Why The Sexual Assault In Last Night's Girls Was Important

Photo: HBO/Craig Blankenhorn.
When I started watching last night's episode, I thought I knew exactly what to write about. From the beginning, it was poised to be a story that's so incredibly Girls you can't believe it hasn't already aired. A prominent writer is accused by four different women of sexual assault. Hannah writes an opinion piece about it. The two meet up to clear the air. What ensues is a half hour of discussion about sexual assault allegations led by the two characters least suited to articulate it.
"Everything Last Night's Episode Of Girls Got Wrong About Sexual Assault Allegations" I wrote down in my notebook. After about ten minutes of arguing, it was clear the two weren't going to reach a satisfying conclusion.
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This frustrated me. I thought this was going to be a moment when Dunham (disguised as Hannah) used this platform to succinctly nail why we should believe women when they come forward with sexual assault allegations about powerful men. I wanted to fist pump as an argument only a writers room of feminists could make was laid out point by point.
But it wasn't. Instead, Chuck argued that the women who came forward were looking for attention. Lena argued that the reason they gave the blowjobs in the first place was because they wanted to feel seen. Both arguments purported that the women were looking for some kind of validation, and neither were convincing — or in the case of Hannah's, enough. They left out the giant in-between area that many survivors of sexual assault know exists.
But then I realized the reason they left it out: we were about to watch it happen. Suddenly all my notes became irrelevant as Hannah crawled onto the bed next to an author she admired and he surreptitiously took out his (fake, by the way) penis and placed it on her leg.
This is when it would be natural to yell at the TV like you were watching a horror movie. Get up! Run! Leave! But instead, Hannah momentarily obliges the prominent author who has been repeatedly accused of doing exactly this.
And here's why: when you've lived your whole life being told that you're supposed to be quiet and agreeable, when you live in fear of even a stranger thinking you're a bitch, it can seem a whole lot easier to just give a handjob you don't want to give rather than make a scene.
It's why Hannah, even after she stands up for herself, still stays to listen to his daughter's music. Slamming the door in a face of a child felt worse than sitting next to the person who just assaulted you for another ten minutes, even though she has every right to leave and never talk to him again.
This episode of Girls validated a type of sexual assault that is too often brushed aside. But giving a handjob when you feel awkward or uncomfortable is not consenting — it's relenting, and by putting it on screen, Girls just gave hundreds of viewers reason to believe that their feelings about a similar instance in their own lives are real.
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