Intimacy 2012

Intimacy 2012

This article about a new HBO series entitled, “Girls,” is hardly what we fought for as feminists wanting sexual liberation. It is, however, just what the corporatized sex industry grooms consumers to desire. Women who want to assimilate by imitating “the boys,” and/or accepting the role of a depersonalized sex object– wanting to feel nothing. It is a testament to our need to occupy sexuality. Media Watch endorses real sexual freedom, choice and autonomy for men and women. Don’t let the corporate world of pornography tell us how to express our unique sexuality anymore. Read on….
By FRANK BRUNI
THE first time you see Lena Dunham’s character having sex in the new HBO series “Girls,” her back is to her boyfriend, who seems to regard her as an inconveniently loquacious halfway point between partner and prop, and her concern is whether she’s correctly following instructions.

“So I can just stay like this for a little while?” she asks. “Do you need me to move more?”

He needs her to intrude less. “Let’s play the quiet game,” he answers.

The second time, she’s an 11-year-old junkie with a Cabbage Patch lunchbox, or so he tells her, commencing a role play in which he alone assigns the roles. He has highly specific fantasies, and she’s largely a fleshy canvas for them.

You watch these scenes and other examples of the zeitgeist-y, early-20s heroines of “Girls” engaging in, recoiling from, mulling and mourning sex, and you think: Gloria Steinem went to the barricades for this? Salaries may be better than in decades past and the cabinet and Congress less choked with testosterone. But in the bedroom? What’s happening there remains something of a muddle, if not something of a mess.

“Girls” makes its debut in two weeks. Dunham, just 25, is not only its star but also its principal writer and director, and she has already been accorded a voice-of-her-generation status. She even lampoons this in “Girls” by having her character, an aspiring writer, claim such a mantle for herself.

The show is drawing inevitable — and apt — comparisons to “Sex and the City,” in whose long shadow it blooms. “Girls,” too, is a half-hour comedy (of sorts) about four women finding themselves and fortifying one another in the daunting, libidinous wilds of New York City.

But it’s a recession-era adjustment. The gloss of Manhattan is traded for the mild grit of Brooklyn’s more affordable neighborhoods. The anxieties are as much economic as erotic. The colors are duller, the mood is dourer and the clothes aren’t much. It’s “Sex and the City” in a charcoal gray Salvation Army overcoat.

It comes along at a moment of fresh examination of women’s progress. A just-published book, “The Richer Sex,” by Liza Mundy, asserts that women are well on their way to becoming the primary breadwinners in a majority of American families; it rated the cover of Time magazine two weeks ago. It will be joined later this year by “The End of Men,” by Hanna Rosin, which answers the question posed by the title of Maureen Dowd’s prescient 2005 best seller, “Are Men Necessary?” As Rosin sees it, not so much, because women have achieved unprecedented autonomy.

But “Girls” also amplifies a growing chorus of laments over what’s happening on the sexual frontier, a state of befuddlement reflective in part of post-feminist power dynamics and in part of our digital culture and virtual fixations.

Are young women who think that they should be more like men willing themselves into a casual attitude toward sex that’s an awkward emotional fit? Two movies released last year, “No Strings Attached” and “Friends With Benefits,” held that position, and Dunham subscribes to it as well.

In a recent interview, presented in more detail on my Times blog, she told me that various cultural cues exhort her and her female peers to approach sex in an ostensibly “empowered” way that she couldn’t quite manage. “I heard so many of my friends saying, ‘Why can’t I have sex and feel nothing?’ It was amazing: that this was the new goal.”

She added: “There’s a biological reason why women feel about sex the way they do and men feel about sex the way they do. It’s not as simple as divesting yourself of your gender roles.”

THE Web confuses things further, unfurling a seemingly infinite cosmos of ready possibility and abetting lightning-fast connections. Several popular cellphone apps give someone with a sudden whim for a date the pictures and physical proximities of similarly inclined prospects. An assignation may be no more than 10 minutes and 20 blocks away.

Dunham noted that the Web also fosters a misleading sense of familiarity between people who have shared nothing more than keystrokes. “All sorts of promiscuity don’t feel like promiscuity,” she said. “But a month of text messages does not a personal connection make. I’ve fallen victim to the sensation that I understand some guy’s essence when I’ve really just read 15 of his tweets.”

And there’s an emerging literature of complaint from young men and women alike about the impact of free or cheap online pornography. Early last year, New York magazine ran an article by Davy Rothbart, 36, who admitted faking an orgasm with a real live woman, learned that other men had done so as well and wondered if a “tsunami of porn” was to blame. It was titled “He’s Just Not That Into Anyone.”

Last February GQ pondered the problem from a feminine perspective. A young woman writing under a pseudonym cited her and her friends’ experiences to assert that for more and more men, “the buffet of fetishistic porn available 24/7” had created very particular and sometimes very peculiar, ratcheted-up desires.

“To compare it to another genre of online video,” she wrote, “why watch a clip of one puppy frolicking in a field when you can watch eight different puppies cuddling with a sweet-faced baby armadillo tickling a panda bear? And after seeing that, why ever settle for a boring ol’ puppy frolicking in a field again?”

“Guys my age watch so much pornography,” Dunham told me, adding that she has been subjected to aggressive positioning and “a lot of errant hair pulling” and has thought: “There’s no way that you, young Jewish man from Chappaqua, taught this to yourself.”

These experiences inform her “Girls” sex scenes, which have a depersonalized aspect. So does the sadomasochistic relationship in the best-selling erotic novel “Fifty Shades of Grey,” a publishing-industry phenomenon about a virginal college student presented with a contract to become the “Submissive” to a dashing older man’s “Dominant.” The contract covers waxing, hygiene and the frequency with which she must work out. She haggles him down from four times a week to three.

Credibly or not, the college student seems exhilarated at the start. Dunham’s more convincingly rendered characters seem perplexed, and their frustration with men raises questions about whether less privacy means more intimacy and whether sexual candor is any guarantor of sexual satisfaction.

People can be so available in a superficial sense that they’re inaccessible in a deeper one. Or, as Dunham put it, “People underestimate the importance of making solid connections.”

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