On Lena Dunham and The Sh*t White Women Get Away With

by Hilary Ward

White women get away with a lot of sh*t. Look at Mama June, the matriarch of reality TV show “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo,” has made headlines for reportedly carrying on a questionable relationship with a man who was convicted of molesting her eldest daughter over ten years ago. While their television series has been canceled, her youngest child, Alana (Honey Boo Boo), still remains in the home. Meanwhile black women like Shanesha Taylor—the homeless mother who left her children in her car while on a job interview—was arrested, charged with child abuse and had her children taken from her. Although Taylor received public support after her story went viral, she’s also faced plenty of public scrutiny.

Lena Dunham, creator of the HBO series Girls, has been a member of the Sh*t White Women Get Away With club for some time, with many criticizing her show’s lack of diversity—despite it being set in modern Brooklyn. But with her newly released memoir Not That Kind of Girl, she’s taken it to another level with shocking confessions of “sexual curiosity” she so matter-of-factly disclosed in the book. In it, she details inappropriate behavior as a 7-year-old, and inspecting her one-year-old sister Grace’s vagina. She also describes bribing her sister for kisses and masturbating in the same bed, while her sister slept. While it is pretty normal for young children to be curious about their bodies, and to even participate in that age-old game of “I’ll-show-you-mine-if-you-show-me-yours,” there is something troubling about the way Lena describes her behavior. She is seemingly aware that it was abnormal (she often refers to herself as weird), but still she views her actions as perfectly acceptable.

I also find it troubling that these passages were even allowed to get published in the book in the first place. Why did no one on her publishing or editorial team think what she said was problematic? I wonder if those words had been published by a non-white woman -- or someone with less fame than Lena -- would the book have been published at all, let alone allowed to include these questionable passages? Or further, what if it had been a man making these shocking confessions? I’m sure all kinds of media outlets, political pundits, and feminist groups would have had a field day roasting him and calling for boycotts and criminal investigations.

When Conservative site Truth Revolt referred to Dunham’s behavior as “unsettling and disturbing”, Dunham denied everything and took to Twitter, posting the following tweets:

While I’m sure it’s very upsetting to be labeled as a sexual abuser, Dunham aligns herself with a sexual predator in her own words in the memoir:
"As [Grace] grew, I took to bribing her for her time and affection: one dollar in quarters if I could do her makeup like a 'motorcycle chick.' Three pieces of candy if I could kiss her on the lips for five seconds. Whatever she wanted to watch on TV if she would just 'relax on me.' Basically, anything a sexual predator might to do woo a small suburban girl I was trying.”
I don’t see any word-twisting here.

Once again, I think Lena Dunham is counting on her privilege to give her the freedom to say and do whatever she wants, no matter how controversial or offensive. Because Dunham is a wealthy, white woman who prides herself as being weird, she can get away with sh*t. She can get a book published that includes passages about how she engaged in inappropriate behavior with her toddler sister and nobody bats an eyelash. She can create a show set in one of the most diverse cities in the world and not have any people of color in the cast until black and brown folks cried foul. She can repeatedly stick her foot in her mouth and make off-color comments in the media, and folks just brush it aside as Lena just being quirky and weird and hip.

While I think it is pretty extreme for the public to label Lena Dunham a pedohile without having all of the facts, Dunham dug her own hole by exposing her story to the world. Maybe Dunham was just trying to tell her story in the same quirky, tongue-in-cheek way that has brought her legions of fans and success. Maybe she was just trying to use obviously attention-grabbing techniques to create buzz for her book. But there is nothing cute, quirky and tongue-in-cheek about making light of self-described predatory behavior in the name of book sales, and then getting all pissy when folks call you out on it. And maybe instead of lashing out and getting so defensive when the public responds to her questionable behavior that she chose to share with the world, she should try not being so self-absorbed and consider other people’s feelings and perspectives. Just a thought.

Maybe we’re all making a big deal out of nothing, since her sister Grace seemingly came to big sis’ defense with a series of tweets that seem to denounce her sister’s critics.

Or maybe, just maybe, white women just get away with a lot of sh*t, and the rest of us just have to deal with it.

Photo credit: Lena Dunham/Facebook

Hilary Christian is a freelance writer and fundraiser from Chicago who is a regular contributor to Arielle Loren's Corset Magazine, and her work has also been featured in Wild Sister Magazine and Rebellious Magazine for Women. Check out her blog at http://hilarychristian.tumblr.com.

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