Lena Dunham, creator and star of HBO’s Girls, has a peculiar definition for the word “girl”. The show itself deals with an array of adult themes: sexuality, career, coke binges, being peed on in the shower. But if the show and the characters in it are acting out such adult themes, then why the title? As girls grow up in modern America, their privileged lifestyle allows them to enjoy all the perks of adulthood without its responsibility, creating a large generation of 20-something women that, by Jacqueline Reid-Walsh’s definition in “Girlhood”, ought to be considered girls. This acting out of true girlhood is mirrored from traditional definitions, such as the experience of the Ingall sisters in Little House on the Praire, into the modern definition of girlhood that we see acted out by the characters in Girls.
Hannah Horvath, Dunham’s character, is a 24 year-old writer who assumes the role of a girl in many ways. She is dependent, often seeking the approval and adoration of friends, lovers and strangers. She demonstrates the “vitality, playfulness, and unconventional…” (Reid-Walsh, 94) lifestyle of girls in children’s literature. With New York City as her frontier, Hannah explores her limits and makes mistakes with relatively little consequence, just like Laura and Mary in Little House on the Prairie. Most of all, Hannah and all of her friends struggle throughout the series to achieve the unrealistic expectation of true womanhood. Though it’s arguable whether or not the characters in Girls achieve it, fitting into the expectation of womanhood is a consistent theme carried through girls’ literature and is a cause of inner-character conflict for most of the stories we’ve read in class.
So though Little House on the Prairie defines girlhood in ages 5-7ish, and Jacqueline Reid-Welsh’s essay “Girlhood” defines it as late as 18, Girls makes it clear that age isn’t really a factor in who can be considered a girl. What includes someone in the “girl” category is, in fact, the way that person behaves in their environment.