I Am Lena Dunham

You all know the story: Lena Dunham told Amy Schumer a story about how football player Odell Beckham Jr. allegedly ignored her because, according to her, he didn’t think she was “not the shape of a woman by his standards.”  Several people called her entitlement and mind reading on Twitter. Dunham at first chalked it all up to the “outrage machine,” but a few days later she publicly apologized on Instagram. I haven’t been following the story too closely because, quite frankly, I don’t care about Dunham. I’ve never watched “Girls” because it looks like your typical Quirky White People Having Awkward Sex in New York show. However, I did read Zeba Blay’s Huffington Post article about Dunham today, and it really got me thinking. Blay writes:

Lena Dunham is probably not a bad person. There’s nothing wrong with acknowledging the reality of white entitlement, even if it complicates a carefully cultivated narrative of oppression which revolves largely around being an average-bodied white woman. This reality doesn’t mean Dunham hasn’t dealt with misogyny, and it doesn’t negate her insecurities and fears. But by her own admission, her lack of self-awareness, coupled with her privilege and platform, can lead to the sort of tone-deaf characterizations of black men that are ultimately more harmful than they may seem.

Part of being a public figure means accepting that your learning is going to take place on a public stage. Dunham and other celebrities who make (even unintentionally) harmful comments should be held responsible for their words ― especially when those words perpetuate damaging ideas about real human beings. Dunham is entitled to her own perspective and story, but not to the minds and thoughts of the black men around her. [Emphasis mine]

I hate to admit it, but in a way I’m Lena Dunham. I’ve said problematic things and then got incredibly defensive when I was called out. I’ve refused to acknowledge my blind spots. In fact, I still do from time to time.

I don’t say all this to make people pat me on the head and say, “There there, Trav, you’re an awesome person!” Neither am I saying we should let Dunham off the proverbial hook. She has a history of saying problematic things. I’m just saying I can’t stand on my high horse and act like my hands are clean.

As I recently told a friend, there comes a time in every activists life where you think you’re being an excellent activist until someone says, “You think you’re helping us, but you’re not. You’re just giving us table scraps. You’re too busy making yourself look good. We’re literally dying, and you’re not doing a damn thing about it.” At first you just write off your critics as the Rage Police, and maybe even yell at them, but then you realize you’re wrong. Talk about getting egg on your face!

Fortunately, we’re all works in progress. We’re all trying to figure this shit out. The key is whether or not you learn from your mistakes. Hopefully someday Dunham will. And hopefully someday I will, too.


  1. says

    The key is whether or not you learn from your mistakes

    … and ideally don’t make huge ones. If Donald Trump announced tomorrow that he’d learned from his mistakes, I think we could safely say that he’d had plenty of time and it was suspiciously late in the game. 😉

  2. says

    You know, the problem with Dunham isn’t that one instance, but her continued history.
    I understand your point. There are many things where I argued passionately on the wrong side and was only able to process the information and learn later when I was no longer “under threat”. Having a history of abuse didn’t help with that either, so yeah, I’m pretty willing to cut people some slack if they come back later and come out better than before.
    But Dunham? She does that shit all the time and seems completely unable to differentiate between her personal issues and larger issues.
    She also sexually abused her little sister and tells it as a cute kids story.

  3. sonofrojblake says

    Don’t beat yourself up. Unless you’re making a top 1% living predicated on

    a carefully cultivated narrative of oppression

    then you are not like her at all. The opprobrium she got (and deserves) is not because she said something racist or even just because she doubled down instead of apologising. It’s because she did so, more than once, even while shouldering her way onto the podium at the Oppression Olympics.

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