Television's Puzzling Fixation on Women Who Are Writers

Thoughts on the similarities between Carrie Bradshaw and Hannah Horvath

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HBO

When you have a gander at Girls there isn't much that those of us from the Sex and the City generation find much in common with while watching this show. Whether it's the bizarre sense of self-entitlement (which is apparently how some 20-somethings feel about the world that is tolerating their presence) or the very ugly (oh, so ugly) sex the women seem to have with their men. I don't care about the sex. Honestly. If they think it's "raw" and "real", then good for them. I guess there must be some payoff to being so "exposed" on HBO.

But after recently watching Season One and nearing the end of Season Two I was struck by a similarity of the leading protagonist with she who Hannah is most compared to—Carrie Bradshaw—that made me wonder about the nature of these sorts of shows, particularly female-driven ones. Hannah Horvath just wants to be published. She wants to write. She thinks hers is a voice of a generation, whichever generation that might be, and this is what her destiny in life is. She goes on a coke bender for a freelance assignment.

How different is that from Carrie Bradshaw, sex columnist, eventual book author, and social commentator of Sex and the City who detailed hers and her friends' sexual exploits for her weekly newspaper column?

What does it say about these types of shows that the leading lady needs to be a creative type? Is there something that bans Hannah from being a lawyer or marketing executive, other than her slacker creed? Or is it only a woman of the written word who is up for anything in bed, open to invitations and strange men? And is there something more narcissistic involved—the hope/expectation/motivation that those adventures would wind up immortalized in print?

Or do we need to have a narrator help us through these sometimes clumsy, often awkward moments of life? Does that mean we all have an internal "it made me wonder..." voice in our minds helping us step through life?

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It confused me a little. Since I'd always believed that to be a writer, one must have experiences to be able to write about what they know. Forgive me, but Ernest Hemingway, George Orwell and Jane Austen were observers of the worlds they inhabited and there always seemed to be a lesson in their words. Hannah is barely out of college with little to zero experience in the real world—that we've seen—and is jealous of a friend whose book success stemmed from the suicide of a lover. She has an e-book deal she keeps bragging about, and the OCD anxiety over how to fill it by her deadline.

I was prepared to give Carrie a pass. She made a stupid amount of money, which was never revealed, yet it was enough to support her Upper East Side obviously stabilized one-bedroom rental and her Manolo shoe habit. Lord knows the deal she struck with The New York Star to imprint her sexual adventures. But she was a writer and was paid to do that. At least she had a job.

Young Hannah Horvath on the other hand, has been able to maintain a two-bedroom apartment in Brooklyn on practically no money but that from a freelance "let's try cocaine" assignment. Journalism never paid that well, unless you're Tom Friedman.

So why must the women of these definitive, sexually-aware series for these generations be writers? Is there now an expectation that writers are so thrilling to be around? This is truly debatable. Does this mean that creative people are the only ones who really question their destiny, their identity, and their sexuality? Because that's obviously not true. Does it add drama to the storyline? I'm not sure. I guess if Hannah wanted to be a lawyer instead of a writer she wouldn't get much empathy from the rest of her "generation," what with the whole Occupation protests etc. If she had a profession that required real dedication—going into an office every day or having to be accountable for her work every day—she wouldn't have the time or the distraction to spend two days in a Brooklyn brownstone sleeping with a divorced doctor and playing out a fantasy (ironically, of a life with pretty things that one assumes she could get if she had one of those jobs...).

It's also ironic since Carrie and Hannah's friends weren't writers and they often had more challenging life situations to contend with. Yet they weren't the stars of their shows.

There are so many creative people in the world with other labels—architects, artists, chefs, teachers, event planners and restaurateurs—yet in the two biggest female-driven shows about sex and women the aspiration is to see one's name in print, alongside something suitably witty, possibly snarky, and always insightful.

Presented by

Jamie Tarabay is a former contributing editor at Atlantic Media. Her writing has appeared in National Journal, TheAtlantic.com and the quarterly dispatch: Beyond Iraq. As Baghdad Bureau Chief for NPR News, her reporting on the war in Iraq received the Alfred I duPont-Columbia University Award. She is the author of A Crazy Occupation; Eyewitness to the Intifada.

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