writer Lena Dunham is defending herself against accusations that her new book,
Not That Kind of Girl
, contains a passage which suggests that as a child she molested her baby sister. Dunham has been in the UK promoting the book, which TV, radio and all sections of the press declared a wondrous and fascinating venture. Meanwhile, readers who didn't have a vested interest in keeping her publicity team sweet for future promotional tours have noted the anecdote, which some might class as creepily enthusiastic "doctors and nurses" experimentation and others see as plain child-on-child abuse. Dunham is outraged by this thought. Those who are outraged do not seem to be chiefly outraged at Dunham but at the easy ride she's receiving over this stink plainly for being the white, feminist media darling Lena Dunham.
In some circles, the knives have been out for Dunham for some time. This is the problem with being hoisted up as "the voice of a generation". Anyone elevated to "voice of" status will be so overly welcomed by media outlets desperate to ride the zeitgeist that pretty soon everyone but your true fans will wish you would bloody shut up with your "honesty" and your "truth". Russell Brand - "the voice of revolution" - is in a similar pickle, making a lot of salient points among the scatterbrain ones, but to the general greeting of, "Oh bloody hell, not YOU again".
Personally, I think Dunham's niche has always been eye-watering intimacy. Her characters in Girls must be constantly pissing, scheduling abortions or crab removals, changing tampons, lying in the bath naked with their best girlfriends, or squeezing out a public poo.
This toe-curling admission of infantile sexual curiosity is painfully on-brand. The anecdote in Dunham's book is also quite tame, once one sweeps aside Dunham's visceral language about "carefully spreading open" vaginas. Aged seven, Dunham wanted to know about vaginas. She looked at her baby sister's. She found that on that particular day her sister was storing some small stones in her private parts. Both children laughed. The end. Dunham's tale is an uncomfortable trip down memory lane for all of us about sexual awakenings. I told the story twice on the morning I heard of the furore and was greeted by friends with eye-watering tales of misplaced Lego, and about groups of five-year-olds enjoying a stolen copy of Razzle magazine.
Of course, what happens with this "news" now is the interesting thing. Here we are in Britain, currently at war with the past over historical male abuses of power, no evidence seemingly being too flimsy to investigate. Feminists like myself tend to be in full support of this. Creepy is as creepy does. Round them up, let them explain themselves to the PaedoFinder General.
But then Dunham talks provocatively about very complex infantile sibling sexual power games. "As she grew, I took to bribing her for her time and affection: one dollar in quarters if I could do her make-up 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 do to woo a small suburban girl, I was trying." And anyone who raises the alarm is branded hysterical, or in dire lack of perspective.
Of course many blogs - but very few mainstream pieces - have been written about Dunham's "privilege" and how her "voice of a generation" act simply portrays the lives of affluent white girls whining introspectively while awaiting parental hand-outs. Any young woman not from this background can be forgiven for looking at Girls and thinking, "This is not my voice".
Privilege in art is a thorny issue. I'd personally rather see one person's truth, however nauseating, than that person trying to emulate other voices badly. But, in this "stones in the vagina" anecdote, there is a curious sense that Dunham's privilege is allowing her to provoke and make light of subjects that anyone else could not.
Poor, exhausted Russell Brand - nowadays a political animal and by no means any more a rampant shagger - would not have been able to casually throw a passage into Revolution in which he recalled "carefully spreading open" a young girl's vagina. Nor would any other man, if he wanted to feel the warm glow of primetime or the bestsellers' promo list ever again.
The Dunham incident - which has resulted in her cancelling dates in Antwerp and Berlin on her promotional tour - has drawn attention to our huge taboo over children's sexuality. Or more accurately, it's shown us that we gush over writers like Dunham for their thrilling veracity, but when push comes to shove, we just can't handle the truth.
- The Independent