Lena Dunham, the creator of the hit television series Girls, has issued an apology after being attacked in the US for passages in her recently released memoir which critics have said amount to the sexual abuse of her younger sister.
Dunham, 28, who this week cancelled a planned appearance at book events in Antwerp and Berlin, initially struck a defiant tone after parts of the book, Not That Kind of Girl, were highlighted by the right-wing press.
The passages cited include one that describes an incident when Dunham was seven and her sister was one and playing on the driveway. Dunham writes that “curiosity got the best” of her and she opened her sister’s vagina only to call for her mother when she found the toddler had “six or seven pebbles in there”.
“My mother didn’t bother asking why I had opened Grace’s vagina,” Dunham wrote. “This was within the spectrum of things that I did.”
In another passage that has attracted critics she describes trying to persuade her sister to “kiss her on the lips for five seconds” by offering gifts of sweets or coins. “Basically, anything a sexual predator might do to woo a small suburban girl, I was trying,” wrote Dunham.
The website Truth Revolt, which says its mission is to “unmask leftists in the media for who they are” wrote that the book sees Dunham describe “using her little sister at times essentially as a sexual outlet”.
Kevin Williamson in National Review wrote that there is “no non-horrific interpretation” of the episode with the stones. Dunham’s parents, he said, “were, in their daughter’s telling, enablers of some very disturbing behaviour that would be considered child abuse in many jurisdictions”.
Dunham initially took to Twitter in what she described as a “rage spiral”.
“The right-wing news story that I molested my little sister isn’t just LOL – it’s really fucking upsetting and disgusting. And by the way, if you were a little kid and never looked at another little kid’s vagina, well, congrats to you,” she wrote.
“Usually this is stuff I can ignore but don’t demean sufferers, don’t twist my words, back the fuck up bros. I told a story about being a weird seven-year-old. I bet you have some too, old men, that I’d rather not hear … Sometimes I get so mad I burn right up.”
But Dunham has now released a more conciliatory statement, in which she says she is “dismayed over the recent interpretation of events described in my book Not That Kind of Girl”.
“First and foremost, I want to be very clear that I do not condone any kind of abuse under any circumstances,” wrote Dunham. “Childhood sexual abuse is a life-shattering event for so many, and I have been vocal about the rights of survivors. If the situations described in my book have been painful or triggering for people to read, I am sorry, as that was never my intention.”
She added she was “also aware that the comic use of the term ‘sexual predator’ was insensitive, and I’m sorry for that as well”.
“As for my sibling, Grace, she is my best friend, and anything I have written about her has been published with her approval,” concluded the statement.
Dunham’s lawyers have also written to Truth Revolt demanding an apology and threatening legal action. The letter,
obtained by the Hollywood Reporter, sees Dunham’s lawyer write that the article “is false, fabricated, and has the obvious tendency to subject my client to ridicule, and to injure her in her occupation”.
Truth Revolt’s Ben Shapiro, editor-in-chief, wrote that “we refuse to withdraw our story or apologise for running it, because quoting a woman’s book does not constitute a ‘false’ story, even if she is a prominent actress and leftwing activist. Lena Dunham may not like our interpretation of her book, but unfortunately for her and her attorneys, she wrote that book – and the First Amendment covers a good deal of material she may not like.”
Dunham tweeted at the weekend: “I wish my sister wasn’t laughing so hard” about the situation. Grace Dunham has also now defended her sister. She tweeted: “Heteronormativity deems certain behaviours harmful, and others ‘normal’; the state and media are always invested in maintaining that … As a queer person: I’m committed to people narrating their own experiences, determining for themselves what has and has not been harmful,” and that “2day, like every other day, is a good day to think about how we police the sexualities of young women, queer, and trans people”.
Fellow writers have also come to Dunham’s defence. The author Emily Gould wrote on Salon that “Williamson fixated on a few details in the book that, divorced from context and from any understanding of how humour and writing work, made it possible for many well-meaning people to take seriously Williamson’s claim that Dunham had ‘sexually abused’ her younger sister Grace”.
“Imputing predatory motives to a seven-year-old girl and assigning a role of victim to her sister, who apparently doesn’t feel victimised in the slightest … seems more predatory and abusive than anything that Dunham describes in the book, which also includes descriptions of masturbating in bed next to her sleeping sister (who hasn’t?) and bribing her with candy for kisses (come on),” wrote Gould, advising: “If you’re on the fence about whether Dunham is an ‘abuser’, you should probably read her book, and not a right-wing blogger’s cherry-picked version of its contents.”.
Author and Guardian columnist Roxane Gay, meanwhile, blogged: “There is a great distance between thinking LENA DUNHAM IS A CHILD MOLESTER and thinking, yeah, inspecting her sister’s vagina seems like an awesome choice.
“There are multiple places within that distance,” she continued, “and I stand in that place where I think the shit is weird, it makes me uncomfortable, but I understand why the information was disclosed in the memoir, and it did not diminish my experience of reading the book or my opinion of Dunham as a talented but flawed young woman,” wrote Gay, adding that the Truth Revolt blog and Williamson on National Review “were using Dunham’s words, but they were doing so utterly without context and here, context very much matters”.
“People want Dunham to perform acts of contrition but I am not at all clear on what those acts of contrition should look like. I don’t feel like Dunham owes me or anyone outside of her circle of family and friends, anything,” wrote Gay. “I don’t understand the assumption that Dunham published this memoir without her sister’s consent. That simply didn’t happen. If Grace is okay with these disclosures, that’s good enough for me.”
Source: The Guardian