Here’s A Thought: Lower Your Lena Dunham Expectations and Do You

Lena Dunham, creator of the TV show “Girls” and best-selling memoirist, is like a yard sale: someone else’s trash is another person’s treasure and whether you consider her one or the other, the Internet-at-large wants to slap on a coat of teal paint and repurpose her body/words/work into whatever micro-personal agenda is particularly fancy that day.

I’ve watched three episodes of “Girls” and I have yet to read or buy her memoir, “Not That Kind of Girl.” I acknowledge my Dunham-free life is an anomaly but it doesn’t necessarily mean anything. If I had to pick a feminist patronus, I’m an Amy Poehler kind-of woman; which is to say, when given the choice I pick jokes first and feminism second. I find Dunham appealing because she’s willing to take her clothes off without shame, gave exactly zero fucks that her Emmy dress was the tampon of Bjork’s swan and creates things on her own terms quite successfully. But she’s not appealing enough that I actively pursue watching and reading. I’m Dunham ambivalent. Yet, I have a pair of eyes and I see the shit storm that engulfs this girl-woman, and every time I think to myself, Why? If she’s not your feminism, move on.

But there are some things you can’t un-see. Like, for instance, Carroll Dunham’s art. Carroll, father of Lena, likes to paint portraits of faceless, black-haired women with prominent holes — both vaginal and rectal. Sometimes he paints men sticking things in their dirty parts, too. Families are weird, and some are obsessed with football and others, like the Dunhams, appear to like vaginas, a lot. When I was growing up, my father would have died if I acknowledged I had one. Whenever I walked into the living room and people were kissing on TV, he’d change the channel. As non-practicing Irish Catholics, we were weird in respectable ways. So respectable, I got knocked up at 15 and it was confirmed I not only had a vagina, I had a host of lady bits, and they worked. But there’s a line between “weird” and predatory, and Dunham now finds herself canceling book tour dates and defending herself because a host of online commentators believe she molested her sister, Grace.

Grace Dunham disagrees, but that’s besides the point, apparently.

In her memoir, Dunham wrote:

“One day, as I sat in our driveway in Long Island playing with blocks and buckets, my curiosity got the best of me. Grace was sitting up, babbling and smiling, and I leaned down between her legs and carefully spread open her vagina. She didn’t resist and when I saw what was inside I shrieked.

“My mother came running. “Mama, Mama! Grace has something in there!”

“My mother didn’t bother asking why I had opened Grace’s vagina. This was within the spectrum of things I did.”

In another passage, she cops to double-clicking her mouse while sleeping next to Grace. Is this creepy? Sure. It’s problematic for a mid-thirties woman, but well within reason for the girl I used to be who did all kinds of sexually “creepy” things with other girl-children and to myself in an effort to explore my body and boundaries. But it’s the Grand Canyon of gaping holes to jump from childhood exploration to R. Kelly rapist. The internet appears to never be lacking in hyperbole. And, for the record, Lena Dunham as predatory child molester is ludicrous. I mean, really–how dare anyone with a keyboard be so blase about a life-ruining accusation. If anyone didn’t see Playing With Vaginas as the arc in any Dunham memoir, you were barely paying attention.

So what exactly is Dunham’s crime? Existing? Burn the bad outfits right off her, at the stake! Because this is the Internet equivalent with real life consequences. And not just for the intended target, but the family as well.

Now, I know one thing for sure: the last person I’d ever want to be is Lena Dunham. Co-opting Dunham’s overshares has turned into an art form where Dunham has to, like a CNN ticker, justify, explain, or flat out ignore all of the ways in which too many women tell her to shut up and go away because she’s doing “it” wrong. Claiming sexual assault takes the cake compared to Jezebel’s $10 grand for un-photoshopped Vogue shots in an attempt to prove if Dunham’s body positivity was real or Santa Claus. If Dunham is this vilified for supporting all the right things — reproductive health, feminism, voting, and women as creatives — why would any other woman step into this shark infested cesspool of blood?

Dunham may be rather plain looking and she may have artist parents and be a Millennial; she may overshare for the sake of oversharing and live in gentrified Brooklyn and create entertainment with a narrow view of the world and its colors; she may also date a rock star and be rich without bootstrapping and the media may cover her like the messiah of feminist re-branding, but lower your expectations. Lena Dunham doesn’t owe you anything. You do you.

Grace Dunham doesn’t need to be saved and Lena has enough problems — I mean just look at Carroll’s art — one of which isn’t finding a therapist because “therapy” most certainly was her first word. It’s everyone else with their reputation-ruining internet connections and hyperbolic opinions I could do without. It’s exhausting.

Liz Henry can be found here and is a contributor to the anthology The Myth of the Good Mother. She lives in Atlanta. Tweet her @_LizHenry

  • Lisa Solod

    Yes. Generally. But I also think Dunham is more talented than a lot of people give her credit for.

  • Tracey

    I’ve always appreciated your writing.

  • D

    grace hasn’t so much said she’s okay with it as that she thinks it’s nobody’s business,

    However, lena outed grace to their parents and says that she considers Grace an extension of herself, which I think is pretty creepy.

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