There Is No “Shoshanna Problem” On HBO’s “Girls”
11:30 am, May 3rd | by Laura Donovan
Given all the press HBO’s new series Girls has received less than a month into its first season, I’m of the opinion that there’s little more to add to the conversation. But I have noticed what appears to be a bizarre campaign against one of the show’s main characters, Shoshanna — and while it’s silly to get worked up over attacks on a fictional person, I’m uncomfortable with the reasoning behind her unpopularity.
Girls comes across as a less glamorous Sex and the City. It stars the multi-talented, self-deprecating Lena Dunham as Hannah, who is forced to become a real adult after her parents cut her off financially a year out of college. Marnie has a full-time position and dresses like a real grown-up, but is so repulsed by her sensitive long-term boyfriend that she cannot stand to look at him when they sleep together. As The Daily put it, Jessa is Samantha from SATC without ambition or fancy clothes. That leaves Shoshanna, the token inexperienced girl. From the start, it’s clear Shoshanna (played by Zosia Mamet) is not going to be anyone’s favorite character, as she enjoys talking about SATC a little too much and babbles into her cousin, Jessa’s ear without realizing her more worldly family member isn’t listening. But the amount of criticism on Shoshanna for being naive seems misguided. Take for instance Jewcy‘s complicated recent piece, “How Do You Solve a Problem Like Shoshanna?”:
“Shoshanna is everything the girls of Girls aren’t. She’s still in college. She has no financial concerns. And most importantly, she’s never had sex, a seeming character flaw that she admits to bashfully. With the third episode behind us, it’s time to ask the question that’s surely on everyone’s mind, or at least everyone here at Jewcy: Does Girls have a Shoshanna problem?…[I]t’s only Shoshanna who we laugh at, and never with.”
It must be said that Jewcy defends Shoshanna, who has been declared an “uptight Jewy girl…who believes in unicorns but doesn’t swallow.” Jewcy states that Girls seems to outright mock her, but the site also calls her character “absurd” and someone who “has no business being on the show,” so the treatment of Shoshanna isn’t entirely fair there, either. The writer doesn’t seem to think it’s acceptable that Shoshanna has been belittled by viewers for her purity, and while it definitely separates her from the others and even makes her the butt of one of Marnie’s jokes, her virginity doesn’t make her a mutant panda freak who doesn’t deserve air time. Mamet herself has said Shoshanna is a “Jewish American Princess,” a stereotype I’ve despised and fought my entire life as a Jew myself, so it makes sense that some would find fault with Girls‘s portrayal of a young Jewish woman.
I can’t say I know many people of Shoshanna’s age who still have their v-card, especially here in New York, but it’s actually not that uncommon for some to hold off on that experience. Research from last year shows that more young folks are delaying sex, and perhaps Shoshanna’s character simply has no interest in giving her innocence to an abusive dimwit such as Hannah’s hook-up buddy, Adam or the artist guy who comes onto Marnie at a showing and says “The first time I fuck you I might scare you a little because I’m a man and I know how to do things.” Well, that’s worth waiting 22 years for.
Shoshanna’s virginity sets her apart, but given the program’s content, it’s likely that she won’t hold the title for very long. If and when that does change, it’s unclear whether she’ll be able to relate to her friends, as she is far from their go-to girl in crisis. The argument that everything is handed to her, however, is missing something. Like many college students, Shoshanna is supported by her family, and some fans of the show don’t appreciate the contrast. Hannah’s parents financed their daughter’s life a year after she finished school, though, so one cannot argue that Shoshanna is the spoiled one of the pack.
The swipes against Shoshanna, which have been all over the web since Girls debuted last month, seem like more of an assault on people similar to her than a critique of a character. Other knocks on her come from guys, and not exactly stand-up ones at that. Jezebel recently interviewed a 27-year-old Brooklyn man about his thoughts on Girls and the first thing that came to mind when he thought of the series was Shoshanna:
“David Mamet’s daughter. I kinda want to have sex with her…Not her character, though. ..I really like her eyebrows.”
He seems like a step above half-bro, half-hipster Adam, so I don’t really value his perspective on Shoshanna anyway. Besides, he doesn’t even delve into why he dislikes her. We can all probably guess, but much of the backlash against Shoshanna has been unnecessarily hostile, especially since every single person on Girls displays questionable behavior — Marnie dismisses her boyfriend for being too nice and Hannah joylessly allows her sex partner to say she is “not allowed to cum” without his permission. Though I don’t care about the decisions of these girls, it’s odd that Shoshanna would be so hated when the habits of everybody around her are just as debatable.