Why Have Feminists Remained Silent on the Lena Dunham Controversy?

Stephanie Stark


In her new book Not That Kind of Girl, Lena Dunham wrote about being sexually curious about her younger sister, but when “right-wingers” pointed it out, she accused them of “twisting [her] words.” And in an affront to the movement to open the conversation about female sexuality that Dunham herself spearheads, all feminist media has remained quiet.


Like most other feminist millennial writers with an awkward unsureness about literally everything in the real world, I am a Lena Dunham Superfan. I binge-watched GIRLS' first season through a bootlegged HBO GO account and celebrated the second season's airing at a GIRLS launch party. I watched Lena rise to fame through her character, Hannah. I fell in love with the raw realness of the mental and emotional struggles I so related to as a Midwesterner turned New Yorker trying in vain to promote what I had seen a thousand times in movies and TV shows, and finding a crowded market of a million others trying to do the same. On my tight budget, I shelled out a week's worth of food to see her speak at The New Yorker Festival. And when her book came out, I devoured it: I laughed, I cried and I was ultimately weirded out.


The relationship Lena describes with her sister is creepy, and is not one that is representative of female sexuality. Worse, her wild reaction to the accusation that she had sexually assaulted her sister is the product of the white female privilege she is frequently accused of donning. How dare anyone make that outrageous claim about her, the innocent white girl? But the comparison she makes between herself and a sexual predator in the book Not That Kind of Girl is particularly incriminating: “Anything a sexual predator might do to woo a small suburban girl, I was trying.” Toward Grace, her sister, she is consistently needy and physically forward, at times explaining she paid her sister to kiss her on the lips or to "relax on her.” For her to retort by blaming the primary accuser of "twisting her words" is a miscredit to her own writing and it's confusing.  She made the first comparison.


It's incriminating, too, that Grace has admitted she is uncomfortable being the subject of Lena's openness about her sexuality.


“Without getting into specifics,” she said in an article in the New York Times Magazine, “most of our fights have revolved around my feeling like Lena took her approach to her own personal life and made my personal life her property.”


Can Grace be a victim if she doesn't think she is? Grace has appeared in movies with Lena, she goes to events with Lena and is on the book tour with her: it's clear theirs is a close sisterhood and that Grace didn't come to the conclusion that she was molested on her own. In fact, Lena tweeted that Grace laughed at the accusations.


But the answer is yes: a majority of sexual abuse happens between people who know one another. A great amount of sexual abuse goes unreported because of the deeply personal and private feelings of shame and confusion that follow. These are not only facts about sexual abuse but advocacy issues Lena herself is passionate about; the best support for this argument comes directly from the book Not That Kind of Girl itself, in which Lena describes a drunken and involuntary sex scene in college to her friend Audrey, and Audrey gives her a sympathetic pat and tells her what she experienced was, in fact, rape. Since the book has come out, Lena has appeared in multiple national interviews and appearances talking about that rape scene and the confusion in her realization that what she had experienced was rape.



In a conversation with a GIRLS producer where she was proposing that scene for a GIRLS episode, she says “No one knows if it’s a rape. It’s, like, a confusing situation...”


In another chapter, she describes a close relationship she had with an elementary school teacher who drew hearts around her name in class and one day put something of Lena’s down his shirt and then suggestively said “You do a lot of talking, but you never show any action” to the young, trusting Lena. When she explained that scene to her mother after school, her mother promptly removed her from the school.


And so to fail to recognize when she is a perpetrator is a failure in understanding the depth of sexual abuse and is the worst face of feminism: the stubborn refusal to see both ways. Imagine finding out that your older, and very successful feminist sister, did sexual things to you that you would not like done.  Would you feel empowered to speak out against her?​


It's been a week, and the snarky quick-witted feminists at Jezebel are still silent on the issue. It’s been trending on Twitter for two days, but no word yet from historical feminist giant Ms. Magazine, nor feminist-leaning Mic.com, nor Bitch nor BUST magazines. Is the feminist world treating this like the Catholic church treated the Catholic priests’ sex scandal? Like the NFL treated Ray Rice pre-TMZ leak? Are we sweeping it under a rug, hoping it will go away before it gets too big?


When a powerhouse for good is exposed for extreme deviance, supporting institutions turn their heads and trivialize grave accusations in order to protect their interests. In the cases of the Catholic Church, the Ray Rice scandal, and now the accusations against Lena Dunham, abuse is treated as a pithy mishap, a bad apple, a misleading vignette of an otherwise exemplary institution. The feminist world is abandoning its values just because we love her. It’s choosing to do PR for Lena instead of journalism.


Author Bio:

Stephanie Stark, a contributing writer at Highbrow Magazine, is a freelance writer and web producer out of New York City. Her work focuses on social, religious and gender issues in the US. Follow her at @stephanie_stark. This article was first posted in astarkreality.com.

not popular
Google Images; Wikipedia Commons
Bottom Slider: 
Out Slider