Why Hating Lena Dunham Is Dumb (Even Though She's Wrong Too)
Lena Dunham, everyone's favorite adult preteen, wrote a memoir recently called Not That Kind of Girl. There's a good chance you at least know it exists, and that's mostly because of one specific trademark-Lena-Dunham-uncomfortable passage. If you have no idea what I'm talking about, get ready to be uncomfortable right now.
At least you aren't paying for it.
The controversy centers on her description in the book of an incident that happened when she was 7 where, after learning that both she and her 1-year-old sister, Grace, had uteruses, she decided to open Grace's vagina and look for herself.
Yeah, I know. Long story short, Grace had shoved a few pebbles up her vagina, Lena screamed, her mom came out, baby Grace thought the whole thing was hilarious.
Hear me out for a second: that's uncomfortable, sure, but I don't think it's bad or anything. One, kids are weird.
Two, though it's hard for us as adults to not project sexuality on bodies or touching, Lena was 7 years old and zero percent of this was sexual. We all need to get over ourselves a little bit.
However, although it's in a different part of the chapter, the above excerpt rarely has been discussed without a mention of another section about the way, a few years later, Lena explored her sexuality with her sister, bribing her to kiss her or masturbating in the bed next to her. Lena, in her ever-unfortunate wisdom, decided to describe her actions to get her sister's attention as things "a sexual predator might do to woo a small suburban girl."
When I read that excerpt, I immediately logged in to Tumblr with an already half-formed politically correct rant in my head, but before I could type a word, a conservative website, TruthRevolt, published a critique (featuring accusations of sexual assault) so fucking stupid it sucked every bit of SJW energy right out of me.
That's the one!
Shortly thereafter, the world exploded with freakishly strong opinions on why we need to defend Lena at all costs.
I know it sounds harsh, but the reality is: sorry, no we don't. Disliking Lena Dunham and disliking people who criticize her for stupid, misogynistic reasons are not mutually exclusive mindsets. We are large; we contain multitudes. Make room in your heart for multifaceted anger.
Personally, I'm not a fan of Lena Dunham, mostly because her complete lack of self-awareness and weird, mid-20s narcissism doesn't appeal to me, despite (due to?) my also being a white girl in my 20s who can never tell if I'm completely fucking awful or better than everyone else.
Of course, I get that this particular line of reasoning might not resonate with every single one of you, so in the name of helping everyone dislike everybody, but for -- and this is the important part -- valid reasons, here's why it's OK to hate Lena Dunham and the people who hate her.
First, the easy part ...
Why It's OK to Hate Them
There are a lot of bullshit reasons people give for hating Lena Dunham that have nothing to do with this story. She gets a whole slew of hate for daring to be naked on TV while being bigger than a Size 2. She gets hate for talking about gross and awkward things women do, because we live in a society where it's a running joke that women don't shit.
She gets hate for portraying the women on her show as real people, people who are sometimes awful, gross, naked, crying, happy, fucking, etc., because people are sometimes those things and women are people. She's gotten hate for daring to talk about her own sexual assault on national television. All of that hate is based in sexism, and if you contribute to that, you're being a shitty person. See? Easy.
The TruthRevolt article that started this whole avalanche of backlash is mostly an extension of that. It's so mired in the hatred of women that it reads more like a really terrible attempt at satire than anything. The bodies and sexual exploration of young girls make the writer so uncomfortable that he decides the excerpts are definitive proof that something is really wrong with Lena Dunham.
Maybe so, but it isn't that.
To back up his already super factual analysis, the author quotes a National Review article by Kevin D. Williamson, who slithers in with his very professional speculation that her sister put pebbles in her vagina knowing Dunham would check, which, according to him, definitively points to this not being the first time Lena touched her sister's vagina, which in turn maybe (but actually probably definitely) points to Lena sexually abusing her sister.
You might recognize this theory as being pulled directly out of thin air and/or his own asshole. Williamson runs a blog that's mostly about debt and finances, subjects that weirdly don't make you an expert on anything related to children or abuse. This isn't the first time dear old Kevin has temporarily stepped away from finances to make huge leaps in logic like the one above. Once, he said he thinks all women who have abortions and all medical practitioners who administer abortions should be hanged, which is an exciting twist on the definition of "pro-life."
Good luck finding a lighthearted stock photo for that shit.
But the worst part of the article is that it ends with an editor's note saying they originally incorrectly quoted Lena's age at the time of the incident as 17 rather than 7, which, holy shit, is such a blatant bullshit move I actually laughed out loud, mostly to keep from crying at how hideous people can be.
"Typo" is probably the word that deserves the quotes.
