I love women: being a woman, writing about women, supporting art created by women. So when I heard that The Hollywood Reporter was releasing its annual Women in Entertainment: Power 100 issue, I was jazzed. But when I learned that Lena Dunham would guest edit the issue, I was…well let’s just say that I was less than jazzed.
This is because everything I’ve come to know about Dunham—everything I’ve read, or seen, or heard—has been negative, at least in part, which is why her selection as guest editor is questionable. Let’s delve into why.
First, let me admit that I’ve never watched a single episode of Girls. I heard about its debut, its loyal fans, its unparalleled rawness, and of course, the buzz that it was a show about being a young woman created by—gasp—a young woman!
Despite the buzz, it just didn’t interest me. I couldn’t identify with a show consisting of all-white characters traipsing around New York City living in comfortably-sized apartments existing as questionably-employed twenty-somethings. As a black woman living in a major American city, it’s difficult to relate.
What made the lack of diversity in Girls even more problematic was that Dunham claimed to be a feminist promoting feminist values, but she missed the intersectionality part of feminism that makes it inclusive and effective. (Eventually, she added some characters of color into the show.)
In November 2017, critics went from simply citing racial bias to calling her flat-out racist. Zinzi Clemmons, a black writer for Lenny Letter, the newsletter Dunham co-founded, left the publication, accusing Dunham of perpetuating a type of “hipster racism”. She encouraged other writers to boycott the publication.
But what landed Dunham in the most hot water was not the lack of diversity, or critics’ words. It was her own words.
Dunham’s 2014 biography, Not That Kind of Girl, detailed scenes where she explored her younger sister’s genitalia, asked her to kiss her passionately, and masturbated beside her in the bed. Dunham even likened herself to a “sexual predator.”
Critics pounced on her, labeling her a child molester, while Dunham defended her actions as normal child’s play.
She did, however, admit that it was insensitive to comically joke about interacting with her sister as a “sexual predator,” and apologized if anything she wrote was “painful or triggering” to survivors of assault and abuse.
This wasn’t the first time Dunham distastefully joked about molestation. After she appeared nude in a 2014 Saturday Night Live sketch, a fan tweeted her, “You don’t always have to get naked!” To which Dunham replied, “Please tell that to my uncle, mister. He’s been making me!” Dunham later apologized for trivializing molestation.
However, she would get into trouble a few years later for seemingly trivializing a rape allegation. In 2017, after actress Aurora Perrineau (a black woman) accused Girls writer and executive producer Murray Miller of rape, Dunham and Jenni Konner (Dunham’s former business partner) issued a joint-statement voicing their support of Miller, only to publicly denounce it shortly thereafter, saying, “We regret this decision with every fiber of our being.”
These incidents highlight questionable choices about how Dunham is wielding words about the assault of women’s bodies. Her own account of being sexually assaulted does not excuse her actions. It seems a staunch feminist would know better and do better. It seems a thoughtful feminist writer wouldn’t make these sorts of missteps.
Sure, no one’s perfect, and celebrities endure a level of scrutiny that ordinary folks will never know. But to be asked to edit the Women in Entertainment issue of The Hollywood Reporter—you’d hope that someone less marred in controversies surrounding portrayals of women of color and sexual assault on women might be chosen for the job.
There are myriad writers that could have been given the honor, like writer Jennie Snyder Urman, (executive producer of Jane The Virgin), and Issa Rae, (executive producer of HBO’s Insecure.) These writers have penned stories that have a universal appeal because they are intersectional. Additionally, their words aren’t doused in controversy.