In Defense of Shoshanna


When people ask me to explain Girls, I generally tell them that it’s about four 20-somethings who are trying to become grown-up women. It’s a show that addresses the differences and transitions between being a girl and a woman. And then people say “Lena Dunham is naked a lot” or “Is Adam a rapist?” and the conversation gets away from me very, very quickly.

What it means to be an adult — in this case, a woman rather than a girl — is an important question, though. There’s a great story in Answered Prayers about Truman Capote going to visit Colette. In the course of their conversation, Colette asked Truman what he wanted most in the world. Truman answered that all he really desired was to be a genuine grown up. Colette replied that such a goal was “Impossible. Voltaire, even Voltaire, lived with a child inside him, jealous and angry, a smutty little boy always smelling his fingers.”

The notion of being grown-up — beyond someone who doesn’t sniff their fingers all the time — is dependent on the individual. You see that on Girls. Hannah (Lena Dunham) seems to think that maybe it means having a brownstone and possibly an e-book deal. Marnie (Allison Williams) wants to be a professional singer and, apparently, date an Ewok in capri pants. Jessa (Jemima Kirke) thought she could grow up by marrying the only venture capitalist who made money during the recession. (Much belated spoiler — that plan was not successful).

And then there’s Shoshanna.

Shoshanna Shapiro might outdo Voltaire.

Admittedly, if Voltaire couldn’t pull off genuine adulthood, it would seem a big burden to place on Shoshanna Shapiro’s (Zosia Mamet) young shoulders.

But I think she might manage it. She’s not quite a grown up yet, but she’s close.

Because what you consider a fully formed adulthood differs for everyone, maybe it’s simpler to first look at how we regard childhood. The defining feature of childhood seems to be near total selfishness. Children think the world revolves around them. They’re supposed to think that. They’re children. It’s fine. Only when we get older are we really able to think and act in a more selfless way.

Unlike the other characters on the show, Shoshanna isn’t completely self-centered. She doesn’t expect everyone else to meet her needs immediately. And the other characters really, really do. Hannah spends the last episode making the man downstairs cut her hair and demanding her father loan her money because she can’t meet her work deadlines. Marnie decides that now that ex boyfriend Charlie is successful, she can just go out with him — but not before yelling at him in public that he has to go out with her. Jessa, well, Jessa has just dropped off the face of the Earth. None of them are concerned about one another.

Except for Shoshanna.

Shoshanna isn’t a child, because she’s invested in the wellbeing of people other than herself. Even when there is no apparent benefit to her.

The show began with Shoshanna offering to let her cousin Jessa, whom she hardly knows, stay with her for however long she wants. Jessa begins rolling her eyes at Shoshanna as soon as she arrives. The fact that Shoshanna is still obliging strikes me as remarkable, given that I have about a three day maximum visit time with appreciative people I’ve been friends with for years. More recently, after Jessa disappeared with no forwarding address, and the rest of the group seemed to decide that she’s a hustler, Shoshanna continues to wonder if Jessa is safe and happy and maybe wearing linen.

Now Marnie is living with her. If Marnie is paying rent, it’s because Shoshanna found her work. Shoshanna, remarkably by the standards exhibited by every other character on the show, was willing to stop snuggling with her boyfriend and make calls on Marnie’s behalf as soon as Marnie lost her job.

She is also endlessly supportive of everything anyone around her tries to do. Marnie wants to be a singer? Shoshanna thinks it is great that she is following her dream. Charlie sold an app? Shoshanna forces her boyfriend to go to his celebratory party and, while he grouches, tells Charlie that they are so, so happy for him. Hannah is having party? Shoshanna gets there early, compliments the décor, and brings a cheese plate.

The fact that she’s 22 and seems willing and able to take care of everyone is pretty amazing.

Yes, she does all of this awkwardly. She communicates with emojis and air quotes and she dresses in a way that is either very brave, or drawn entirely from Sex and the City re-runs. But how she behaves is just plain nice, most of the time.

Nice but not recognized. For all the shouting about what does or does not equal being a good friend on the show, no one seems to notice that Shoshanna is a spectacular friend.

A particularly unfair moment in this season’s finale is when Ray’s boss dismissively exclaims that Shoshanna just wants a man who can buy her purses shaped like bread products (Shoshanna has a purse shaped like a croissant, and I bet it’s adorable). Perhaps he does not realize that Ray is “between apartments” and thus Shoshanna is the reason Ray has a kitchen to sit in and devour baguettes.
Through Ray, Shoshanna seems to be drawing her own definition of adulthood. It’s a definition that has nothing to do with having a rich husband (Marnie) or literary fame (Hannah) or the freedom to go wherever you want whenever you want (Jessa).

After finding out that her 33 year old boyfriend is homeless, and has been crashing in her apartment, she confronts him saying, “You’re older than me. You should have your own place. You should have interests, and passions, and things that you do. You get up every day, and there’s nothing, unless you’re going to work.”

She is absolutely right. Those, unlike a lot of the other characters’ more farfetched notions, are reasonable goals to hope someone will achieve by their 30’s. It’s reasonable to expect someone to find activities they like and work out a living situation. This is not the same as Jessa expecting her husband to support her while she reveals her heroin addiction to his conservative parents, nor Marnie being upset that her boyfriend Charlie shaved his head to support a co-worker going through chemo.

Shoshanna is totally willing to help anyone she knows accomplish whatever they want. If you told her that your dream was to go directly to hell in a hand-basket, she would engineer the basket and pack it with light linen clothing and aloe vera. Unlike the other characters, who are comfortable wailing whenever they don’t get their own way immediately, Shoshanna’s challenge seems to be figuring out how to assert herself enough to get what she wants.

At her friend’s impromptu party, Shoshanna describes how she thinks having Ray living with her will be good, because eventually all of her kids will depend on her, so this is good preparation for the future. That’s true, except that they will be children. Shoshanna shouldn’t have to be the mother to a group of people who are all older than her.

After dallying with the doorman — something about which she feels crippling guilt — and encouraging Ray time and time again to develop any interest in anything — Shoshanna finally breaks up with him. She explains, “I can’t be surrounded by your negativity while I’m trying to grow into a fully formed human. You hate everything. You hate the sound of children playing. You hate all of your living relatives. You hate people who wear sunglasses, even during the day. You hate going to dinner, which you know I love. You hate colors. You hate pillows. You hate ribbons. You hate everything . . . Maybe I can deal with your black soul better when I’m older, I just can’t handle it now.”

Shoshanna is trying to grow into a fully formed human. She’s also proving that she’s brave enough to try to do it by herself.

While Marnie is explaining to Charlie that they are now old fogies about two days after getting back together, and Hannah is getting her ex- boyfriends to hold her, Shoshanna seems to have decided that she does want to grow up, and she can do it on her own.

Early in Season Two she exclaimed, “I am woman, hear me roar”. We finally did.

The desire to be a genuine grown-up isn’t enough to make it happen. Being a genuine grown-up, as Colette points out, might not even be possible. But if it’s not a completely attainable state, then aspiring towards it, and learning to appreciate life around us, and taking care of one another may be the best we can do.

Shoshanna Shapiro, more than any other woman on television right now, seems to understand.

Jennifer Wright is Editor-in-Chief at The Gloss. Follow her on Twitter @JenAshleyWright.

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