How long did TruthRevolt's regular audience (ugh) read this story thinking Lena Dunham was in her late teens when it happened? "I wanted to see if she had a uterus" is not a valid reason for a 17-year-old to touch a 1-year-old's vagina, and that would immediately change the whole story into something actually abusive.
If you think I'm giving a website named "TruthRevolt" the benefit of the doubt and even entertaining the idea that this was an honest mistake, you've got me fucked up. Removing the passage itself, the professional analysis of the hypocritically "pro-life" dude, and the 12 million updates they've added to the story since it blew up, the author had approximately 165 words of original text to write for that story. "Seven" was far and away the most important one, in terms of details. You don't innocently fuck up that badly when accusing someone of something as serious as sexual abuse. A real, living person who is, in theory, capable of critical thought and empathy decided that that was an acceptable move to pull, which is infinitely more messed-up than anything in Lena's book.
Why It's OK to Hate Her
In the aftermath of this whole clusterfuck, Lena initially threatened to sue TruthRevolt, which is so eye-roll-worthy, I don't even have anything to say.
Just kidding, I obviously do, considering we're around the 1,200-word mark currently.
Anyway, Lena Dunham backtracking on filing what would have been a clearly bullshit lawsuit gave TruthRevolt all the "evidence" they needed to position themselves as some sort of crusaders for truth, when they're really just sort of revolting.
This is the crux of the problem with Lena Dunham and with the controversy that surrounds her: she's often criticized for sexist reasons, so then (mostly white) feminists and Lena herself refuse to answer, if not actively refute, any criticism at all. That sucks, because thinking critically about ourselves is how we become better people. You should criticize things, you should engage in arguments, you should do everything you can to avoid defending or attacking anything blindly.
Criticizing Lena Dunham does not mean you're automatically on the side of TruthRevolt and their kind, but a lot of people weighing in on this situation make it seem exactly that way.
Touching specifically on this controversy, it's not the incident itself that disgusted me, it's the way she wrote about it. Describing the tactics used to earn your little sister's affection as something "a sexual predator might do to woo a small suburban girl" is really fucked-up.
"Even I agree with that."
That's especially true when you consider that, more likely than not, she did that deliberately to make the story more blunt and abrasive, because that's Lena's signature style. You cannot make feminism a huge part of your identity and public persona and then compare yourself to a predatory child molester as a joke or for shock value.
I mean, you can, obviously, but you can't do that and not expect huge amounts of blowback. Sure, in this case the criticism took an unnecessarily ugly turn, but that doesn't take away from the fact that it was a really fucked-up thing to say. She has since released a statement saying she is "aware that the comic use of the term 'sexual predator' was insensitive" and that she's sorry, so there's that, I guess.
Additionally, her sister has said in the past that Lena has talked about her life without permission, including outing Grace to their parents without her permission, which is really awful.
Initially, it wasn't clear how much her sister had signed off on, how she defined this experience, or if she was even OK with Lena sharing it. She's since come out to support her sister writing about it, but before that, plenty of people defended Lena's right to reveal these details to the public without having to give any thought to her sister. That's bullshit. There is a point where the right to talk about your life ends and someone else's right to have you shut the fuck up about their life begins, and you're a shitty person if you don't respect that.
Current controversy aside, there are plenty of legitimate reasons not to like Lena Dunham and, by proxy, Girls or her book.
For starters, there's the much-talked-about lack of people of color in her show, despite it being set in New York. Shockingly, having Donald Glover on the show to basically act as a foil so Lena Dunham could display how non-racist she is by saying "I don't see color" didn't help her case in that argument in the slightest.
There's also the time Lena went to Japan and wrote a whole host of really fucked-up things, which range from fetishizing Japanese men to straight-up using the super racist "switching L's and R's" accent.
Or how about the time she went to India, blatantly doing the whole Eat, Pray, Love thing, and then decided India was actually dirty and gross and that she felt bad for all the starving dogs?
Lena Dunham would write the shittiest travel books.
I'd continue, but I'm worried about surpassing my vaguely defined word limit to the point that I accidentally make whoever has to edit this cry. Just look at this list if you need more examples.
The bottom line is that hating Lena Dunham because you think she's a shitty person and hating Lena Dunham because she's a woman are two very different things. In the same way, defending Lena Dunham against sexist attacks and defending Lena Dunham against all attacks are very different things. There's a lot of important middle ground between putting someone on a pedestal and burning someone at the stake.
For more from Alice, follow her on Twitter @milkwench.
And be sure to check out 5 Things You Learn From Camping (If You Hate the Outdoors) and 28 Impressive Real Facts About Unimpressive Famous People.
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