We’ve all heard the phrase: “Men are simple.” Men have said it, women have said it, and I’m sure no one has ever meant for it to encompass all men at all times. Recently, Lena Dunham said it in reference to writing male characters for her HBO series, Girls. Dunham has been hailed by critics and fans alike for writing complex, multifaceted female characters, girls who aren’t reduced to one stereotype or another. But her male characters have been criticized as being one-dimensional, men without ambition or goals other than to impress (or even just fuck) a woman.
I watch Girls and for the most part, I like it. It’s weird and gross and often makes me uncomfortable but somehow, all at the same time, it is bizarrely appealing. I would agree that the female characters are more fully developed than the male characters but I wouldn’t go so far as to call the men stereotypes. At least, not male stereotypes. Oddly, they seem to me to fit stereotypes more typically associated with women. Charlie is so lovesick for Marnie in season one that he fails to notice how much she doesn’t want him around. Even after she humiliates and breaks up with him, he gives her one chance after another to get him back, alienates his new girlfriend and eventually cheats on her with Marnie, and when Marnie finally admits that she loves him too and wants to be with him again, all he can say is, “That’s all I ever wanted.”
Adam, who I’ve always found more than a little scary, reluctantly falls for Hannah, then pines for her endlessly, never letting go of his adoration for her even after she treats him like garbage. And when she calls him in a pathetic appeal for attention, does he tell her to fuck off, he’s got a new woman now, one who doesn’t mess with his head and call the cops on him for no reason? No. Instead, he drops everything and literally runs across town (shirtless, no less) to save her. Save her from what, you ask? Her own insanity. That’s right. She wasn’t actually in danger of anything except indulging in her obsessive compulsive disorder.
And Ray, the male character who showed the most promise as far as depth and range were concerned, has been written into a lazy slacker who lacks the drive to do anything with his life until he falls for Shoshanna and suddenly, wants to be a better man so as to keep her from leaving him.
We’re used to seeing women in these roles – desperately seeking the object of their affection despite obvious signs of said object’s indifference. (There are so many of these women, in fact, an entire book has been written and published to snap them out of it.) And it is refreshing not to see women in these roles but it would be even better to see no one in them. Not that Dunham’s men are complete caricatures; there are moments wherein they display real depth and honesty. And, of course, I’m not suggesting that no man should ever be depicted as lovesick. Personally, I don’t think Dunham has done quite as bad of a job with her male characters as some do. But she is a woman and for that reason alone, I’m sure it’s easier for her to write women.
Nor do I think that her comment about men being simple was intended to deride men as inferior creatures. She spoke specifically of the relationships men have with women in comparison to women’s friendships with each other, which she believes are more complicated because they aren’t based on sex or romantic love. I can’t say that that’s always true but I’m sure it is some of the time, especially for women and men in their twenties when so many of their relationships are about figuring out who they are and who they want to be. What I find more special about Dunham’s Girls is that her characters are as (or more) tortured over their troubled friendships as they are over their sexual relationships, which isn’t something we’re used to seeing in female characters. And I think that’s actually her point.