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…

… 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.

About Monty

I got authority problems and a freegle on my bicep.

Posted on November 3, 2014, in blogging, books, culture/ethnicity/race, feminism, mental health and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 62 Comments.

  1. This is perfect. I wanted so desperately to weigh in on this, but I don’t think I could’ve done a better job! Well said.

    Part of the feminist narrative, and whAt often gets ignored, is that for tre equality to transpire, women must not only experience all of the rights that men have had for years, but also to be taken to task for the same acts that we would rake a man across the coals for. Dunham’s book is her literary expression, and she has a right to say or not say whatever she chooses, but her public tweets in response to the criticism are baffling; I just can’t like her for her “excusing” her own actions and trying to make everyone who clearly sees how hurtful or potentially hurtful her actions were seem like they’re the real problem. She’s a public figure, a celebrity, and so her actions are far more scrutinized than ours are, and as a male feminist, I’m embarrassed by her. She’s not the face of feminism she claims to be.

    • Right on dude. Yeah, I mean, I don’t necessarily agree with Lena Dunham as the faceplate for our generation’s feminist movement. I’m not gonna sit here and be the police and go “You’re not a feminist, you’re not–” because that’s not for any of us to decide. But the perceived impossibility of the male survivor and/or female offender narrative means we really need to start supporting everyone who has survived violence or abuse and holding accountable everyone who has perpetuated it.

  2. I disagree with boycotting someone’s work because you disagree with their personal life. But I do like your article. Nicely written.

    • Thanks dude! It’s not even so much that I disagree with her personal life (I still listen to NOFX after all) but that I don’t want to support her career any longer if it means she’s trying to profit off of things like these excerpts.

  3. I could be wrong, but I don’t necessarily believe that Lena Dunham owes us an apology. I don’t think she has to publicly state that it was wrong for the benefit of everyone else. If we believe that she’s not a pedophile and that Grace gets to decide whether or not she’s a victim, and she has decided she was not victimized, isn’t it pretty much between them at this point? If no crime occurred, why do we personally need to hear her admit fault to a public that doesn’t really have a place in her and her sister’s relationship? Just offering a different perspective…

    • Your perspective is completely valid and I see where you’re coming from. You’re right: it’s not our apology to receive. Was I personally made a victim by Lena Dunham? No. And it’s up to her sister to direct the narrative on whether she was or not. But it’s about a greater picture. Does it directly & personally affect me what goes on between two sisters I’ve never met? No, but the overarching social connotations do. If we, collectively, have a hard time seeing that we’re more affected by identity politics in potential abuse situations than the abuse itself, then we’re gonna hear more & more of this:
      –“Men can’t be raped by women.”
      –“Why do you care? They were just a kid, they didn’t know any better.”
      etc. etc. etc.

      There’s no action that completely exists within a vacuum. For Dunham to come out in her book and admit that she behaved in a way tantamount to how a sex offender would behave, then deny that what she did was wrong, the implications of that could be dangerous.

  4. Reblogged this on Sig Nordal, Jr.

  5. mustaphabarki2014

    Reblogged this on Engineer Marine Skipper.

  6. Some in the audience can be miles ahead of the thinking of a writer or even director. But we all hit some mark somewhere and miss other places. The danger comes when we fail at an awareness of the misses.

    Oh if Lena had the depth of self reflection in this article….

  7. good article

  8. Reblogged this on youngjamaican.

  9. I’ve never heard of this women before but reading that extract of her book was disturbing. I think she wrote about it, and compared herself to a predator because at some level she either knew what she was doing was wrong and wanted to be called out on it or she really thought it was the best way to get her sisters affection. Its the sitting and watching her breath for hours that twists my stomach, because when your willing to pay to be kissed, how far will you go for free.

  10. I SO appreciate your perspective! I like the show “Girls” and I have wanted to read Lena’s new book for some time now. However, Lena could have and should have used better judgement about publishing these experiences…
    We all have childhood moments we are probably not proud of (and I don’t think Lena’s actions were inherently sexual, but they were not appropriate)- it requires judgement, which Lena lacked in some of her memoir stories.

  11. I am forced to wonder where a seven year old Lena learned that behavior…

    • imho neither one of them were abused as children, if that’s the implication. But again it’s less the behavior and more the intentions & thought processes that concern me.

