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Leslie C. Bell, Ph.D., LCSW
Leslie C. Bell Ph.D., LCSW

What Lena Dunham’s Girls Know, And Dora the Explorer Doesn’t

On the virtues of taking risks

Too many of the messages twenty-something women hear about their development have to do with being in control and grabbing the reins. While I’m in favor of being the masters of our own destinies as women, I also want to advocate taking risks that render us a little out of control. Risks that may result in missteps and mistakes, but from which we learn more about ourselves and what we want.

The realism of Lena Dunham’s HBO series Girls has been much lauded, or decried depending on who’s doing the commenting. Amidst all of the unsatisfying sex, frank conversations, and sensitive portraits of twenty-something’s, I am most heartened by the way the show takes on the risks inherent in the twenties. The show depicts the painful risk-taking and failures of the twenties, although these are somewhat cushioned by the privileges of money.

The first time I watched the show I found myself cringing at the sex scene in which Hannah goes to her erstwhile boyfriend’s house for sex to make herself feel better after being “fired” from her internship. I was cringing with some horror, but also with recognition. Recognition of the pain involved in taking risks and making mistakes, which the characters in Girls do regularly.

The twenties, as those of us currently living through them or remembering them honestly know, are not for the faint of heart. Filled with uncertainty about the present and future, they can be anxiety ridden. With few rules and limited structure, it can be tempting to prescribe something, anything to lend some coherence to them. My prescription for the twenties is to take risks and make mistakes. This may not be the surefire prescription some twenty-something’s are looking for, but it is the one that my research on and work with twenty-something women support.

My seven year old frequently points out how unsatisfying she finds Dora the Explorer. Not because of the inane songs or the repetitive plots, but because everything always turns out okay without any mistakes made or any real risks taken. At seven she knows that this is not the way the world works. The girls on Lena Dunham’s risky show know this too.

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About the Author
Leslie C. Bell, Ph.D., LCSW

Leslie C. Bell, Ph.D., LCSW is a psychotherapist and sociologist who specializes in women's development and sexuality.

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