I really wish someone told me sooner that GIRLS is basically a younger female version of Curb Your Enthusiasm.
They happen both to be shows I avoided for fear… of what I’m not entirely sure, but fear anyway, of at least my own repulsion against good entertainment. I didn’t want to end up self-righteously hating something so valued by esteemed peers (like I have with Beyoncé and Joss Whedon). On the other hand, I heard unfair criticism; mostly from bitchy gay friends who complain Dunham doesn’t deserve whoever she’s sleeping with (meanwhile nobody cares that Larry David gets to fuck beautiful women). I defend GIRLS for honor. I refused to watch it for fear.
Once I started watching, I found I really liked the show, but precisely because the viewing discomfort I have with CYE is improved upon by the complexity of a female cast. Forgive me for being the chauvinist, but GIRLS is more pleasant as self-ritualizing satire, than CYE is as self-ritualizing farce, and I find the dichotomy impossible to ignore.
My marathon viewing of the latest season of GIRLS began as an attempt to take advantage of some intermittent HBOGo access before heading to India on a vacation that would take me through Bombay to Rajasthan—a desert region famous for its forts and palaces, and literally translates to “Land of Kings.” Either way, it was appropriate viewing.
Upon landing in India, the first thing I noticed was the curious preponderance of animals everywhere. Cows, especially. Granted, I understood they were sacred animals to the majority population of Hindus in this country, but we’re talking ginormous, complacent, peaceful, not-as-smelly-as-I-feared cows. Wild cows. Just ambling down the street, across the highway sometimes, in the middle of one of the most densely populated cities in the world, and even more of them in the thinly populated desert villages, where the cows were followed by huge herds of goats, camels, peacocks and the occasional hog.
At one point on our trek through Rajasthan, our driver asked if we’d never seen animals before because we kept giggling and gasping at the sight of them on the road. I told him, “in American they’re all kept behind fences, in cages.” It was much more dramatic than it needed to be, as I will likely only be this reactionary vegetarian for two more days and then it’s back to old-fashioned slaughterhouse detritus-based lunch meats and burger cylinders.
Forget the Hinduism, it was simply remarkable to be in a country with so many vegetarians living cheek to jowl with so many animals; exotic animals at that.
The second thing I noticed was the curious preponderance of men, everywhere. I don’t mean universal man, but dudes; especially in the countryside. I started counting one afternoon in Bikaner, as we people-watched a pageant of rush hour pedestrians, scooter- and moped-drivers, and my unblinking eyes netted around 12 men for every woman on the street. That was after half an hour of eyeballing foot traffic.
There’s a Russell Peters joke about this, too, but one does in fact see straight men holding pinkies on the street (and it is indeed kind of funny). They also sit on each others laps when there isn’t enough room at the chai stand, and embrace each other from behind when hanging out on the stoop. And yes, it’s charming, but I couldn’t escape the thought that this is the same population of men who burn women for marital delinquency.
We met a fellow Western traveler who had spent close to five months in Goa before excursing to Udaipur, and asked him, “do you know what sports are popular besides Cricket?” He joked, “setting girls on fire” and then told us about recent news of a village girl gang-raped by 14 men after her father discovered she was in love with an outsider.
I know better than to assume the absence of girls is due directly or solely to the practice of “bride burnings.” I know better than to assume these are better or worse men than in America. I know that as in the rest of the world, the men and women don’t have a normal pattern of fraternization. That’s all fine.
However, the visual absence of girls in public really started to wear me down after a while. Day 8 into the desert trek, I felt what could only be described as withdrawal—headaches, irritability, loss of appetite. I didn’t want to interact with one more fucking guy. I couldn’t stop thinking about the violence against women I’d read about; the violence I assumed every man on Earth was capable of. There were men everywhere; from the hyper-accommodating hotel owner behaving as if my slave for the 24 hours I was actually in his charge, to the obnoxious textile merchants getting up in my face for a discount I didn’t want. Men. It changed the way my food tasted.
Meanwhile, colorful, gorgeous, bejeweled women would appear like a hoax. India is home to the most awesome women’s vernacular fashion. Saris, kurtas and leggings are the most comfortable and simultaneously resplendant articles of clothing. These are bar none, the best outfits for any body. Draped sheets of vibrant cottons and chiffons (and silks on special occasion), wrapped or cascading over pants without buttons or zippers. I mean c’mon. AMAZING. So when you do see a woman in India, it is a visual oasis. Yes, I’ve effectively objectified Indian women. It makes me no better than the Mattel on Barbie. Maybe this just makes me a proponent of white feminism, whatever that is, but the visceral effect of seeing one brightly clothed woman for every twelve men in dull grey-tones, is profound.
And then I found myself starving for the presence of girls. I was excited, even, by the strangest encounters with them. The pregnant bathroom attendant at our middle-of-nowhere pit stop between Jaiselmer and Jodphur, for example. I smiled like a lunatic at her, with only the faint realization that she would be cleaning up after my shit in a minute.
Suddenly it occurs to me that I might have seen more animals than women on this trip, and I get sad as all hell. Could this be some perverse parallel universe where women are kept behind fences in cages, and the driver would giggle and gasp when presented with women walking wildly down the street, peaceful and complacent?
Would that girls were sacred in any religion, though.
I happened to have been reading Maximum City by Suketu Mehta, and presently noticed that while he mentions murder and violence on almost every page—including the murder and violence against women—I counted but four mentions of the word “rape,” and one of them entirely out of context. I was saddened by the masculine apologism, but I no longer begrudge him this self-censure. I find it difficult to use the words to victimize women, myself. But it occurs to me that this might be precisely the problem—censure, inadvertent or not. There just aren’t enough mentions, presences, iterations, of anything to do with girls.
Mehta cites a great bit of wisdom from an architect who suggests the solution to India’s water supply crisis is not to bring in more water, but to train more urban planners. It’s sort of the “I could give you a fish or a fishing pole” answer to the infrastructural crisis. This tidbit has stuck with me. I have asked myself over and over, what would the equivalent solution be to the plight of women in India (or at least just their absence)? Right now my only answer is that there needs to be a curious preponderance of girls.