“Do we all have uteruses?” I asked my mother when I was seven.
That’s, um, not me. It’s a quote from Lena Dunham’s new book, “Not That Kind of Girl.” To reiterate, that quote was not me. I’m a late bloomer, so I’m texting my mother that question right now. And… back to Lena.
“Yes,” (my mother) told me. “We’re born with them, and with all our eggs, but they start out very small. And they aren’t ready to make babies until we’re older.”
Ah yes, exactly what my mom just said. Oh, sorry, I’m sure you’re just enthralled by Ms. Dunham’s account of anatomical discovery. I’ll be quiet.
I look at my sister, now a slim, tough one-year-old, and at her tiny belly. I imagined her eggs inside her, like the sack of spider eggs in Charlotte’s Webb, and her uterus, the size of a thimble.
“Does her vagina look like mine?”
“I guess so,” my mother said. “Just smaller.”
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.
Woah woah woah, what the what?!? Oh, sorry, shutting up…
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. She just got 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.
So yeah, this week I’m defending Lena Dunham. Let’s see how this goes.
Okay, real talk. We all did embarrassing stuff as kids, right? Kids are weird. I remember chucking my clothes at my brother when I was seven. Though I clearly had valid reasons. He was being a jerk and I needed projectiles. We’re all plagued by childhood weirdness for a few years.
And yet, that doesn’t come close to Lena’s tendency to TMI. But that’s her shtick. We’re talking about the frequently-nude writer/star of Girls, after all. Watching Girls is like an anatomy lesson, with awkward hookups and kooky, half-mumbled dialogue. So, like high school sex ed.
So maybe the awkward story about her youthful vaginal curiosity is just another kooky overshare. In the same book, she talks about masturbation, bribing her sister to practice kissing, sexual encounters… but something about that one excerpt has caused abundant backlash. Well, that and this sentence:
“Basically, anything a sexual predator might do to woo a small suburban girl I was trying.”
All of this is provocative out of context. Hell, it’s kinda disconcerting in context. That’s kinda the point. But it seems to be time for everyone to hop aboard the anti-Dunham bandwagon.
Conservative critics hate Dunham as much as ever. After she starred in an ad comparing voting for President Obama to losing one’s virginity, a Minnesota Republican accused her of being in league with Obama and Satan. For conservatives, it doesn’t get much worse than being in cahoots with Obama.
“Dunham’s writing often is unclear (willfully so, it seems), but the context here — Grace has overheard her older sister asking whether her baby sister has a uterus — and Grace’s satisfaction with her prank suggest that Grace was expecting her older sister to go poking around in her genitals and inserted the pebbles in expectation of it. Grace is around one year old at the time of these events. There is no non-horrific interpretation of this episode.”
Um… it’s a joke? Dunham made a joke at the end of a weird story. Pretty non-horrific.
But Williamson has other problems. He accuses her family of coddling her (fair), says she’s crude (also fair), says she’s overprivileged and vain and narcissistic (Justin, you’re supposed to defend!). Um… ah, here we go… Williamson claims Dunham has a degree from a school that doesn’t know “the difference between ‘nauseous’ and ‘nauseated.'” There’s a difference in the original Latin, but language evolves and dictionaries no longer distinguish between the two. So… there’s that.
Williamson also maligns that Dunham didn’t make her rapist a character in her book. Apparently, her rapist isn’t treated fairly. Talk about nauseating.
But those are conservative analysts. They’ve disliked Dunham since she rose to liberal stardom. More shocking is the vitriol received from liberals and feminists.
The Twitter pile-on was swift. Ex-followers compared her vaginal pebble anecdote to child predacity. “Creepy.” “Not normal.” A “self-promoter.” “Full of herself.” A girl who needs to “sit the f–k down and learn something.” She was told to “get some boundaries.” To “stop being weird.” Her story was, as one blogger put it, “best kept in the confines of your family kitchen over Thanksgiving.”
So now, all her detractors accuse her of child molestation. From when she was seven. Do you see the problem there?
This Daily Banter article by Chez Pazienza contends, “What Dunham did is absolutely the kind of behavior I would have had a few very candid discussions about were I her parents, but I just don’t think it rises to the level of full-on sexual assault. Even Dunham’s analogizing herself to a sexual predator sounds more like her usual dry provocation than it does an actual admission that she was grooming or molesting her sister. I just can’t understand her actions being interpreted differently.”
And it should be said, this kind of curiosity is not abnormal. And her sister defended her, saying she gave permission to publish the story. Her parents’ laissez-faire reaction might be a little off, but it’s difficult to blame Dunham for that. So she was a weird kid with weird parents who let her explore the weird world. Hardly worth hate. In fact, candidly writing about those abnormal experiences could be considered brave.
Or maybe “brave” isn’t the right word.
As this Vulture article asserts, Dunham isn’t brave. Oversharing is the job of an artist. She’s just doing what she gets paid to do.
“Writers are narcissists,” author Brian McGreevy writes. “They presume that their personal obsessions and neuroses are of deep fascination — or even beneficial — to potentially millions of people. This is not a negative. Narcissism is as essential to the artist’s temperament as competition to the athlete’s.”
So maybe now I can defend.
Lena Dunham has apologized for the insensitive sexual predator line, but she hardly deserves the other accusations thrown her way. She’s just sharing her stories and monetizing her artistic voice, which is an impressive feat. Maybe that doesn’t excuse her behavior, but she’s certainly good at what she does. Her job just happens to be narcissistic oversharing.
Lena Dunham has supporters and detractors, but that’s a good space for any artist. No one is universal. You don’t have to like her, but she’s still capable and successful. I say, good for her.
And to reiterate, she’s not a child molester. Or in league with Satan. Though she does support President Obama, so take from that what you will.