Is Lena Dunham actually the evil swamp witch we all think she is?
I KNOW, I KNOW, JUST TRUST ME
by Amanda Ross
Few celebrities are as reviled as one Lena Dunham, pageboy haircut-wearer and creator of HBO’s seminal hit, Girls.
To pretend like Lena Dunham has never done anything wrong would be gross hyperbole. To be sure, she’s said a lot of things that can only be described as “dumbass shit” (and that’s a science term, by the way). But the amount of venom we spit when talking or writing about Lena Dunham feels misplaced.
So while she’s by no stretch my favorite person or even a person I’d especially want to hang out with (her fashion choices are too…bold (?) for me), I feel it my duty to do the unthinkable: defend Lena Dunham.
About that abortion thing….
Yes, she made a dumb as fuck abortion joke heard round the world. Disgusting? Yeah. Horrible to make light of something that’s so serious for so many? Duh. But consider this: does one shitty, off-color joke by a 20-something offset everything that same 20-something has done for reproductive rights?
Dunham’s been an outspoken supporter of bodily autonomy for years, and wrote two separate abortion storylines on her show. And she didn’t just write abortion arcs — she made sure each one was perceived as no big deal to the characters which is really fucking important. She’s also donated more money than I’ll ever make in my life to organizations like Planned Parenthood and dedicated her off-season to stumping for Hillary Clinton.
Does a shitty joke that she’s since apologized for really negate all of that work? We’ve forgiven famous men for much, much worse.
About that race issue….
Perhaps her most indefensible scandals have revolved around her insensitivity to race. I think though, that one instance aside (the OBJ thing, which was truly terrible), Lena Dunham is a symptom of a larger problem, not the problem itself.
One of the biggest controversies that’ve plagued Dunham since Girls first aired was its staggering lack of diversity for a show set in the most multicultural city on earth. It’s a completely fair criticism, though somewhat misplaced. Dunham’s acknowledged the feedback, but said in the first season (which she wrote mostly solo) she was drawing from her own life and would have a difficult time fully speaking to the black experience in modern America.
“It’s not one size fits all, and there are issues that women of color deal with that white women have no idea,” she said. “White feminists do not have a great history of carrying their black sisters along with them.” It seems that with every wave of backlash, Dunham does actually make a concerted effort to apologize, research and learn and do better going forward. What more, really, can we ask as person out under such a microscope?
Additionally, the bulk of blame should be placed on large networks like HBO. The network commissioned a show about neurotic, privileged, overeducated and underemployed women. That’s what they got. Because we want more diverse shows about wider swaths of experiences, we need to put pressure on networks like HBO to contract and commission them. Issa Rae’s masterpiece Insecure is touted as something of an alternative to Girls, but I don’t understand how they can’t coexist in the same universe. Why can’t we have both? Maybe it’s time to stop using Lena Dunham as a racism scapegoat and turn our critiques to the networks that don’t let enough smart, talented women of color tell their own stories. This blame is misplaced.
About those constant sex scenes….
The comments Lena Dunham’s had to face about her body are horrible and disgusting. Sometimes I can barely get through the hateful comments on my babe stories and those normally aren’t even that personal. To have professional writers claim that being “forced” (who’s forcing u, boo?) to look at her “gross” body is equivalent to rape (yup, someone said that) is horrifying and says way more about them and society and Lena Dunham.
Sorry, but that’s what sex looks like for 90 percent of the population. And I don’t know about everyone else, but I’m naked kind of a lot. So this is a pretty accurate representation of how life is for most people. To think women’s bodies need to be policed and pass some sort of un-winnable test of fuckability before being allowed to go on TV is gross. Bye, demons. There’s no just universe in which an artist is hated and needs to apologize for living her life in the body she was born in.
About the sister thing…..
This is fucking absurd. Read the book. What your conservative aunt posted on Facebook isn’t even close to true, I promise. Just read the book. No, actually, just read that passage. You don’t even need the entire book for context. You know who actually committed assault? Tons of famous men. You know who we don’t revile and hate? Tons of famous men.
About her likability….
So much of what Lena Dunham is blamed for are words and actions of a character she’s created.
The words of Hannah Horvath are written by Lena Dunham to be wrong, weird, gross, stupid, vapid, and unaware. She wrote them. For some reason, we as a whole have a difficult time untangling female actors from the characters they portray. Over the past few years, Anna Gunn’s faced major backlash for her depiction of the “unlikable” Skyler White on Breaking Bad — some commenters even threatened to kill her. Funnily enough, exactly zero people equate Walter White’s murders to beloved actor Bryan Cranston. Even one of my own coworkers, after telling him I wanted to defend Lena Dunham in a story, said, “Didn’t she call herself the voice of her generation?” We don’t need female characters to be pretty, smart or even likable to have them on TV, but we do need to be able to fully separate them from the women who bring them to life. We’ve been hating a woman for playing another woman on TV. Confused? Me too.
Defending Lena Dunham doesn’t mean she’s immune to criticism, that she’s a perfect human. Surely, she’s deserving of so much of the backlash she creates. Simultaneously, though, she’s blamed for so many things we as a society project onto her, making her a martyr for the sins of white feminism and sometimes women in general. Yes, we can critique Lena Dunham — and all women as a whole — but it’s crucial that we examine what it is we’re criticizing first.