On Lena Dunham Sexual Abuse Controversy, Truth Revolt Has a Point

I was fully prepared to take her side, but crying "Bro" isn't going to cut it in flap over passages in her memoir.


A discussion about Lena Dunham has a way of sending everyone to their respective, petty corners.

Feminists over here. Those who are offended by imperfect nakedness, over there with Mr. Stern. Jealous writers who didn’t get a sweet advance on the book they haven’t written, right this way please (it’s getting crowded over here — watch the elbows). Casual fans who just want to relax and watch Girls? You’re a little well-adjusted for this group, but sure, there’s one corner left.

In fact, “discussion” is a generous word. Peruse the comments section of any article about the writer, director and Girls creator, and you’re in for a nasty blend of misogyny and body shaming that, frankly, we don’t hurl at Seth Rogen every time he bares his flabby ass in an unnecessary movie about rich white kids.

And so when the (extremely) right-leaning website Truth Revolt published an article last week accusing Dunham of sexual abuse, I have to admit I was all but programmed at this point to take her side. But the thing is, they make a pretty good case — after you get through the pop-up ads reading “How Leftism Violates All 10 Commandments.”

In her new memoir, Not That Kind of Girl, Dunham recounts episodes from her childhood that, yes, are pretty easy to read as abusive. I don’t want to twist her words — or pay her very expensive lawyers, who are already on the case — so we’ll just excerpt some passages, word for word, on interactions with her younger sister, Grace.

On acting like 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.”

On when she “opened Grace’s vagina”:

“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.”

On masturbating next to Grace, in bed:

“I shared a bed with my sister, Grace, until I was seventeen years old. She was afraid to sleep alone and would begin asking me around 5:00 P.M. every day whether she could sleep with me. I put on a big show of saying no, taking pleasure in watching her beg and sulk, but eventually I always relented. Her sticky, muscly little body thrashed beside me every night as I read Anne Sexton, watched reruns of SNL, sometimes even as I slipped my hand into my underwear to figure some stuff out.”

Dunham, for one, has cancelled upcoming appearances and is sounding the misogyny/right wing agenda alarm — and it doesn’t sound good.

“The right wing news story that I molested my little sister isn’t just LOL- it’s really f****** upsetting and disgusting,” Dunham tweeted on Monday. “And by the way, if you were a little kid and never looked at another little kid’s vagina, well, congrats to you,” she added.

“Usually this is stuff I can ignore but don’t demean sufferers, don’t twist my words, back the f*** up bros,” she continued. “I told a story about being a weird 7 year old. I bet you have some too, old men, that I’d rather not hear.”

Crying “Bro!” isn’t going to work this time. This isn’t an instance of some patriarchy trying to hold her down (although to be fair, she’s had experience with that). These are her words, and we can’t chalk them up to embellishment or storytelling — in the same book, she accuses a man of raping her at Oberlin College, an incident that’s now under investigation.

In case Dunham’s rant against “old men” didn’t scare you off from having an opinion (and it may have — angry girl Twitter is a scary place), her sister tweeted this defense: “Heteronormativity deems certain behaviours harmful, and others ‘normal’; the state and media are always invested in maintaining that.”

She continued: “As a queer person: i’m committed to people narrating their own experiences, determining for themselves what has and has not been harmful. 2day, like every other day, is a good day to think about how we police the sexualities of young women, queer, and trans people.”

Why does this matter? Usually, I’m of the opinion that your own vagina is your own damn business. But if we’re going to start accusing people of “policing the sexualities of young women” while casually publishing stories that border on molestation, well, it seems that vagina owners who can see through the carefully spun webs of PC rhetoric should step in.

If the more conservative nooks of the Internet have the tendency to ignore decency for the sake of an argument, the more liberal have a knack for brushing aside common sense. Somehow, we’ve created an environment where defenses like the Dunhams’ might fly — where if a man on the wrong side of the aisle questions why you’re masturbating next to a child, he’s the disordered one. Where if you have a college degree and can drop words like “heteronormativity,” your experiences are viewed through a more forgiving lens and chalked up as quirky as opposed to abusive.

Just because Dunham is a white woman from an upper-middle-class background doesn’t mean she gets to play by different rules. This one, ladies, is simply not your feminist cause.

Ultimately, this is one of those curious Internet arguments that won’t be able to exist in the real world, where people can ask in real time, “Are you kidding me?” Sure, it might generate some banter in New York, and Los Angeles might just shrug it off as business as usual. But read these passages aloud in Philadelphia, and anyone will tell you: Something’s wrong with this chick.

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