the SF Weekly blog, where she wrote: This one incident on Girls is so universal and so unspoken and so prevalent that seeing it on television was incredible and revolutionary—it makes us want to track down writer Lena Dunham and hug the crap out of her for putting it in the public consciousness.
Arguably one of the most important things about this scene is that Adam’s character is complex.Though we may have loathed him in the beginning, we’ve come to see him as multifaceted; there have been plenty of moments when we’ve sympathized with and actually liked him. There is something frequently endearing about his awkwardness.The scene with Natalia, however, took Adam’s behavior to a new extreme. And though Adam claims he has no idea “what came over him,” the viewer knows better; we should be able to recognize this behavior not as a one-time anomaly of his character but as the peak of a gradually escalating pattern.As many women are painfully aware, these scenarios are all too common in real life.They are the kind of sexual encounters that leave us feeling violated and traumatized, yet uncertain whether we are entitled to apply the label “rape” to what took place, and even less sure of how to articulate the awfulness of the experience if we feel the word rape does apply.We find these events especially confusing when, like Natalia, we’ve consented to sex with the guy in the past, are in a relationship with him, or said “yes” to one kind of sex but not to the kind of sex that actually took place.