  12. bluespiritmuslimah

    after reading Lana’s actions Mothers will think twice before they put their children in the care of their eldest siblings. It is quite sad that we are not safe in the hands of our own siblings who are supposed to protect us.

    • I think it’s important siblings learn to care for each other. I cared for my eleven years younger niece when we were small; I never once felt the way Dunham described, wanting to create an absolute dependence on me.

  13. Molly Golightly

    I agree with what you’re saying, because while I am also a ‘reluctant fan’ of her work, when I was about five years old my mothers friend’s son (a 6 year old) made me play a game. This game was ‘doctor’ where I had to take off my dress and pull down my stockings, so he could touch my “privates” with a cottonbud and “examine”. While to a lot of people this wouldn’t be a big thing, it really affected me – and I literally managed to block it out of my memory – when I was 17 this memory came back to me suddenly and it was extremely traumatizing. Now, this kid was 6… but if I saw him today, all I would want was for him to admit he did something wrong, and say ‘hey that was fucked up, I’m sorry’. So I agree, wholeheartedly.

    • That’s what I’m saying. Children are indeed capable of traumatizing each other. To say that “they don’t know any better” is a cop-out… we are here to teach our children behaviors that encourage each other.

      I am quite sorry to hear that this happened to you Molly.

  14. Well written contribution to the abuse debate. Although it is simple to say all people should be equally valued but more important everyone is so different in their reactions. What is good is that the sisters do get on and somehow honesty and a desire to accept and explore raw childhood emotions may have helped

  15. I’m torn because she shared her truth and may have paid dearly for doing so which remains to be seen. How does one take back regret.

  16. “Grace Dunham does not believe she was abused. That means she was not abused.”

    Sorry, I don’t buy this. If someone is abused, and their abuser takes pains to ensure that the victim doesn’t think of it like abuse, they are still abused.

    For example, someone with a controlling SO who monitors their phone and computer usage, and who prevents them from seeing friends and family is abused. It doesn’t matter if the victim thinks, “He or she is just doing this because they love me.” They are still being abused.

  17. Reblogged this on brendanmcentee.

  18. Professor Mayhem

    Reblogged this on Slightly Left of Centre and commented:

  19. may i also suggest that grace saying “… determining for themselves what has and has not been harmful” is not the same as grace saying, ‘ i did not find what she did harmful’ -never is it the same and especially not in the context of speaking about someone who it is said is very private. [‘…the fact that she’s a very private person’ ]. also, and of course i mean no disrespect/disregard but isn’t there truth in the idea that by the nature of what abuse/molestation do to a person the only answers to were you abused, are, i don’t know or yes.

    • I think of women who hold very patriarchal faiths (the Quiverfull movement, for example) whose husbands use said faith to manipulate them into submission, using methods which by all rights could meet definitions of abuse. Some women leave these communities and report back saying they were abused, but many do not. It is not for me, an outsider to those communities, to ever tell a woman in that position that she is being abused, or brainwashed or anything like that. However, I do think that I can evaluate the situation and make the statement that the actions are consistent with definitions of abuse. It’s a big difference to say “You were abused” versus “These actions committed meet the definition of abuse.”

  20. My story is slightly different in that I was being sexually, physically and emotionally abused. But when I was a very young child (younger than Lena in her retelling) I know I hurt my brother, who was about a year younger than me. He doesn’t even remember the thing I did – and I hope he hasn’t been traumatised by it. It certainly wouldnt be classed as abusive, much more exploratory but it came with much more knowledge than the average 6 year old would have, because of my experiences of rape and torture.

    I guess my sense here is that a) I worry about what she had experienced to give her the knowledge to act as she did, and b) children of that age really are not responsible for their actions. The adults around them are responsible. In my situation, I wholeheartedly blame myself and it has been exceptionally difficult to process it in therapy for the shame and guilt. But I don’t think I owe anyone an apology except for my brother. My abusers, however, owe me, my brother and society in general an apology, because the situation would never have happened if they hadn’t hurt me the way they did.

    Hmm. I’m not making sense. I guess I just feel uneasy because this feels like you are blaming her. And she was just a child. That makes me feel uncomfortable.

