In news that should astonish no one, people are angry with Lena Dunham again. This time, it’s for comments she made in defense of a man accused of sexual assault.
On November 17, the Wrap reported that actress Aurora Perrineau had filed sexual assault charges against former Girls writer Murray Miller, saying that he had raped her in 2012, when she was 17 years old. In response, Dunham and her Girls co-showrunner Jenni Konner sent a statement to the Hollywood Reporter defending Miller.
“While our first instinct is to listen to every woman’s story,” they said, “our insider knowledge of Murray’s situation makes us confident that sadly this accusation is one of the 3 percent of assault cases that are misreported every year.”
“I believe in a lot of things but the first tenet of my politics is to hold up the people who have held me up, who have filled my world with love,” Dunham added on Twitter.
For a self-proclaimed feminist, Dunham’s actions were not a good look, to say the least. The structure of our society and legal system is so stacked against victims of sexual assault that believing the victims is a basic pillar of feminism: If we live in a world where the standard response to sexual assault is to find a way to demonstrate that the victim was somehow asking for it, the basic argument goes, the least feminists can do is tip the balance the other way by giving victims their support as a default.
As a vocal feminist and someone who has made allegations of sexual assault herself, Dunham knows the importance of believing women; as a celebrity who has made feminism part of her brand, she has profited from taking the stance that one should believe women. In fact, shortly after the first accusations surfaced against disgraced Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, she wrote an op-ed for the New York Times in which she discussed a director who had sexually harassed her. In no uncertain terms, Dunham condemned “the response by the powers that be,” which she summarized as: “defend [the harassing director], question the women ferociously and take ages before letting [the director] go from the network” in “a move based less on his skill than on some ancient loyalty.” This, she concluded, was the “kind of behavior that normalizes this abuse of power.”
So Dunham’s defense of Miller looked like the worst kind of hypocrisy. She was apparently willing to publicly state that it’s terrible when people refuse to believe that their friends and colleagues might be capable of hurting women, but if it’s her friend and colleague in question, then everyone should just be cool.
To make matters worse, Perrineau is a woman of color, and Dunham is a powerful, wealthy white feminist using her position to discredit Perrineau’s allegations. In response, writer Zinzi Clemmons declared that she would no longer be writing for Dunham’s email newsletter, Lenny Letter, and encouraged other women of color to do the same. “She cannot have our words if she cannot respect us,” Clemmons wrote, going on to add that she knew Dunham in college and believed her to have a history of racism.
Dunham has since apologized for her statement, but the damage is already done. Her reputation has most likely taken a permanent hit.
And that’s because this controversy is not an isolated incident. Since 2012, when Girls first catapulted Dunham into her current cultural status as a walking think piece topic, she has been plagued by accusations of fake feminism, white feminism, and outright racism. For many, her statement on Perrineau is a last straw of sorts, and Clemmons’s allegations about her past are all too believable.
Here’s an overview of Lena Dunham’s troubled history with feminism and race.
The second wave of Girls think pieces focused on the show’s unrelenting whiteness
When Girls premiered in 2012, it was greeted by legions of positive reviews from critics, outrage from viewers who were disgusted that Dunham so often appeared naked on camera even though she only had a normal person’s body, and acclaim from feminists who saw Dunham’s nudity as a subversive act.
And very quickly, that first wave of criticism was greeted by a second wave, composed primarily of think pieces about the show’s whiteness. Girls’ very title suggested an attempt at universality — not just “privileged white girls,” but all girls. The show positioned itself as progressive. And yet, critics noted, it was overwhelmingly white.
One of the first whiteness critiques to take hold was from Jenna Wortham via the Hairpin. In an essay titled “Where (My) Girls At?” Wortham emphasized the disconnect between Girls’ skilled portrayal of the lived experiences of its characters and its simultaneous exclusion of so many of their peers: