I scrolled Twitter endlessly this weekend, after the first part of the Lena Dunham story broke – that is, when Dunham and her partner Jenni Konner released a statement in The Hollywood Reporter, defending Girls writer and producer Murray Miller against rape allegations by then-17-year-old actress Aurora Perrineau, and referring to her allegation as “one of the 3% of assault cases that are misreported every year”.
I kept refreshing, passing by thousands of responses that echoed each other. People pointed out past Dunham controversies and dubious feminist statements – on the one hand, they’re not the point here, but on the other hand, it seems disingenuous not to mention the sexualization of Odell Beckham Jr., Dunham’s statement that she ‘wished she’d had an abortion’, explaining she wasn’t racist because of her feelings about Drake – you get the idea.
There were wagers on the timing of an apology (which were correct) and sad, salient tweets about how far rape culture hasn’t come. Still I kept scrolling, looking for… what, exactly? Obviously nobody was defending Dunham & Konner. There were people saying ‘can we be done with her already?’ and of course people – mostly women of colour – saying, “We’ve been done, where were you?” There was Zinzi Clemmons' statement on why she would no longer write for Lenny Letter, which immediately went viral. But something was missing …
Nobody in an ‘official’ capacity, no studio head or public-facing executive, came out saying they “denounce the statements of Lena Dunham, and victim-blaming, particularly from someone who herself said women don’t lie about rape, has nothing to do with the values of this show or network.” You know. A statement we’ve become familiar with in the last couple of months. The kind that’s too little too late, and probably only damage control, but that makes you think you’re not crazy.
But it didn’t happen. Partly there’s no official product right now to yank, though she has close ties to HBO – but also because, as we well know, Lena Dunham epitomizes privilege. How else do you explain two statements 24 hours apart, with no consequences?
Then again, I don’t know what the consequences should be. On the one hand, I can confidently say I think it’s time to hear from someone who’s not Lena Dunham, and to dissociate her with the ‘speaks for her generation’ label she’s had for years. Everyone makes mistakes, but she has proven she doesn’t learn from them. She’s not self-critical.
On the other hand, what’s the benefit of saying ‘she’s done’? If we tell people that when you speak up and you make a mistake you’re banished from the public sphere, what message does that send? To the MRA trolls who want Dunham to shut up no matter what she’s saying – does it tell them they win? More importantly, what does it say to young women, who we’re encouraging to raise their voices about the systemic injustices we’re finally talking to? To #ChoirUp, in Amber Tamblyn’s words? Should we continue to tell them that you can speak your mind, and that mistakes are not fatal… even if I strongly disagree with what Lena Dunham said here?
That is, the fearlessness that made her make this awful statement is the same fearlessness that made her a success in the first place – to keep talking when other people would have had her shut up, because she was too young or not slim enough or whatever. Which is what inspired some women in the first place, and which is exactly what we want to support in young women: feeling like they can trust their voices.
So I can’t stop thinking about young women who might have looked up to Dunham and Konner until now. Who would have expected to be supported if they’d had a similar allegation. I want to tell them that ‘this is why you shouldn’t have celebrity heroes’ but that’s not helpful either. There should not be any doubt now or in the future that Lena Dunham is the voice of Lena Dunham only - and no one else.