Why HBO’s ‘Girls’ is Problematic

For those of you who have seen the HBO series, “Girls” you knew this was coming. If you haven’t, watch it! Well…maybe read this post before you dive in.  

A few weeks ago I was reading Roxane Gay’s, Bad Feminist, a collection of short stories. One of the short stories discussed the show “Girls” and all the issues that were associated with it. I had heard mixed reviews about the show and decided to start my deep dive into analyzing the show. Through my research (aka eating ice cream and binge watching TV), I found out that this show is…unique to say the least. Groundbreaking? In many ways. Problematic? In many ways. This was one of the first shows to highlight the controversial topics of race, sexuality, gender and privilege. It’s a show that is made to make people uncomfortable. However…they missed the mark on a few big topics. 

First, they had an all white main cast. New York City is one of the most diverse places on the planet and they had an all white cast. Without a Black, Indigenous or Person of Color (BIPOC) as a lead character, the show fails to share the stories of underrepresented communities and can lose a large portion of potential viewership. This is pretty common with many TV shows about friend groups – Seinfeld, How I Met Your Mother, Friends, Sex and the City. This isn’t new and the media needs to do better.

Second, they had little BIPOC representation at all throughout the show. The main cast was all white and they truly didn’t make an effort to add any BIPOCs. There were a couple instances of diversity (i.e. Donald Glover as a brief love interest) but for the most part, every single character was white. This is not okay. It does not accurately represent the diverse communities in New York City let alone throughout the United States.



Third, the main character’s backstories show extreme privilege and lack of social awareness. Lena Dunham’s character, Hannah, was fully supported by her parents two years out of college. You read that correctly – two years. When her parents decided to cut her off, she was livid. Don’t get me wrong, everyone’s situation is different. Sometimes, people are supported by their families and loved ones for longer than they’d anticipated. That’s perfectly fine – this scenario was Hannah refusing to take accountability for her life and pursue her dream as a writer (which I can fully empathize with…) while freeloading off her parents. Although each character is different, they all have a similar story. They have financial and emotional support whenever they need it. That is a huge privilege that is never directly addressed throughout the show.

Lastly, they romanticize toxic relationships. Hannah and Adam, the main couple in the show, are beyond toxic. Adam, played by Adam Driver, is flakey and noncommittal, the king of gaslighting, peed on her in the shower without her consent and constantly uses Hannah’s feelings for him to manipulate her. So, yeah. It’s not super healthy. But she keeps going back to him. And she continues sacrificing great relationships (like with Donald Glover!!!) to stay with him. But Hannah loves Adam. Isn’t that enough? The romanticization of their toxic relationship is not only hard to watch but also somehow makes you root for him. He really is the king of gaslighting if he’s even gaslighting the audience.

Another lasting issue with the show is that the writer and main star, Lena Dunham, is problematic herself. She has made insensitive statements like that she “wishes” she had an abortion in order to empathize with women who have. This is not the first off putting statement by Dunham and it makes it difficult to support the show when the main writer and director is surrounded by controversy. There are more problems with this show. There are also glass ceilings they shattered. It’s meant to be uncomfortable and make you question certain aspects of life.

However, there could have been more effort and initiative when it came to diversity, inclusion and portraying healthy relationships. Maybe that’s the point? Maybe the point was to force people to observe the horrible toxic relationship. Maybe the point was to gawk at their privilege. Maybe the point was to feel uncomfortable by the Whiteness and start the conversation about race. Feel free to comment and let me know what you thought of “Girls”. And don’t worry if you’re a Hannah but think you’re a Marnie – we’ve all been there. It gets better.

Yasi Agah is a born and raised Californian living out her dreams in New York City. She loves to read, write, listen to podcasts, and teach yoga. Becoming by Michelle Obama makes her cry every time she reads it.


  1. Yasi! Such a great review of the show. Spot on and fantastic writing to boot. Keep the reviews coming. You’re a talented writer.

    1. Yasi Agah

      Thank you so much! I appreciate the support 🙂

  2. Roshanak Mozafar

    Fantastic review and great observations! You rock Yas Yas 😘😘😘

  3. Leah

    I feel like you hit the nail on the head when you said that the point of the show is to make people uncomfortable about all of the things you listed. In your opening paragraph, you referred to the show as media, and I disagree. I think it is art and that should be expressed as honestly as possible, even if it makes you feel uncomfortable. Don’t represent the world you wish was real, represent the world that is real and hopefully the one that we truly deserve will spring from that. Great review!

