Asking “Was it molestation?” is like asking “Was it racist?” The answer is probably “Yes.”
I’m going to engage in a full boycott of Lena Dunham’s work until she takes personal responsibility for her actions and admits that what she did was wrong.
I don’t mean she needs to reveal that she’s a pedophile (she’s not), that she traumatized her sister (she didn’t), or that she hasn’t sought help for her character defects throughout her short life (she has). I just want her to admit that she was wrong.
Today, Grace Dunham tweeted in favor & full support of her sister…
As a queer person: i’m committed to people narrating their own experiences, determining for themselves what has and has not been harmful
— Grace Dunham (@simongdunham) November 3, 2014
… and that’s great. The two last things I would wish on anyone in this or any similar situation are to have their narratives taken from them or to be insistently-made to feel victimized. For this to have occurred with Lena & Grace continuing to have a strong sister relationship and no trauma occurring, that’s awesome. But that doesn’t make what Lena did right.
For reference, for anyone just stepping into the disturbingly-hot bath that has been this scandal, Lena & Grace have been responding to accusations by websites–initially right-wing news sources but the discourse has found its way into feminist circles as well–that Lena, aged seven, molested Grace as a toddler. These accusations come from excerpts of her latest book:
What, for me personally, takes the issue beyond simple (if not dark) childhood curiosity and into a more predatory nature, is this quote:
“Basically, anything a sexual predator might do to woo a small suburban girl I was trying. … What I really wanted, beyond affection, was to feel that she needed me, that she was helpless without her big sister leading her through the world.”
I have been a reluctant fan of Dunham’s work for a while now. It was in 2010 when Tiny Furniture came out: my own experiences were so far removed from the upbringing Dunham portrayed that I was outright annoyed that more upper-middle class white women were getting to wear the Feminist Crown. Where were the portrayals of working-class women? Of women entering male-dominated trades? I put my prejudices aside and watched Girls when it came out anyway. I figured dismissing work on the basis of not relating to content was the biggest artistic mistake our generation’s collectively made.
And I liked it. Lena Dunham is a talented writer. Yes, she would more likely be nowhere if she grew up like I did: in blah-blah-blah parts of the Midwest with not a lot of money and zero artistic connections. (Now’s not the time for the meritocracy debate.) But her work, I believed, lampooned her own willful ignorance of that fact. She made fun of her privilege just like I did.
But there’s no making fun with excerpts like these.
It’s really touchy for me, because I do agree that all survivors–whether they identify as such or not, or believe they were abused/assaulted or not–need to define their own narratives. Grace Dunham does not believe she was abused. That means she was not abused. But what if another survivor had the same exact experience, and felt traumatized? Are we, as survivors, to judge our experiences based on our own reactions to them or the actions themselves? What this begs is the question: why do we react how we do to certain experiences?
Part of my criticism with the modern feminist movement is that we do not widely seek to hold women accountable for the things we want to hold men more accountable for. Is it simply that it’s really hard for us to consider that a seven-year-old white girl from SoHo did something predatory? What if Lena had been a boy? What if Lena had been a boy, and a different race? What if Lena had been a boy, of a different race, from a shitty part of the Rust Belt like my kid? There is no room for identity politics when evaluating the actions of others. This is why what Lena did was wrong. It doesn’t arrest Grace’s narrative, or portray Lena as this very dark sexual predator. But it does condemn her actions.
And, yes, Lena was seven when this happened. And, yes, as the Salon article states…
… she was a curious, sometimes dark kid with self-identified boundary issues that, as was made clear in the book, she has been working her entire life to address through therapy and in dialogue with members of her own family.
… and I think that’s great. Lena Dunham has spent her entire career self-identifying her own character flaws, but has she ever actually admitted that she could’ve hurt another person with her own self-centeredness?
Kind of. On the subject of outing her sister as gay to their parents:
“Basically, it’s like I can’t keep any of my own secrets,” Lena said. “And I consider Grace to be an extension of me, and therefore I couldn’t handle the fact that she’s a very private person with her own value system and her own aesthetic and that we do different things.”
This is one of the most honest lines ever uttered on television, and one I’ve related to more times than I can count.
Look: as an artist, I know we use art, humor, and media to comfortably prevent ourselves from internalizing too much the fucked-up things that make us artists. One can build a career by honestly revealing each character flaw on their sheet. They can pose nude for shot after shot, glorifying the imperfections of their body in praise of what “real” women look like. They can break barriers of women in media. They can satirize the flaws, or perceived flaws, of an entire generation. They can write an entire book about all the disturbing things they’ve done and how much time they’ve spent in therapy trying to purge themselves of them. But that’s not the same as admitting wrongness.
There are a few people in my past for whom I would immediately forgive without question upon hearing the words “I fucked up, I did the wrong thing, and I’m sorry.” Most of whom, at the time, had no idea that what they were doing was wrong or could hurt someone–and may not have even cared if they did. I’m not calling for anyone else to do this. I’m not calling for the end of her career as we know it. But I need to boycott Lena Dunham’s work and I’ll support anyone else in doing the same.