Where Are the Men in HBO’s “Girls?”

by Jose Manuel Flores

“I think I may be the voice of my generation.” Hannah Horvath said in the very first episode of her hit HBO series, Girls, and little did we know, she was right. Girls is a very well-written comedy show about four female friends living in New York while complaining about the white girl problems of their generation. Hannah Horvath, Marnie Marie Michaels, Jessa Johansson and Shoshanna Shapiro (holy shit, they’re all alliterations) deal with shitty relationships, career paths, abandonment, sexuality and all the troubles that privilege entails. Oh, and privilege is horrible, by the way. A lot of people give the show a lot of flak for how selfish the titular girls are, but they do their best given the circumstances. However, I am not here to talk about the girls.

When Hannah said she was the voice of her generation I think she was absolutely right, so I started thinking that “Girls” wasn’t the best title, not that I could come up with a better one. The show stopped being about the girls a long time ago and it became about today’s culture overall, and the boys are an important part of the show too. But maybe, in a sick way, “Girls” is the perfect title for a show that encapsulates our generation, because all the boys of Girls are neutered.

There are a lot of shows out there about emasculation, from The Sopranos to Breaking Bad to name a few, but I propose that Girls is actually a show about castration. Most, if not all of the male characters in Girls are impotent when we meet them or become so over the course of the series. From Elijah’s sugar-daddy, to Jessa’s friend from rehab, to Hannah’s dad (who is totally gay), Girls is a show about men who willingly surrender their literal and metaphorical manhood to the girls.

Take Charlie, for example, whose sensitive and caring nature towards his girlfriend, Marnie is a point of mockery and annoyance during the first half of Season 1. Hannah and Marnie complain about how nice and unthreatening he is and Hannah even writes in her dairy about how Marnie must feel awful to “date a man with a vagina.” Even after publicly dumping her in a rare moment of awesomeness Charlie still doesn’t get the satisfaction of ending the relationship. Marnie goes to his apartment for the first time in the several years they’ve been dating and begs Charlie to take her back, only to immediately break up with him while having sex. Marnie dumped Charlie while his penis was still inside her. And Charlie is not a bad guy, he’s just so bland and vanilla. He is not a man in the eyes of Marnie or the audience. What Marnie really wants is a guy with balls, like Booth Jonathan, who bluntly tells her that he’s gonna fuck her so hard it will scare her, because he is a man, and he knows what he is doing. If only Girls hadn’t neutered Booth Jonathan too.

If Marnie seems like a bitch because of her treatment of poor, ball-less Charlie, take a look at Jessa. Maybe because of her abandonment issues, Jessa seems to be a magnet for guys begging her to take their manhood away. She acts like a tease to her boss in Season 1 and to her hipster ex-boyfriend (you know, the one with a girlfriend named Gillian), and especially to her husband Thomas-John. I hated TJ. He was the definition of white privilege and what it entails. He was also seemingly 12 years old and had a twisted idea of how women work. In his introduction episode he screams that Marnie and Jessa owe him a threesome because he works hard and they’ve never had to work for a living. They were blue-balling him by shutting him out of his own fantasies and he deserved it. Thomas John tries to reassure himself that he is still a man by controlling women (which by the way, is never okay). Jessa terminates the marriage early and in defiance, smashes his most prized, phallic award.

Let’s look at “Old Man Ray”, a 30-something year old guy making ends meet as a glorified barista. He is one of the characters on the show who started out already neutered. When Shoshanna ultimately broke up him after their sweet affair, she was quick to point out how he had no interests, no goals, no career plans, nothing to live for. Unfortunately for him, she has a point. The show has never pretended that Ray is anything more than the pathetic loser we see. Even when Marnie starts revenge fucking him she acts like it’s the most disgusting thing she has ever done right to his goddamned face, and he doesn’t even mind.

Not all the recurring male characters were always a flaccid mess. Take Adam, whose dominating and borderline abusive personality actually felt like a sharp criticism of a culture permeated by the celebration of hyper-masculinity. Adam is by far the most traditionally masculine of the main cast: he is a tall brute in a moustache, he works with wood (both literally and figuratively) and he is very sexually dominating. For the majority of the show’s run I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to hate him for being such a toxic influence in Hannah’s life or like him for being the only one who wasn’t a whiny bitch. But when Adam and Hannah broke up at the end of Season 1, his character took a turn for the nasty. As the intense guy that he is, he gradually fell madly in love with Hannah, admitted she was his new purpose in life and was immediately rendered useless by a passing bus that put him in a bed for months, requiring Hannah to look after him by day while she porked Donald Glover’s character by night. Unable to use his penis on his own, Adam even needed Hannah’s assistance to pee. By Season 3 I stopped recognizing Adam as who he was at the beginning. He didn’t engage in the sick (and frankly very entertaining) sexual practices that made him unique in Season 1. He compromised his artistic vision more than once for a job, something that Hannah had suggested earlier on. He became a better man for sure, but I never felt like he was a happier man. Hannah basically took his manhood away and eradicated what he felt had made him a man, effectively castrating one of the most dynamic characters of the show.

I’m not saying it’s fair to propose that the girls are the ones responsible for all the neutering going on. As I mentioned before, they are doing their best in their own shitty situations and they all lack the emotional maturity they need to have any functional relationship. All of the characters in Girls, male or female, surrender their individuality or their sexuality to someone else in order to function in their culture. For example, Hannah lets her meek, Santa-looking boss grope her just so she can keep her job, yet Hannah and the women at her office still have all the power over him. So is it any wonder that a show called Girls, and which claims to be the voice of our generation, features no traditional “real men”? More and more shows are redefining the notions of masculinity and patriarchy, and young men are still trying to figure out what it means to be a man in today’s society. Just like Hannah, we are all trying to figure out who we are.

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