    1. Yasi Agah

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts on that Leah! I see the argument that the show is art and the purpose is to highlight the reality of people’s lives – as uncomfortable as it may make them.

  4. I have always known this was a problematic show, but I love it, and I don’t know if that makes me a bad feminist. It’s funny, it’s absurd. And I think some of this absurdity comes from the bubble that it exists within. It is not representative of real life, well it is if you live in a bubble.

    It almost mocks how shallow and unaware it is, I think that might be part of the point.
    And on the surface level, this show is entertaining, and sometimes I think it’s okay to exist without giving an important message or perspective.

    But I do agree that it should have included more POC, not only would it have been inclusive, but it probably would have been flat-out better.

    1. Yasi Agah

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Maria! Don’t get me wrong – I loved the show too. I don’t think it makes anyone a “bad feminist”. It is certainly meant to make viewers cringe. At the end of the day, I did feel like there were major gaps (i.e. little to no POC) that I wanted to share through this article.

  5. Fran

    I think the blatant display of privilege, whiteness, narcissism, complete lack of self-awareness and toxicity by pretty much all characters IS the critique and commentary. So in my opinion, all these issues are very much addressed without someone explicitly explaining it. Not as much on the nose as white lotus, but still pretty obvious.

  6. SamanthaL87

    You are a good writer and don’t want to discourage that – but I really get frustrated that shows like the Sopranos, Wire and Breaking Bad (endless) exist depicting toxic insulated men, their social circles, bad and narcissistic behaviour, etc, but the moment women take centre stage it gets the title “problematic”. Ofc it is, they are all pretty much awful people who have moments of goodness. Its the only show to date that shows how toxic female friendship can be (instead of romanticising it constantly), and how we as women tend to hold on to female friends WAY too long when they aren’t healthy for us. It’s the only show to explores how directionless Gen Y felt when they graduated in the midst of the GFC in 2008. And when the show introduces a character of color organically ((ie Shosh in Japan for most of season 5, or the surfing instructor Hannah had an affair with played by the amazing Riz Ahmed) instead of trying to force one in there (Donald Glover), it works. It also makes total sense that for self-involved white women, the only PoC in their world would be through work, study and travel. Many people stick to what they know on both sides of the cultural divide, an unfortunate byproduct of a society that SAYS its multicultural but isn’t.

    All in all, badly behaved women should be allowed to exist on tv, and the goal shouldn’t be to redeem them any more than all the male antiheroes on our screens. The show makes people shift uncomfortably and examine their own narcism while allowing for character growth in certain individuals. Meanwhile, I would find myself shouting at the screen at the regression of others (Hannah refusing to tell the Pakistani father about their baby, the selfishness of that, not thinking about how disconnected her biracial child will feel not knowing their heritage or dad – and also loathing Marnie but loving Shosh and Ray in the end). I rewatched it all recently and its honest instead of idealistic, and there just isn’t much content letting flawed Gen Y women tell the stories, mostly because we don’t really allow them to be flawed. It takes talent to create a dark comedy about awful women while giving us space to relate to their predicaments…but you can’t watch the show expecting nobility. Depiction is not endorsement… I have never encountered anyone that wanted to be like the women in that world. They are who we don’t want to be… and that is the whole point.

    P.S: Lena has always apologised and taken accountability for f*cking up. Always. I think she is unfairly maligned as the poster child for everything wrong with modern feminism, like it all stems from her when it doesn’t.. Imo we need to give space for people to own their stuff and do better, which Lena has always strived towards. She puts her innermost thoughts out there for the world to pick apart, and good for her for always being willing to listen and owning her sh*t. She is tone deaf, but at least its all out there and she is trying to do the right thing in life… its more than many others could say.

    Unrelated: I wish Roxanne would revisit Orange is The New Black, as the story being centred on Piper wound up being a red herring, and it ended up being about this extraordinary tapestry of women from every race and world. Hard to watch at times, in the sense that watching women get brutalised by an unjust system is always difficult viewing. But it went way beyond what the first season suggested.

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