Lena Dunham
Lena Dunham (Photo: Getty Images)


Can Lena Dunham call herself a feminist when she can’t see beyond herself?

Dunham’s unwillingness to believe a woman alleging rape is a startling example of her privileged and self-centred world view, says Marisa Bate

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By Marisa Bate on

Well, we’ve been here before, haven’t we? The Girls creator, feminist and all-round wonder kid of elite New York stock has had to apologise yet again. Dunham’s apology repertoire is a long one – you can find an extensive list here. The 31-year-old has a habit of saying things that are at best insensitive, maybe naive or, at worst, offensive, racist and all that is ugly and harmful in liberal white women – and liberal white feminism.

Her latest statement/apology drama however is a real cacophony of bullshit.

Dunham released a statement after actress Aurora Perrineau accused Girls writer Murray Miller of rape. It roughly translates to: “Yes, I believe all women. But not *that* woman, because *that* woman is accusing my pal of rape. And he is, like, totally innocent.”

The real kicker of Dunham's vocal disbelief of a woman alleging rape – in this new age of believing women that she’s so supportive of – is that she brings out a statistic of false allegations: “the 3 percent”. Just at a moment when we are *finally* believing women for the first time about a crime that society has done its damndest to undermine, trivialise and pretty much fictionalise, Dunham, the so-called voice of a generation, brings out evidence that women lie. And it can’t be unnoticed that Aurora Perrineau is a woman of colour. Dunham has been accused of racism in the past, from the whitewashing of Girls to the hypersexualising of black men after she sat next to Odell Beckham Jr at an awards ceremony. I’m pretty sure Dunham would vehemently deny being racist (in fact, she has), but she does seem to be as vehemently in denial about her individualistic and privileged outlook.

Of course, feminists are humans, and humans make mistakes, but Dunham keeps making the same ones. And while she apologised unreservedly about her initial statement, saying that, “Every woman who comes forward deserves to be heard, fully and completely, and our relationship to the accused should not be part of the calculation anyone makes when examining her case”, she’s not a naive twentysomething opening her mouth without thinking any more. She’s an adult who’s been playing this publicity fame game long enough to have no excuses. So, what is her “excuse”, exactly?

She is eradicating the stories of other women, women who aren’t rich white women, denying their experience, even accusing them of lying

I think the clue to Dunham's motivations come in the apology. She writes: “I naively believed it was important to share my perspective.” (Let’s translate this into Latin and hang it over the mantelpiece of the internet.) That sentence alone is an admission of how central her belief in herself is to her world view – the importance of her own opinion, the importance of her opinion to the world. And, in turn, it reveals that at the core of Dunham’s feminism is her – not a political movement that has been built on, at times, a very real sacrifice for the greater good (and which puts other women before oneself and certainly before men accused of rape), but her, a 31-year-old New York socialite.

To quote Jessa Crispin, the controversial writer of Why I Am Not A Feminist: A Feminist Manifesto, “Feminism is not about you.” But for Dunham, it’s always been about her: Girls was sort of about her; she wrote a memoir in her twenties; her online magazine is called Lenny (although this does have a very intersectional outlook in its coverage). Even her brilliant advocacy of real body shapes is about her – she used her own body to defy media conventions, admirably, but always keeping herself as the reference point by which she sees the world. We know the millennial voice is the story of the self – the selfie literally writ large. And Dunham is exemplary of this – she cannot see beyond her own reflection.

And this is hugely problematic. Because, with her exceptional influence, Dunham's got lost in a hall of mirrors and is only seeing – and reflecting back on her huge platform – herself and her own exceptionally privileged world. A statement that supports a man accused of rape over a woman of colour, in a moment of unprecedented universal solidarity, underlines not only how spectacularly out of touch she is, especially for someone who is perceived to be a cultural curator, but also the reality of Dunham consistently only picking up her own reflection (which, again, is limited material for someone who claims to be a creative). In this way, she is eradicating the stories of other women, women who aren’t rich white women, denying their experience, even accusing them of lying.

This is the sort of middle-class and upper-middle-class liberal white feminism that saw so many women of colour feel excluded from the second wave. Fast forward 50 years and not only are white women voting for Donald Trump, but there’s also now a market to exploit a womanhood that exists only to serve itself. Today, feminism is about ourselves and now that’s up for sale, flashed about on Instagram. Dunham isn’t exactly a Sheryl Sandberg, but the story of her has made her (even) rich(er). And now she’s using her voice to doubt other women. Clearly, we are a very long way from feminism.


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Lena Dunham (Photo: Getty Images)
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Marisa Bate

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