#NotMyFeminism: Lena Dunham is not our millennial feminist champion
Delusional white feminism strikes again
by Becca Tasker
As a white woman, I make a conscious effort every single day to make sure that my personal brand of feminism is more than what is colloquially known as “white feminism.” I want to make sure that my voice in the struggle for equality is one that speaks to intersectional ideas, class politics, and acknowledges my own varied privileges. I have been incredibly lucky to have a lot of really amazing role models to look to for how to do this behavior, but not every white woman who brands herself a feminist makes as an attempt to be as woke as others.
Lena Dunham is one of the most cringe-worthy mainstream feminists in media today. She’s a textbook example of whitewashed feminism, and her recent comments regarding abortion remind us that identifying as a feminist doesn’t mean that one is automatically exempt from saying awful things.
In a recent episode of her podcast, Women of the Hour, Dunham talks about how she wishes she had an abortion so that she could remove her internalized stigma around abortion. No, really. I’m not twisting those words around, or sensationalizing them in any way. That’s literally what she said.
“One day, when I was visiting a Planned Parenthood in Texas a few years ago, a young girl walked up to me and asked me if I’d like to be a part of her project in which women share their stories of abortions,” Dunham says about 14 minutes into the episode. “I sort of jumped. ‘I haven’t had an abortion,’ I told her. I wanted to make it really clear to her that as much as I was going out and fighting for other women’s options, I myself had never had an abortion. And I realized then that even I was carrying within myself stigma around this issue. Even I, the woman who cares as much as anybody about a woman’s right to choose, felt it was important that people know I was unblemished in this department.”
“Now I can say that I still haven’t had an abortion, but I wish I had,” she concludes.
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We shouldn’t be surprised at this type of, “Are you actually serious?” behavior from Dunham, though. The internet freaked out when she made some uncomfortable and possibly racist comments about Odell Beckham Jr. at the Met Gala this year as well, when he didn’t speak to her when they were sat together at a table. This led Dunham to go on an incredibly uncomfortable rant about how he must not have liked that she was wearing a tux, and that he must have been confused about where he wanted to sleep with her or not… Basically, Dunham was every neckbeard dude who makes up a “woe is me” story when a girl won’t talk to him on the subway.
This is not the type of behavior that we should expect from a champion of feminism, but then again, wishing to experience having an abortion isn’t either. Dunham must have missed this, but abortion is a medical procedure, not a status symbol. Her publicly wishing for one doesn’t make the pro-choice crowd look good in front of Republican lawmakers, either. This is another excuse for them to claim that we seek out opportunities to “kill babies,” and she should have known better.
Abortions are not something that you get that make you automatically woke and hip to the movement, either, which Dunham also suggested in her comments. I’d argue that it would make you a stronger feminist and person to be able to fight for the right to chose while never having to make that choice for yourself. It’s easy to want access to services you’ve personally needed, which is why it makes sense that many lower-middle class and working class women fight to keep Planned Parenthood funded. It’s actually arguably more altruistic to see someone who doesn’t necessarily need those services fight to keep them available.
When Dunham says that she wants to experience an abortion to understand, to get rid of her internalized stigma around the issue, she’s missing the point. I am a queer woman, and part of accepting that identity has meant struggling with my own internalized stigma around bisexulity. Coming out, as slightly as I have, doesn’t mean that I automatically lost all of that internalized stigma. Dunham wouldn’t necessarily lose all her internalized stigma around abortion if she had to undergo the procedure herself, because experience doesn’t automatically negate years of thinking a certain way.
Lena Dunham has chosen to step into the spotlight as a feminist role model, which means she opens herself up to a lot of critiques. These internal and external audits are important, because if we were operating in some kind of liberal echo chamber, the movement would never grown and evolve. That being said, we need to stop Lena Dunham’s cycle of saying or doing something terrible, giving us a half-assed apology, and moving on with her life, only to do more or less the same thing again a few months later.
My latest podcast episode was meant to tell a multifaceted story about reproductive choice in America, to explain the many reasons women do or don't choose to have children and what bodily autonomy really means. I'm so proud of the medley of voices in the episode. I truly hope a distasteful joke on my part won't diminish the amazing work of all the women who participated. My words were spoken from a sort of "delusional girl" persona I often inhabit, a girl who careens between wisdom and ignorance (that's what my TV show is too) and it didn't translate. That's my fault. I would never, ever intentionally trivialize the emotional and physical challenges of terminating a pregnancy. My only goal is to increase awareness and decrease stigma. I take reproductive choice in America more seriously than I take literally anything else, and therefore own full responsibility for any words I speak that don't convey this truth clearly. I know plenty of people will never like a thing that leaves my lips, mea culpas or no, but this apology is for the women who have placed their trust in me. You mean everything to me. My life is and always will be devoted to reproductive justice and freedom. You know how in some households you curse and have to put money in a jar? Well in mine, if you mess up your pro-choice messaging you have to give a sizable donation to abortion funds (https://abortionfunds.org/need-abortion) in New York, Texas and Ohio ?I look forward to fighting with you all for the next four years and beyond.
Her apology about her abortion remarks via Instagram, in the comments section of an image of chalkboard with the word choice written on it, was a “oh my bad, I’m sorry you didn’t get my joke” type of half-assed apology. She apologized, not for saying the comments about wanting to have an abortion, which she labels an “off-color joke,” but for how they translated. She says that she took on a persona of a “delusional girl,” as she often does. This so-called “persona” should not be exempt her from our criticisms, especially if most people are unable to tell the difference between the two. It would be more respectable for her to take responsibility for the things that she has said, and not simply brush them off in an attempt to get the media off her back.
She touts her show, Girls, as a feminist production, even though it’s about as white and upper class as it gets, while not really showing women excelling at anything besides complaining. Just because a woman does something, does not mean it is empowering or feminist or even good, and Dunham needs to remember that.
She is #NotMyFeminism, and isn’t the champion for women’s rights that millennial feminism needs. We millennial women need to work hard to make sure that our feminism is intersectional, and that starts at home. There are so many good feminist role models in our popular culture, like Emma Watson, Beyonce, and Jessica Valenti, that we don’t need to keep idolizing the incredibly problematic ones. Demand more from the self-proclaimed feminists of our popular culture, because they are the face of the movement that so many people see, and that might be those peoples only exposure to feminism — so let’s make it a positive, inspiring one.
5 years ago we gathered in Brooklyn, before season one had aired, to be photographed by Norman Jean Roy. This fall we reunited with him for our sixth and final season ? Thank you to @voguemagazine for the pictorial memories and for always supporting our little show that could. On stands now, with dream woman Ruth Negga on the cover!