That Vagina Flash On “Girls” Was Not Cute — It Was Sexual Harassment

Photo: Girls/HBO.
Last night on Girls, we got a peek at a part of Hannah Horvath that we've seen many times before: her vagina. (Specifically, her mons pubis zone, if you want to get technical.) Vulva onscreen is usually NBD, especially when it comes to Lena Dunham, who has been more than willing — some might say aggressively so — to bare all on the show. But this particular genital sighting is about more than gratuitous nudity. Hannah's pussy flash shined a light on a real gender politic problem, one that we should try and talk about. Here's what happens: Hannah is in the principal's office, being called out for comments she made to students about other staff members. It seems that she might finally get her comeuppance for less-than-professional work behavior — when she pulls what might be the least profesh move ever (depending on your field, of course). As her disciplinary fate edges closer, Hannah — who is wearing a white skirt — parts her legs, revealing that she's wearing nothing underneath. Her boss notices what's going on and completely freezes up, unsure of what to do. Hannah flounces out of his office, pleased with herself for employing this particular weapon of female power, and promptly brags to her boyfriend, Fran, who is understandably appalled by her behavior. Hannah doesn't get why Fran is so upset: She's delighted to have evaded trouble at work. But she also seems a little smug about using her body to manipulate a man into giving her what she wanted. And therein lies the real problem.

She clearly feels entitled to showing her vagina for shock factor so that she can get what she wants.

Her genital display is actually just sexual harassment, plain and simple. Sure, she could make the case that it was an "accident," if push came to shove. But the truth is that Hannah intentionally used her body — a very intimate part of it — to reshape a situation to her advantage. People have ended up on sex offender registries for far less. Girls gets that. Sarah Heyward, the writer who crafted the episode, is hardly asking us to sympathize with Hannah. Rather, we're getting to see another facet of just how very oblivious — and selfish — this character can really be. Hannah's thought process is made uncomfortably obvious through her actions and her conversation with Fran after the fact: She clearly feels entitled to showing her vagina for shock factor so that she can get what she wants. Maybe she thinks that — after literally centuries of men holding all the cards — she's earned the right to bust out her lady bits in a pinch, to her advantage. It's an argument that certainly comes up among my female friends after a couple of cocktails from time to time: the idea that men owe women power back pay, and that the chicks have finally come home to roost. (I'm not endorsing that attitude. Though often, it does come from a real place of outrage, which is what happens when you're marginalized and suppressed for most of history.) Another possibility: Hannah's typical self-centeredness has become full-blown megalomania, and this is just one more example of that spiraling out of control. But — whatever the thought process behind it — her Basic Instinct moment was a poorly plotted move. While there's nothing wrong, or dirty, or indecent about vaginas in general — or Hannah's in particular — the reality here is that she committed a crime of indecent exposure. She's no better than a subway flasher on a crowded train car. And the fact that she can't see that shows how limited her perspective really is.

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