While walking yesterday morning, I listened to an NPR interview with Lena Dunham, the young woman who created the television series, Girls. It’s about a group of young women who live in NYC who’ve recently graduated from college and are trying to find their in life. In doing so, they struggle with issues like men and jobs and their future. But wait, isn’t that what all young women struggle with? Yes and no. While the young women I know are concerned with relationships, college, and life choices, they don’t live in the Big Apple, and they aren’t young women of privilege. And unlike the actors in Girls, many of them are people of color.
Still, the show sounds interesting and I’ve put watching on my agenda. I was young once but my life wasn’t like the character’s and her friends. They live in New York City and have had lives of privilege. I was raised in a middle class family in a small town in the South, and I went to a state supported college. Still, she’s a girl and I was a girl. She’s young and I was young. She’s a college grad trying to find her way. I did that too…sort of. I got married and did my best to combine work and a family. Still, the show sounds good.
One of the rules of writing is that you write what you know. Being a white privileged millennial is what Dunham knows. She doesn’t know about being a single parent doing a juggling act between working, taking classes, and watching Dora with her child (or children). She doesn’t know how it feels to have to save your money to have your eyebrows waxed or your nails done like so many of the young women I know do. Why should she have to write about them and their lives? Why can’t she write about her own experience?
I write about teaching, family dynamics, raising children, baby boomer stuff, aging, religion, and other topics related to my life and expertise. And since I know more about white people than people of color, they’re more likely to be included in my work. Amy Tan writes about Chinese people, and no one says anything about it. Toni Morrison writes about the black culture, and so does Tyler Perry. Thank goodness, these three gifted individuals are allowed to write what about what and whom they know. Because of their experience and dedication to the truth, the rest of the world has learned much about their cultures. As an aside, just last night I told my husband that his mother reminded me of one of the mothers in The Joy Luck Club who criticized her cooking before serving the food. If I recall correctly, Tan indicated that this was a “cultural thing.”
Dunham is half -WASP and half-Jew, and while she’s sensitive to the diversity issue and already has plans to address it in upcoming episodes, why should she have to? Why can’t this brilliant young writer and actor follow the same guidelines that other writers do and simply write what she knows?