Like most of us interested in film and feminism, we’ve heard of Lena Dunham. Her film Tiny Furniture, followed by the HBO series Girls has made waves. Waves large enough for critics to refer to Dunham as “the voice of a generation.”
Well, my “baby” sister is of this generation. So when Dunham’s memoir started getting some buzz, I picked up a copy. Recently, though, the memoir has been getting far more than buzz. She’s been accused of being a child molester. Bradford Thomas of Truth Revolt played a key role in this with a post titled “Lena Dunham Describes Sexually Abusing Her Little Sister.” He writes:
“In the collection of nonfiction personal accounts, Dunham describes using her little sister at times essentially as a sexual outlet, bribing her to kiss her for prolonged periods and even masturbating while she is in the bed beside her.”
Sounds bad, right? No, it’s worse. Here’s the passage from Dunham’s memoir that really has everyone up in arms:
“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 didn’t bother asking why I had opened Grace’s vagina. This was within the spectrum of things I did. She just on her knees and looked for herself. It quickly became apparent that Grace had stuffed six or seven pebbles in there. My mother removed them patiently while Grace cackled, thrilled that her prank had been a success.”
The timeframe for the above was apparently when Lena was 7, and her sister Grace was one. Does one sister looking at another sister’s vagina gross me out? No. Does the wording of Dunham’s passage (“carefully spread open her vagina. She didn’t resist …”) gross me out? Yes, sure.
But here’s the thing. So much of what Dunham writes in this memoir made me feel dirty and gross. So much of it is just so … well, weird. But, as Luvvie from Awesomely Luvvie writes, “Lena Dunham is weird. That is her thing.” But that’s about the only thing that we agree on when it comes to Dunham.
Both Luvvie and the author at Truth Revolt seem to take Dunham’s words at face value. They also seem to have ascribed an intent to Dunham’s actions that is of a sexual nature, whereas it sounds to me more like curious child exploration of body parts. Beyond that, Luvvie and Thomas argue that the only reason why Dunham can get away with sharing such personal and sometimes disturbing details while still being widely adored is because she’s white and privileged. I dunno. I am so white by this time of year that I won’t even try to comment on that element.
What I can say is that by the time this ditty about her and her sister is described, I’d already lost any sense of belief in Dunham as a reliable narrator of memories. It’s not the first time this has happened to me with memoirs. (Cheryl Strayed’s ability to casually pick up and drop a heroin drug habit in the memoir Wild comes to mind). Truth is a slippery thing. Subjective and largely unreliable … and perhaps even more so over time.
It doesn’t usually bother me much. I liken it to an ineffective narrator or character in a fictional piece. Other readers do find this extremely bothersome though. Most famously, Oprah publicly burned James Frey at the stake for his book Million Little Pieces. When I read Frey, I believed that he had indeed undergone dental surgery without medication. When I read Dunham, she kissed my belief goodbye before I’d finished the first section of the book.
As example, her tales of platonic bed-sharing with a variety of college men comes to mind. Apparently this was something that she did quite regularly with a rather extensive list of willing partners (Jared, Josh, Dev, Jerry …) and that this continued after graduating as well (Bo, Kevin, Norris …).
“Sharing beds platonically offered me the chance to show off my nightclothes like a 1950s housewife and experience a frisson of passion, minus the invasion of my insides. It was efficient, like what pioneers do to stay warm on icy mountain passes. The only question was to spoon or not to spoon.”
Um, really? Young, hot-blooded college men enjoy “platonic bed-sharing”? That is so far from my own memories of university-aged men that I don’t even know what to say. Or maybe I do. I’d say I believe that these young men lined up for platonic bed-sharing as frequently as one-year-olds stuff pebbles up their vaginas.
Think about it. One-year olds don’t have fine motor skills (when was the last time you saw a one-year-old using a knife and fork?). One-year-olds can barely walk. Oh, and let’s not forget that most one-year-olds are still wearing diapers.
So, is Lena Dunham a child molester? Please.
Rather, I’d say she is a young woman who wants to fan the flames of an already-strong reputation as a brilliant eccentric. If that means she modifies real-life events with some fanciful additions, I think she’s more than willing to do so.