Until I started watching Girls, I had no idea how much I had internalized the victim-blaming, “she was asking for it” rape culture that dictates that if women wear skimpy outfits in dangerous neighborhoods, they are inviting harassment.
I don’t know if it’s because my parents raised me to think of New York City as a predatory place, or if I’ve seen too many episodes of “Law & Order: SVU,” but I am in jaw-dropped awe of the unapologetically naked way Hannah dresses.
She doesn’t wear bras and often wears short dresses and rompers, and in the episode where she experiments with cocaine and walks into a Duane Reade with Elijah, she is wearing a mesh tank top with nothing underneath. I could barely hear the dialogue because my brain was screaming, “HOW ARE YOU WALKING AROUND A DUANE READE IN NEW YORK CITY NAKED IN A MESH TOP???” It was like seeing a toddler running into a swimming pool with a pair of scissors in each hand.
And yet nothing bad happened to her. She didn’t get raped, she didn’t get groped, she didn’t get arrested for indecent exposure (not that it’s against the law to be topless in New York anyway). She didn’t even get catcalled.
Feminists are always trying to find ways to assert a women’s right to wear, or not wear, whatever she damn pleases without being harassed — hence Slut Walks, and Boobquakes and Take Back the Night Rallies. But by walking around New York City in practically nothing without even thinking about it — it certainly isn’t something that the characters ever discuss on the show — Hannah is effortlessly taking back the night with her fashion choices.
I’m not advocating that everyone start walking around the city in mesh tops, and I’ll concede that Hannah might have been harassed if she was dressed that way in real life, but the point is that on the show Hannah is safe. In Girls’s New York, women don’t have to be afraid of sexual violence. They own the streets as much as anyone else does.
It is so refreshing to see a woman wear whatever she feels like, without self-consciousness or fear. It is so refreshing that it was shocking to me. And it doesn’t say much for our culture, on or off screen, that it is more shocking to see a confident woman in a major city, minimally dressed, without fear, than it is to see yet another female rape victim who was asking for it.