The Problem with Lena Dunham: “I’M SORRY…AGAIN.”
When announcing that I’d been asked to write a piece on serial apologetic Lena Dunham, even my own sister asked “do we really need another think piece on her?” Arguably, no, we don’t. Which is why I want to open up a wider discussion within this article, about how women should not be praised for their behaviour purely because they are women.
This statement might seem somewhat controversial for some people to read. How can I, as a feminist, say that some women shouldn’t be given platforms? Well, it’s precisely because I’m a feminist—an intersectional one at that—that I think this, and you should too. There seems to be a pressure within the media to place every outspoken woman onto a type of pedestal, in fear of being called out as misogynistic, however this action can cause more harm than good when the wrong person is highlighted.
Lena Dunham herself is no stranger to controversy, often making crude and insensitive remarks in order to be deemed comedic or “relatable”. One notable instance being on her podcast Women of the Hour, where Dunham stated “Now, I can say that I still haven’t had an abortion, but I wish I had.” Not to mention her notorious memoir in which she reminisces on the sexual activities she’d conduct on her infant sister, when she was a child. Both of these instances—and the ongoing list she has to her name—are of course undoubtedly problematic, so how does Dunham still have a platform?
One may argue that her hit show Girls is a testament to her power as a writer, and is what branded her as the “feminist” she claims to be. Of course, narratives that focus solely on the lives of women are important, but Dunham’s negligence as a writer is something that cannot go unnoticed. Although a personalised portrayal of female relationships, the show is questionable in terms of its wider representation. A lack of racial diversity, and a less than a subtle trace of transphobia and classism, is what makes the show less of a feminist triumph, but more rather an example of privileged ‘white-feminism' making it big in television. Dunham is almost a text-book example of the term white-feminism, in her failure to speak out in support of minorities, or issues that are not directly relatable to her.
So why does she still have this platform? Because Hollywood is filled with people with a similar mindset. Men and women alike. There are those who cannot see past their privilege, but by supporting a woman—no matter how hollow or problematic their work and statements may be—they think they are progressive for simply doing so. This is where the problem lies. In response to criticism made towards Dunham, people are labelled as “sexist”, purely because Dunham is a woman, which is where I think a bit more clarification is necessary.
To take issue with a woman due to her femininity, or lack thereof, purely because they identify as a woman, is sexist. To call a woman (or anyone for that matter) out on their regressive and offensive statements and actions, is not.
What hailed me to write this piece was a recent event involving Dunham, where once again she failed to stand up for all women, and instead protect her friend who was accused of sexual misconduct, purely because he’d been nothing but nice to her. In 2017, actress Aurora Perrineau came forward against Girls writer Murray Miller, stating that Miller had raped her whilst she was asleep in 2012, when she was just 17 years old. Miller of course denied such allegations, which prompted Dunham, and show runner Jenni Konner, to come forward and publicly discredit Perrineau, claiming that due to “insider knowledge" that they had on this case, Perrineau was in fact part of the “3 percent of assault cases that are misreported each year.” Ironically, Dunham was also quoted to say “While our first instinct is to listen to every woman’s story…”. This remark is what truly proved Dunham to be a woman whose concerns lie only within herself, and other white women (Perrineau is a biracial woman). The MeToo movement means nothing if people like Dunham and those alike discredit stories of those who do not hold the same privilege as them. Dunham then came forward a year later, and admitted to lying about having “insider information”. Distastefully, in my opinion, she wrote an open letter to Perrineau in The Hollywood Reporter admitting this fact, in an attempt to apologise and receive forgiveness. I say this was a distasteful move because surely Dunham’s ignorance is not something she should profit from, by publishing it? Her lies and apology were intended to Perrineau solely, and by addressing this in such an impersonal and indirect way, Dunham managed to once again place herself above a fellow woman, hiding behind typed words in a prolific magazine. Thus, Dunham drew more attention to herself, rather than giving a meaningful, and private apology to Perrineau.
If I were to write an article about all of Dunham’s ridiculous controversies, I think it would become more of a dissertation, and it would most likely drive me insane. White feminism exists throughout the media and Hollywood, and I truly believe some view it as a trend to adopt, in order to please the public and be deemed relevant and cool—and it’s really not that hard to spot.
Feminism is more than “just women”. In being a feminist, you are supporting POC, the LGBTQ+ community, those with disabilities, and the dismantling of harmful stereotypes across all genders in order for us to live in an equal world.
No one is more superior than the other. Feminism is not about tearing people down, it is about raising people up, destroying hierarchies, and existing on a level field. Everyone deserves the same respect, the same opportunities, and the same level of dignity as those who are known to have more privilege.
Sure, freeing the nipple and not feeling like you have to shave are important on some level, but when we look at the world and the things that are said and done, feminism remains to be much more than that, and it’s important we do our best to enforce intersectionality in our feminism, rather than look out for our own privileged kind. This is what Dunham, and so many more people who are given platforms within mainstream media, fails to understand.
I just know—and I’m sure I speak for many people here—that I could do without reading another apology from ill-informed and righteous celebs. There is always time to evolve and better ourselves, and having a platform does not change this.