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Sexual experimentation vs. sexual abuse: Lena Dunham’s memoir

Lena Dunham's mémoire has controversial material on sexual experimentation with her sister. (Wikimedia Commons)
Lena Dunham’s mémoire has controversial material on sexual experimentation with her sister. (Wikimedia Commons)

Lena Dunham, creator of the television show “Girls” and writer, is known for being a button-pusher about subjects such as women’s or reproductive rights that political conservatives despise. This time, her politics are not what landed her in an unfavorable spotlight, and it’s not just conservatives who are speaking out against her.

What has people talking about Lena Dunham this time?  Allegations of sexual abuse.

Dunham’s memoir, “Not That Kind of Girl,” contains controversial passages regarding her childhood with her younger sister, Grace.  She describes a memory of when she was seven, her sister was one, and the two of them were playing in their driveway when Lena decided to look into her baby sister’s vagina.  Other bizarre instances she describes with her sister included “bribing [Grace] for her time and affection” in ways like offering her quarters to do her makeup, giving her candy for a five-second kiss on the lips or allowing Grace to “relax” into her while they watched TV.  Dunham described it in her book as “anything a sexual predator would do to woo a small suburban girl.” When bloggers and journalists got ahold of this, they took to the internet to voice their opinions about this issue.

People who called Dunham out on being abusive of her sister were responded to with a series of angry tweets by Dunham.  One of Dunham’s multiple tweets in the tirade said, “And by the way, if you were a little kid and never looked at another little kid’s vagina, well, congrats to you.”  This tweet is problematic because Dunham seems to think what she did with her sister as a child wasn’t a big deal.  She talks about it like all she was doing was “experimenting” with her sister, but what she fails to realize is as a one year old, her sister was in no way capable of understanding what was going on, thus meaning she would not have the ability to consent.  Consenting means that someone is legally able to say “yes” and to understand what is going on in the situation. As she was only one year old at the time, Grace Dunham would not have known what was going on, and she certainly wouldn’t have been in any state’s legal age of consent range.

After these allegations surfaced, Grace Dunham took to Twitter as well to defend her sister, stating that, “Heteronormativity deems certain behaviours harmful, and others ‘normal’; the state and media are always invested in maintaining that.”  While this statement is true, it also doesn’t really address, in anyway, what happened.  The issue of consent isn’t something that heteronormativity created; consent is something that applies in all situations.

Whether or not someone likes Lena Dunham, these allegations are troubling.  She should be called out for this by more than just people on the internet; people from places of privilege need to call her out as well.   It doesn’t matter whether or not she herself believes she was merely experimenting by doing these things to her sister and whether or not her sister defends her; she did those things without consent.  What Dunham did and what she is saying and writing about it now represents a broader view in our culture that consent isn’t important.  Dunham’s privilege also prevents her from the severe backlash a person of color would more than certainly receive had they been in a similar position .  Her privilege as a white celebrity should not shield her from the ramifications her actions bring upon her.  Until everyone is held accountable for their actions, victims of sexual abuse  will never get full justice.