TRIGGER WARNING: Brief mention of sexual assault.
If you haven’t heard already, Lena Dunham was recently accused of molesting her younger sister, Grace, after she wrote about several childhood events in her latest memoir, Not That Kind of Girl. Sure, she basically outed herself, comparing her actions with her sister to those of a “sexual predator.” Sure, she’s now acting like an irreverent brat about it, having a Twitter “rage spiral” and threatening lawsuits instead of clarifying her intended meaning. Sure, her stories are weird and concerning and, in my opinion, totally inappropriate for her to share in this way.
But listen. It is not the entire country’s job to accuse or defend her. The last thing she needs is more attention; according to the Williamson piece, entitled “Pathetic Privilege,” she’s been getting too much of the wrong kind all her life.
If anything, this is a time to be paying attention to her sister, Grace, who tweeted very important reminders about sexuality policing in our society:
It’s not clear whether Grace thinks of these experiences as harmful or not, and I think that is intentional. She doesn’t have to talk about it. We don’t have to talk about it. If Grace isn’t interested in accusing or defending her sister, I’m not either. She has the means to get the help she needs, if and when she needs it, and the power to confront her sister legally, if and when she wants to. We can offer support, but we should not force it upon her, especially since we all know this story is huge not because we want to help Grace, but because we want to hate Lena or those who would attack her. And that makes us just as pathetic as her rich white privilege.
If we choose to accept the picture Williamson paints of Lena Dunham (and yes, it is a picture, not objective truth) as the unreliable narrator—the self-involved, spoiled white kid with delusions of grand suffering but no sense of accountability or integrity, then we must also accept the background against which he paints her.
This is an opportunity to remember that gross wealth and privilege is no better for the bearers than gross poverty and neglect. Both can lead to abuse and suffering, to mental and physical illness, to poor social conditioning, to poor education. Gross poverty and gross wealth feed each other in an endless cycle of ever-growing inequality. Both ends of the spectrum cause painful ripples, and both need to be eradicated.
Don’t let this story become a mere spectacle that twists and squeezes the life out of one privileged white woman. Whether or not her behavior was disgusting or normal, this is bigger than she is. Widen the lens; spend less time talking about Dunham and more time talking about the social systems that allow stories like this to exist.
Bodily taboos and sex education that is poor or nonexistent. A raging economic divide that leaves many with nothing and a few with more than they can responsibly handle. Condemnation of parents based on gender identity and sexual orientation while the varied parenting abilities of cis-heterosexuals are left unexamined. A rape culture which encourages mistrust of women until they incriminate themselves. A society that is so obsessed with entertainment and spectacle, we zoom in on the most exciting, horrifying, and convenient stories until we can no longer have adult discussions about serious problems in a constructive way.
Economic poverty and privilege are serious problems. Poor sex-education is a serious problem. Parental neglect and abuse is a serious problem. Sexual assault is a serious problem.
Stop paying so much attention to Lena Dunham and start paying attention to the people who need their voices heard, their stories believed, their pay raised, their rights protected. The media is corrupt; it only gives us the stories we demand, in the tone we like to read. It’s time we stop fawning and scratching over celebrities’ mistakes; demand the real news and have real, constructive discussions.