Duana and Kathleen have both posted their takes today on Lena Dunham. Both wrote about how Lena’s privilege has been the source of her myopia. Which is why she is always f-cking up and apologising. Both wondered whether or not the answer was to cancel Lena Dunham. In Zinzi Clemmons’s case, her decision was to stop writing for Lenny Letter, not unlike the way Roxane Gay pulled her book from Simon & Schuster earlier this year to make a statement about Milo Yiannapoulos. Duana calls this “capital”. Zinzi and Roxane have used their accumulated capital to support their positions. As Roxane explained when she made her decision, not all writers can afford to expend their capital; she acknowledged her own privilege in being able to do so. That’s Roxane Gay though – through her personal and shared experiences and her writing, she has been able to expand the boundaries of her perspective and assess a situation not only from her own vantage point but from other viewing stations. The issue with Lena Dunham, again, is that the boundaries of her perspective seem much more narrow. When that limited perspective is driven by impulse, well, that’s when the messes happen.
To be clear, this post is intended as an addition to the previous posts by Duana and Kathleen that have already highlighted Lena Dunham’s shortcomings: a limited worldview that is far from inclusive, her privilege and her entitlement, and her hypocrisy. I agree with the identification and assessment of those shortcomings. The point of my post is to interrogate one more shortcoming: how in her ongoing disappointments, Lena Dunham has undermined her own profession.
Lena Dunham is a writer and an editor. This is her job. And she’s been, often, good at her job. Writing and editing is not spontaneous work. Writing is labour. The editing that follows is even more labour. An idea might be spontaneous and a story might come to you suddenly, but getting those ideas and stories out, shaping them so that they read the way you need them to read, it’s not the kind of work that happens in a rush. Individual words are considered and reconsidered at length. Sentences are massaged and torn apart and put back together and slashed over and over again. In that process, in the patience of that process, is where perspective can be interrogated and broadened and found. Lena Dunham has written episode upon episode of her show. She’s written for The New Yorker, The New York Times, she’s written a book. As much as you might dislike her or disagree with her and judge her, you cannot deny that she has in the past shown that she understands the discipline of writing. Some of that writing may not have been as effective as she would have wanted it to be but none of that writing was done on impulse. None of that writing was published by tapping on a button on a device.
Most of Lena Dunham’s most major regrets however, not all, but most, have been made on impulse, without the benefit of the writer’s revision and without the benefit of the editor’s check. Including her most recent regret which was the statement in defence of Murray Miller, co-written with Jenni Konner. That statement was released a short time after it was reported that Murray was accused of sexual assault. In the statement, Lena and Jenni blamed the victim and, instead of highlighting the percentage of misreported rapes as a statistic that supports how RARE and UNLIKELY it is for people to lie about being raped, used it to delegitimise Aurora Perrineau. Just 24 hours after that, Lena then had to issue another apology, this time an apology that was, sure, more thought out, more thoughtful, but also too f-cking late.
Going forward, Duana concluded that, once and for all, Lena Dunham is the voice of Lena Dunham – and no one else. For Kathleen, it’s about the voice that’s been on that mic for so long and perhaps putting down the mic for a while. But it’s also the pen, isn’t it? (Knowing that it’s more like a keyboard but I couldn’t resist the analogy, sorry.) As a writer, the writing has always been where Lena Dunham goes. This is where she built her career. This is where she claimed to be helping to build the careers of others. This week she let down victims, many of her colleagues, and possibly even a movement. This week in her writing there was no interrogation, no broadening, no finding. This week Lena Dunham let down her work.