Sisterhood Blog

The Four Daughters of 'Girls'

By Dvora Meyers

  • Print
  • Share Share
Dvora Meyers

In families, we’re often called upon to play archetypal roles — the good one, the black sheep, the fun one, the responsible one. And nowhere are those “roles” more carefully scripted and ossified than in the Passover Haggadah, where we read about the Four Sons: the wise one, the wicked one, the simple one, and the one doesn’t even know how to ask.

Of course, very few of us can wear any one label comfortably— even if my family jokingly often asked me to read the Wicked Son’s portion due to my lapsed Orthodoxy. (Don’t worry, I wasn’t at all offended. I totally relished the appellation.)

As a youngster and teen, I was never bothered by the fact that I was asked to read the male role. I hadn’t really given much to thought to the lack of female voices in the Haggadah. And I never challenged my parents by asking, “Why sons and not daughters?” I was used to the idea of a male universal and was okay with it. More than once, I played a boy in school plays. (All-girls schools’ dramatic productions reverse the rules of kabuki and Elizabethan theater.) That I wasn’t fully represented by the gender options was perhaps due to the fact that I wasn’t really represented by the character options, either. I was not wholly wicked, nor was I completely wise or simple. And hearkening to the idea that sometimes you can ask a stupid question (despite my teacher’s insistence that you could not), I sometimes kept my mouth shut when I had something that I considered idiotic to ask.

The inadequateness of the four haggadic character categories really hit me as I attempted to duplicated the brilliance of the “Arrested Development” Four Sons meme I had seen circulating around Facebook. I had just finished watching the season finale of “Girls” and it seemed appropriate to take the four female characters and try to affix the Haggadic labels to them.

Except that none of the labels seemed to fit any of these women very well. They could all be smart at times and occasionally say something so utterly insightful, you’d be thinking about it for hours after. But could any be characterized as wholly wise?

None were wise if wisdom is to be measured in careful thought and judicious action, ever heedful of potential consequences. These women make some really terrible choices, sometimes knowingly but often without any sort of awareness. Wisdom didn’t seem to fit any of these women very well. That’s why “wise,” morphed into “smart-aleck,” which is the sort of intelligence that Hannah has in spades. She is often clever, the most important type of intelligence on the Internet and Twitter.

All four women can and have acted wickedly and selfishly throughout the series.

With the exception of Shoshana, the most under-developed character, they could’ve all slipped easily into this category. Early in the show, Jessa and Hannah were the most obvious choices for this title, but of late, Marnie seemed to be gunning extra hard for the appellation so I gave it to her. But she could easily be dethroned if any of her character’s responsible nature ever resurfaces or if Hannah does something newly egregious.

And though it was tempting to cast Zosia Mamet’s naive Shoshana into the role of least knowledgeable, I couldn’t do it. Not after she showed a surprising degree of self-awareness and maturity in her breakup with Ray. She recognized that his negativity was toxic and told him as much. She understood her own needs and acted accordingly.

Early into the show’s run, “Girls” was often criticized for not representing all young women in its demographic, or even all young white women. Leaving aside the systemic issues of race, class, and diversity in Hollywood — of which “Girls” is a symptom, not the cause — there seemed to be an unreasonable expectation that a show created about women and by women should represent all of them, as though women were a special interest group or movie going quadrant instead of half of the population.

As though one show could represent all of femaledom. And as though four labels — wife, girlfriend, daughter or mother — could represent all women. For all of its faults, Lena Dunham has created complicated female characters who defy easy categorization — or at least of Haggadic variety.

Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: sisterhood, passover, lena dunham, jewish women, girls

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.

Find us on Facebook!
  • Lusia Horowitz left pre-state Israel to fight fascism in Spain — and wound up being captured by the Nazis and sent to die at Auschwitz. Share her remarkable story — told in her letters.
  • Vered Guttman doesn't usually get nervous about cooking for 20 people, even for Passover. But last night was a bit different. She was cooking for the Obamas at the White House Seder.
  • A grumpy Jewish grandfather is wary of his granddaughter's celebrating Easter with the in-laws. But the Seesaw says it might just make her appreciate Judaism more. What do you think?
  • “Twist and Shout.” “Under the Boardwalk.” “Brown-Eyed Girl.” What do these great songs have in common? A forgotten Jewish songwriter. We tracked him down.
  • What can we learn from tragedies like the rampage in suburban Kansas City? For one thing, we must keep our eyes on the real threats that we as Jews face.
  • When is a legume not necessarily a legume? Philologos has the answer.
  • "Sometime in my childhood, I realized that the Exodus wasn’t as remote or as faceless as I thought it was, because I knew a former slave. His name was Hersh Nemes, and he was my grandfather." Share this moving Passover essay!
  • Getting ready for Seder? Chag Sameach!
  • "We are not so far removed from the tragedies of the past, and as Jews sit down to the Seder meal, this event is a teachable moment of how the hatred of Jews-as-Other is still alive and well. It is not realistic to be complacent."
  • Aperitif Cocktail, Tequila Shot, Tom Collins or Vodka Soda — Which son do you relate to?
  • Elvis craved bacon on tour. Michael Jackson craved matzo ball soup. We've got the recipe.
  • This is the face of hatred.
  • What could be wrong with a bunch of guys kicking back with a steak and a couple of beers and talking about the Seder? Try everything. #ManSeder
  • BREAKING: Smirking killer singled out Jews for death in suburban Kansas City rampage. 3 die in bloody rampage at JCC and retirement home.
  • Real exodus? For Mimi Minsky, it's screaming kids and demanding hubby on way down to Miami, not matzo in the desert.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?

We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.