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14 March 2013

In Defence of Young, Silly, Female Writers

I, as a writer, know a lot of other female writers or women would like to call themselves a writer one day. Whether we call ourselves journalists, bloggers, songwriters or authors - we love to write. We write about our feelings, feminism, equality, sexuality,  motherhood, technology and anything else people will pay us to talk about. 

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Most of us are considered "young", anywhere from 24 - 35 and we would write even if no one paid us to do so.  As the skin on Lady Gaga's left arm states:

“Confess to yourself in the deepest hour of the night whether you would have to die if you were forbidden to write. Dig deep into your heart, where the answer spreads its roots in your being, and ask yourself solemnly, Must I write?”

The answer for us is always yes

Yesterday over on The Atlantic, Jamie Tarabay questioned television's puzzling fixation on with who are writers - specifically Hannah Horvath, Lena Dunham's character in Girls, and Carrie Bradshaw, Sarah Jessica Parker's infamous character on Sex and the City. Why exactly having two TV shows, one that began in 1998 and the other in 2012, that dare to have a TV show led by a female writer is puzzling, I'm not sure. 

Tarabay wonders what it means that "these type of shows" need a leading lady that is a "creative type" and asks: "Is there something that bans Hannah from being a lawyer or marketing executive, other than her slacker creed?"

Yes, a memo went out to all television studios saying that all leading ladies of shows about women HAVE to be writers with "slacker cred". 

Except that Zooey Deschanel's character in New Girl is a teacher, Mindy Kaling in The Mindy Project plays an OBGYN, and Max, the main character in Two Broke Girls, is a waitress/baking entrepreneur.  They may not be lawyers, marketing executives or whatever other occupation that Tarabay might approve of, but you can have other types of female protagonists in "these types of shows". Whatever that means.

The point of Tarabay's article seems to have less to do with TV's "fixation" with female writers, but rather a distaste for creative,  twenty-something women who don't have their shit together. Specifically those who claim to share her profession:

"Forgive me, but Ernest Hemingway, George Orwell and Jane Austen were observers of the worlds they inhabited and there always seemed to be a lesson in their words. Hannah is barely out of college with little to zero experience in the real world —that we've seen—and is jealous of a friend whose book success stemmed from the suicide of a lover. She has an e-book deal she keeps bragging about, and the OCD anxiety over how to fill it by her deadline."

I suppose there should be an age limit on writing then? Maybe keep all pens, paper and keyboards away from young women who are just out of college, as surely they couldn't possibly have anything to write about as they've barely even lived

What Tarabay doesn't seem to realise is that part of the audience's love/hate relationship with Hannah is that they know she's absolutely ridiculous. When her then boyfriend Adam yells at her, "You think because you're, what, 11 pounds overweight you know struggle?!" Hannah helpfully points out that she's THIRTEEN pounds overweight, actually, and it has been VERY hard for her - but that's being 20, isn't it? Some of us know what older people would call actual struggle, and some of us only know self-inflicted struggle that seems fluffy and superficial from the outside looking in. 

But why should any of that stop Hannah - or any other 20 year old woman - from being a writer? How do those more serious writers in their thirties, forties and beyond even know how to string a sentence together if they didn't write about the friviloty of their twenties? 

I find it incredibly irritating that Tarabay seems to despise what Hannah represents so much as I personally know so many Hannahs. To some extent, I am an over-grown Hannah - and us Hannahs have more aspirations than just to "see one's name in print, alongside something suitably witty, possibly snarky, and always insightful." Um, we'd also like a regular paying column and a book deal, as well, thanksverymuch.

I'm confused as to why Tarabay, who is a journalist and thereby a writer, thinks that having a  9-5 makes you more aspirational? As if being freelancer is such a fucking breeze. 

There is something incredibly powerful about seeing the journey of a twenty-something woman who is a bit of a mess on TV, rather than that of (another) polished woman in her 30s with a big shoe collection and walk-in closet.

The lives of young women are rarely portrayed in a realistic or honest fashion, and while those like Tarabay may just put young, creative women down to having a "bizarre" sense of entitlement and "ugly" sex, I would rather be a part of a generation that's represented by Hannah Horvath than Carrie Bradshaw. 

Women on TV might be a bit nuts at the moment, but I don't think there's anything dangerous or harmful about women like Hannah - or Marni, Shoshannah or Jessa for that matter. 

Sure, messy, creative types might make people like Jamie Tarabay uncomfortable, but getting out of your comfort zone is good! That's where the magic happens, remember?

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Images: HBO

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I am basically Hannah Horvath. I am 22, a writer and I am messed up in my head because I'm 22. And just like you point out, I am far more comfortable living in a generation that is represented by Hannah than looking up on a generation that looks down on us represented by Carrie Bradshaw.

And I am a writer. I don't need to understand the intricate mysteries of the world to be one. I'm sure that neither Austen, Orwell nor Hemingway did. But they had their own views of the universe and so does everyone else who writes. I write what I see in my world. And I'm pretty damn proud of what I do.

Thank you for this article, Cate. It means a lot to the little Hannah inside me.

This is great! I'm a 25-year-old woman who doesn't feel like she can call herself a writer, basically for the reasons Tarabay is annoyed with (and also the making $0 from it aspect). I'm basically Hannah except less successful, less interesting, and with a less active sex life.

What she seems to be missing is that Hannah and Lena do have their fingers on the pulse of their generation - at least of their demographic in their generation. Our "struggle" IS being 11-13 pounds overweight, raised in privelege, fostered creatively, encouraged to pursue the arts, and then not given a 9-5 job at the end of things, which makes us desperate and worried we won't have our dreams fulfilled, or you know, be able to pay rent. And yes, it's a bit silly and self-entitled, and really we should be thanking our lucky stars for our comfortable lives, but like you said, Hannah (and I'd like to think myself) are pretty self-aware of this fact. But that attitude didn't come from nowhere. "Girls" examines and is (gently) critical of the culture young, white, well-off girls have been raised in and how it functions (or doesn't) in this "real world" we've been told about all our lives from the comfort of our suburban homes and liberal arts dorm rooms.

And I have to laugh when she uses Austen as a somehow "better" example of a female writer. Hannah (and Lena) ARE really the Jane Austen of our generation - Jane Austen was writing about the same sort of accomplished-in-the-arts-but-aimless white women from the same position of sheltered, relative privilege. I can see some of her points, but when she turns around and holds Austen up as some deep, experienced, great dame of literature, I have to wonder if she's actually read Austen or knows anything about the author's life before appropriating her for her argument (which is hardly less "fluffy" an article than the kind Hannah would write, mind you). Not to take anything away from Austen, because it's not as if these sort of narratives don't have validity in literary and cultural canon. But if Austen deserves a seat at the table, it's not fair to immediately dismiss "Girls."

Also, I don't know if she's watched any other movies or television ever, but writers and creative types (male and female) are often protagonists. Maybe because, I don't know, film and television are often written by writers and directed and acted and produced by creative types? Wild guess.

Sorry - rant! But great article. :)

Thank for sharing.

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