EDITOR’S NOTE: The viewpoints in this article do not represent the opinions of The Writer’s Bloc.
Feminists, we have a problem.
There’s a serious threat to our credibility, and people are starting to take us less seriously than they already do.
Our problem is affecting how others see the feminist movement, and it shouldn’t even be raising questions about feminism in the first place.
Last week, the conservative media reported finding troubling details in Dunham’s new book, “Not That Kind of Girl.” The pages contain graphic descriptions of what objectively seem like instances of Dunham sexually abusing her younger sister, Grace.
Dunham describes looking for pebbles (what?) inside her infant sister’s vagina as a 7-year-old (a passage so uncomfortable that I won’t repeat it here), and casually mentions masturbating next to Grace’s sleeping body as a 17-year-old.
She writes about bribing her sister with “Three pieces of candy if I could kiss her on the lips for five seconds. Whatever she wanted to watch on TV if she would just ‘relax on me.’ Basically, anything a sexual predator might do to woo a small suburban girl I was trying.”
Later, Dunham says she “still secretly cherished her presence in my bed. The light snoring, the way she put herself to sleep by counting cracks in the ceiling, noting them with a mousy sound that is best spelled like this: Miep Miep Miep. The way her little pajama top rode up over her belly. My baby girl. I was keeping her safe until morning.”
Two things are weird about this.
First, the behavior itself: the six-year age difference between Lena and Grace means that regular, childhood curiosity (the kind where four-year-old boys and girls look at each other’s privates) is not what’s at play here. It’s not normal for an adolescent girl to bribe a toddler into kissing them on the lips or “relaxing on” them.
Secondly, the way the adult Dunham describes the behavior is equally disturbing – as a grown woman, she chose the predatory phrasing scattered throughout her memoir. Remember that Dunham outed Grace as gay to their parents and has written about how Grace is an “extension” of her, with Grace saying that most of their fights started because Lena “made my personal life her property.” Lena and Grace’s relationship seems like one between an abuser and victim.
I haven’t read the full book, and I’m not a Dunham fan. She’s shown instances of racism and Islamophobia, made jokes about molestation, and seriously commented on being proud that her New York apartment only cost $430,000.
Even the biggest Dunham fan has to admit getting some jeebies while reading the questionable passages in her book. It’s not crazy or irrational to see the red flags elicited by Dunham’s own words.
Still, people – white feminists in particular – are jumping to Dunham’s defense, buying her argument that the scandal resulted from conservative media painting her as an abuser.
As someone who is decidedly not conservative, I find it hard to believe that the mess Dunham is in is anyone’s fault but her own. The right wing may have broken the story, but Dunham published it in the first place. And, it’s not like conservatives are the only people up in arms – pretty much everyone is, select Dunham fans excluded.
So, how does this relate back to feminism? Dunham is self-described and publicly recognized as a feminist – and now some people are proclaiming that her actions are characteristic of feminism as a whole, partially because a lot of feminists are sticking up for her.
I already hated that she represented feminism in any way – her racism, crassness, and appropriation and fetishization of anyone who’s not a “weird” white girl is annoying and not illustrative of feminist thought. There are far superior women who should be our leaders and figureheads.
Fellow feminists: whether or not you ultimately recognize Dunham as an abuser, please understand that her entire career has been nothing short of abhorrent. Maybe it’s time for us to start vetting who we allow to represent us a bit more thoroughly. It’s definitely time for us to stop defending disgusting actions simply because they were performed by white millennials’ favorite quirky “feminist.”
Shannon McHale is a senior journalism major and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.