    • To hear how trauma has compounded your guilt, it is a testament to how all adults are responsible for protecting all children. I’m so sorry to hear what you went through as a child.
      Carroll Dunham (Lena & Grace’s father) is a painter of very graphic images of the female body. However, my own parents (although they weren’t artists) were never discreet in their display of the human body, in a way that wasn’t inappropriate (think: open-door bathroom policies) but also wasn’t inhibited. And although I was not shy or ashamed myself of the natural body, I don’t recall behaving as Dunham did. You’re right, though: we really can’t hold children accountable for their actions, to a point, because they’re so influenced by the actions of those around them.

      We can, however, let them know that they’re not acting appropriately–and, of course, take every step to protect them from any abuse that may be taking place–and I’m not sure that the Dunham parents did that for their children. In a separate part of the memoirs, she describes answering “When I’m bad… my father sticks a fork in my vagina.” when asked at age four what her parents did to discipline her. Rather than scolding her for speaking like that, her father simply took her to go to sleep. (Lord, my parents would’ve had a field day.) I am not blaming Lena as a child for what she did. However, I’m trying to hold her accountable as an adult to realize that what she did was wrong, because nothing I’ve read in this memoir seems to dictate anyone has held her accountable for anything.

      • Presumably he didn’t actually stick a fork in her vagina! I guess I leap at shadows – that comment worries me because how would a child know that anything goes IN her vagina? Most if not all non – abused children consider their vaginas to be external – it really isn’t until puberty that the concept of it being internal becomes focused. But then I definitely do jump at shadows and, as you say, he should probably have told her that wasn’t appropriate.

        I do value your opinion but I guess we do just hold different views. I don’t think she needs to be held accountable for anything – she was a child. The legal age of responsibility is ten. She was obviously being exposed to things she shouldn’t have been, even if that wasn’t out and out abuse. I guess I come from the different side of the coin – and I am now very worried about posting on my blog about what happened when I was a very small child, for fear of judgement that I was WRONG. Clearly the action was wrong, and that I was being raped was wrong, but I don’t want to be labelled as wrong. I was a child. A tortured child… and I genuinely didn’t know any better. And I’m not sure there needs to be an apology for behaviour acted out as a child under those circumstances. But then maybe that’s because I’ve paid my therapist enough over three years, with the intention of stopping me from holding the feeling that everything that happened to me was my fault because I was bad or wrong.

        I do wonder whether the apology you are seeking is actually from the adults surrounding her as a child and through to adult development. It sounds as if they were very lacking.

      • No, I don’t think her father (or anyone) abused her during childhood. But a parent needs to have both the judgment & wherewithal to let a child know when their comments or behaviors are inappropriate. Her parents definitely failed her on that end.

        To clarify, I’m not judging Dunham as being wrong to mean that she’s a bad person or that she should’ve been held accountable like an adult would be for the same actions. It’s honestly eerier to me that a seven-year-old would act with the intent to make another human being dependent on them, as Dunham described. The later descriptions of masturbating while bed-sharing with a child go so beyond the sphere of what is acceptable that it’s clear she was simply never, ever held accountable for her actions. I obviously hold the adults in her life accountable though.

        I understand, both in an academic sense and a personal experience sense, what it means to self-blame after surviving trauma–and I deeply apologize if I came off like I wanted to encourage that or perpetuate it. I don’t feel the same way reading your comments as I did when I read these excerpts. Our perspectives or philosophies may differ but trust me you have an ally & supporter in this. I have only support to give, and I thank you for sharing your experiences.

      • I will find myself a copy of her writing and have a proper read 🙂 thank you for your support. Best wishes x

  21. I agree with you but I dont agree with boycotting.

    • Why not? I don’t want to support any more of Lena Dunham’s work now, especially since her entire career has been built on willfully-ignorant selfishness.

  22. Absolutely brilliant, I couldn’t have said it better!

  23. The answer is probably, “no, you’re being over-sensitive”

  24. Thank you so much for your posts, especially regarding this very important and sensitive topic!
    Thank you for caring enough to dig deep and put it out there for the world!
    I have nominated you for the Very Inspiring Blogger Award!

    If you would like to accept please follow the link below! Keep up the great work! Dr. Dee~

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