Questioning Lena Dunham’s ‘Girls’ Nudity Is Stupid, But Judd Apatow’s Response Wasn’t So Smart, Either


Did your parents ever let you open one present on Christmas Eve because you couldn’t WAIT for Christmas morning? That’s how I feel today, because even though Girls doesn’t premiere until Sunday, we’re already fighting about it! Welcome to Think-Piece Season, everyone. We begin this year with more discussion of Lena Dunham’s nude body, thanks to Tim Molloy of The Wrap, who got into a fight last night with Judd Apatow after asking Lena Dunham, “Hey, why are you naked all the time?”

This all went down at the Television Critics Association, which hosted a panel featuring Dunham, Apatow, and Girls showrunner Jenni Konner. Molloy asked, in a particularly weirdly phrased way, the following question:

I don’t get the purpose of all the nudity on the show. By you particularly. I feel like I’m walking into a trap where you say no one complains about the nudity on ‘Game of Thrones,’ but I get why they’re doing it. They’re doing it to be salacious. To titillate people. And your character is often naked at random times for no reason.

Dunham’s response was, “It’s because it’s a realistic expression of what it’s like to be alive, I think, and I totally get it. If you are not into me, that’s your problem.” Molloy obviously took umbrage at the last bit. (“That’s not what I said,” he claims, either truly failing to understand or playing dumb about the fact that the subtext of the ongoing question about the nudity on Girls is, “Why is Lena Dunham naked?” — not, “Why is there nudity on this premium-cable television show?”)

While I won’t blame Lena Dunham for not simply side-eyeing the male reporter and replying, “I have already answered this many times,” I will point a finger at Apatow, who took the opportunity to respond to Molloy’s question with a knee-jerk cry of misogyny — proving that even Judd Apatow uses “misogynist” when he really means “sexist.” Apatow also chose to make his response personal, asking Molloy if he had a girlfriend and calling on him to imagine how she’d feel about his apparent misogyny.

Then it got worse, and in a moment that is both incredibly hilarious and particularly telling about how arguments regarding feminism often work, Dunham and Konner left the event, while Apatow and Molloy (two dudes, I mean), stuck around for another game of Dudes Solve Feminism. And this is where it gets embarrassing for everyone.

Look, Girls has been on for two full seasons now, and we’re starting a third. It’s a polarizing show, and one that falters, generally, because Dunham is much better at writing moments of brilliance than carrying a story forward. That’s how I feel about the show, at least: as a whole, it doesn’t work, but Dunham sure is great at provoking people who watch it into aggressive reactions — and not just towards her, by the way. It’s a conversation starter, and that’s why it’s sticking around despite pretty low ratings. While I’m not a great fan of the show, I can at least acknowledge that it’s doing something smart: it’s getting people to talk about feminism in a very specific and macro way.

One of the ways in which Dunham provokes her audience is her nudity. While she’s not an unattractive woman, she’s also not a “classic beauty” or a “Hollywood type” or any of the other pseudo-polite ways writers find to say that she is not super-skinny or whatever. (Trust me, even as a gay man, all of these phrases are disgusting for me to use, but my point is: you know what I mean.) But she’s making a point: nudity is a fact of life, and the naked bodies we see in popular media should not be limited to the conventionally sexy and trim Game of Thrones cast. She’s normalizing bodies we don’t often see in popular culture by showing hers to us. I don’t think this is particularly tough to understand, especially for anyone who has been watching the show since its premiere.

Yet Molloy claims he still doesn’t understand it, and his question, on a basic level, seems fairly unwise. On the other hand, Apatow’s response seems equally silly and intense, in a fairly unwarranted way — not to mention somewhat dishonest. Let’s take a look at what he said when the conversation escalated after the panel was over:

“As a TV critic you don’t understand why a show about young people in New York who spend some of their time naked, and some of their time having sex, includes women who sometimes are naked and sometimes have sex?” “Then why aren’t all of the characters naked?” I asked. He said a show about me would feature me naked some of the time. “Then why aren’t all the characters in your movies naked some of the time? … Paul Rudd wasn’t naked,” I added, referring to “This Is 40.’” “There’s male nudity in ‘Walk Hard,’” he said. “I have people naked when they’re willing to do it. Lena is confident enough to do it so we have the opportunity to talk about other issues because she is braver than other people. If Paul Rudd said to me, I’m willing to be completely naked in the movie, I would use it. If Seth [Rogen] said he was willing to be completely naked — he showed his butt in a post-sex scene in ‘Knocked Up’ — I would use it because it’s more honest.”

I think it’s nice that Apatow pulled out his “This Is What a Feminist Looks Like” T-shirt to defend his colleague, even if his brand of male feminism is typically misguided. But let’s think, for a second, about how he compares the “realism” of the nudity on Girls to his own oeuvre. Can you really argue that male nudity in Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story or Knocked Up is “honest” in the same way as Dunham’s on Girls, when male nudity appears in those films as a comedic trope? Because this is how nudity in pop culture works: it’s provocation or comedy when the nude person in question is either any man or a woman who doesn’t happen to look like, say, Megan Fox. Lena Dunham knows this, and I think she’s tired of having to explain it to men who ask her why she’s topless so often. Apatow’s heart was in the right place, but even he still doesn’t quite seem to get it.