Looking to the lifestyles of twenty-somethings as an indication of what's broken or wrong with our society is a time-honored tradition, and it's only gotten worse considering that we millennials (yes, I'm one of them, sorry) have been largely defined both by our tendency to overshare and access to the technology that allows us to do so. As it turns out, our constantly broadcasted activities have proven to be great fodder for analysts on the lookout for normal human experiences that can then be repackaged as frown-inducing trends. Like young people having bad sex, for example. Apparently, this is a totally new thing and it's ruining our lives.
Trendspotters were given the perfect gift with the 2012 premiere of Lena Dunham's Girls, a show that, rather than be treated as what it is — the artistic expression of one woman — has been dubbed as a representation of all American twenty-something women. Nowhere is this more true than in the series' often gritty and uncomfortable depictions and discussions of sex and dating, bringing some viewers to conclude that we millennial women simply don't know what to do with all the sexual freedom that our feminist foremothers fought for and that maybe — just maybe — we'd be happier if we could settle somewhere between all of the shitty sex we're free to have now and all of the shitty sex we were forced to have solely with our husbands a hundred years go.
New York Times writer Anand Giridharadas recently brought this argument up in an article comparing Girls to another very popular tv show about privileged white people, Downton Abbey. Giridharadas wrote:
The drama [of Downton] is this world's cracking under the pressure of new ideas like individualism…But now fast-forward a century, and these social upheavals, beginning auspiciously, have ended badly on Girls.
What begins on Downton as a new liberty to follow your heart, to dare love that others find unwise, has culminated in Girls in romantic pursuits that are dully mercenary and often unwise.
The daughters of the sexual revolution are depicted without much agency: Far from being conquerors, initiators, even equals, the girls of Girls are reactors, giving in to an ex who changes his mind, or a gay man wanting to try something, or a financier seeking a threesome that he manages to upgrade to traditionally twosome marriage.
According to Giridharadas, Girls "is about atoms that desire in vain to form molecules; about sex lives that breed more confusion than excitement; about people with the liberty to choose every day, on various dimensions, whom to be — and who grow very tired of the choosing."
While Giridharadas argues that the liberty to choose has made people — primarily women — more depressed, anxious and unsatisfied, the fact is that his analysis of women is based entirely in fiction. He's not the only one spinning tall tales; ver the past couple of years, there has been argument after argument over whether or not today's sexual environment is actually good for us. But, seriously, anyone who pushes the idea that bad sex and stress in relationships is the 20-something woman's biggest cross to bear has a very limited view on what it means to be a woman.
Yes, dating can be hard and shitty sex is something that happens. But, really, it's not that bad. We can handle it. As a matter of fact, compared to the struggles of first and second wave feminists (and especially compared to the struggles of those who the first and second wave feminists left behind) the occasional bad hook-up is a risk we're willing to take, no matter how overwhelmed we get by the "liberty to choose."
Yes, young modern women suffer their share of anxiety, depression and feelings of isolation, but that doesn't mean that anxiety, depression and isolation are strictly modern problems. A selection of women has always suffered from depression — the only difference is that now we get to call it "depression" rather than hysteria and it no longer means that we have to get our uteruses cut out or get locked in some room with trippy yellow wall paper. Bad sex isn't new either. Up until 2009, the clitoris remained a mystery to science, so do you really think that Lord Grantham gave Lady Grantham the D with her pleasure in mind? No fucking way. He was doing it so that A.) he could get off and B.) he could produce a male heir to inherit Downtown because none of his daughters were legally allowed.
None of this is to say that today's dating environment is as good as it gets and that modern day women should take whatever bullshit they can get, but I feel pretty safe in saying that the answers to making it better are not in the past. Yes, these days, women might encounter partners who are selfish in bed but that's not a result of sexual liberation. If anything it's leftovers from a time where a woman's sexual pleasure didn't matter at all. The key difference now isn't dissatisfaction, depression and anxiety. The key difference now is that we can choose to walk away and that's a choice we're happy to keep making.
Image by Jim Cooke