The Issue Is Not What Lena Did As A Kid—But How She Framed It Now


What's the big deal? Well, the big deal is that Dunham put it down on paper, in a book to be exact.

In her new memoir, Not That Kind Of Girl, Lena Dunham, always the one to over-share and bare it all, admits to some childhood behavior that I think many others, if it were in their past, would rather keep in a vault. From masturbating in bed with her sister to other ways in which she used her sister as a sexual outlet for experimentation and curiosity, Dunham has infuriated many. It seems innocent enough, in some regards, but it also depends on your stomach for such things.

In another excerpt, Dunham admits to getting pretty handsie with her sister, too:

One day, as I sat in our driveway in Long Island playing with blocks and buckets, my curiosity got the best of me. Grace was sitting up, babbling and smiling, and I leaned down between her legs and carefully spread open her vagina. She didn't resist, and when I saw what was inside I shrieked. “My mother came running. “Mama, Mama! Grace has something in there!”

My mother didn't bother asking why I had opened Grace's vagina. This was within the spectrum of things that I did.

Yes, these are just "within the spectrum of things" Dunham did as a child, and, honestly, probably things that others have done as children, too. So, what's the big deal? Well, the big deal is that Dunham put it down on paper, in a book to be exact, and has since been labeled a monster, a sexual abuser, and someone who clearly manipulated her sister into some sort of plaything. The media is having a field day.

As someone who has often been accused of oversharing, I've become accustomed to criticism. It doesn't matter what I write, or how I write it, someone will inevitably take it out of context and alter to benefit their own agenda. If I write that I love blue eyes, I am a racist. If I write that I'm a feminist, I'm secretly plotting the murder of all men … and so on down the line. Anyone who puts themselves out there can't win them all, and, really, who wants to?

Personally, I have always found Lena Dunham to be brave. I wouldn't call her "brave" because she gets naked so often on Girls, as some people have, but brave because she doesn't shy away from topics. Dunham is the perfect example of a writer and person who opens a vein and bleeds every morning truth that others can stand to face. She is real and honest; she doesn't make apologies for who she is or what she believes, and is staunch in those beliefs. Although I can either take or leave Ms. Dunham, to not acknowledge her courage and bravery would be obtuse. I won't do that.

However, despite my opinion of Dunham and her work, and my belief that, yes, children are weird, and do strange and experimental things, my issue is how now, as an adult, Dunham framed the accounts of her childhood. If you've yet to read the actual paragraph that sparked the controversy, then allow me to get right to the point: She actually compares herself to a sexual predator.

As she grew, I took to bribing her for her time and affection: one dollar in quarters if I could do her makeup like a "motorcycle chick." 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.

Knowing Dunham's brand of humor, this doesn't strike me as odd. What I do find odd is that such a phrase was allowed to stay in the book. It's one thing to recount the bizarreness of being a kid, but it's another, as an adult, to compare yourself to such a vile specimen of humanity. Do I fault Lena? No. But I do think her choice of words was insensitive and, to be frank, basically just begging to be ripped apart by Republicans who already see her as a threat to what they think a woman should be.

I believe that people should tell their stories, all of them. I think that our life experiences are fodder for essay and memoirs, or even just brunch time chitter chatter. That's exactly what Lena was doing, but on a larger scale, with a much bigger audience, many of whom were already looking for a reason to condemn her.

Since the controversy has come about, Dunham has issued a response to all of it:

I am dismayed over the recent interpretation of events described in my book Not That Kind of Girl.

First and foremost, I want to be very clear that I do not condone any kind of abuse under any circumstances.

Childhood sexual abuse is a life-shattering event for so many, and I have been vocal about the rights of survivors. If the situations described in my book have been painful or triggering for people to read, I am sorry, as that was never my intention. I am also aware that the comic use of the term “sexual predator” was insensitive, and I’m sorry for that as well.

As for my sibling, Grace, she is my best friend, and anything I have written about her has been published with her approval.

While I am normally of the thinking that no writer should be forced to defend their work, I feel that the initial insensitivity in the use of term, "sexual predator," does ask for that, if not beg for it. I'm happy to see she has apologized, if only to, hopefully, put an end to the political right who are feeding off of this.

Lena Dunham is an extraordinary talent. She is a breath of fresh air for a generation that may have become stale otherwise. However, she isn't the most sensitive sometimes, and while that is often part of her charm, the sexual predator affiliation was just way out of bounds. But she, telling her stories, all of them, even the most embarrassing bits, is something for which I'll always think she should be admired. Her brief indiscretion should be a blip on the radar in comparison to the voice she's giving to a generation. Hannah Horvath would be proud.