You could do a few things to defend Lena Dunham against outlandish charges emanating from the political right that she sexually molested her younger sister.
You could call up a child development expert, who would tell you it’s normal for 6- or 7-year-old children to check out the genitals of other kids, especially their much younger siblings. You could talk to experts on adolescent development, who would tell you that it’s also normal for a kid to stick her hands down her own pants, even if a sibling is asleep next to her, or to pay a sibling to smooch her on the lips for a few seconds to see what it feels like, or to lie on top of her.
Those episodes, recounted in Dunham’s bestselling new memoir, “Not That Kind of Girl,” are the basis for the ridiculous assertions by writers for the conservative outlets National Review and Truth Revolt that Dunham molested her kid sister, Grace. The Truth Revolt headline is truly revolting. Her attorney, according to the website, has demanded the story be removed. It is still up.
But really, to decide what you think about the outlandish accusations, it’s probably better just to draw on your own experience and common sense, either as a parent or as someone who was once a child, if you can remember back that far.
Is there a soul alive who does not have some memory of a childhood interaction, born of simple curiosity, that could be cast in a perverted light by someone with an ulterior motive?
If you believe for one second that Dunham was actually comparing herself to an adult child molester engaged in grooming behavior when she wrote that she bribed her sister “with three pieces of candy if I could kiss her on the lips for five seconds … anything a sexual predator might do to woo a small suburban girl,” your critical thinking skills are on life support.
It’s no accident that the preposterous characterization of Dunham as someone who abused her little sister is emanating from outlets with conservative agendas.
At 28, with immense success as a writer, actor, producer and director, she is an easy target for folks who think that Hollywood-style libertinism is everything that’s wrong with America. Her frank sexuality, her perfect ease with her chubby body, her blithe narcissism are discomfiting to many who cannot see the brilliance of her HBO show "Girls." Her increasing political activism, including an alliance with Planned Parenthood on a get-out-the-vote initiative, is an affront to conservatives.
Under those circumstances, flak from the right is to be expected.
But the barrage of criticism from feminists is truly shocking. In a piece called "Beware the Vitriol of the Sisterhood," Jessica Bennett at Time rounded up some of the attacks:
“She was compared to R. Kelly, Bill Cosby and Jian Ghomeshi," Bennett wrote. "She became the subject of a hashtag, #DropDunham, which called on Planned Parenthood – which has joined Dunham on a number of stops on her book tour – to disassociate from her immediately. And on feminist listservs, Tumblr blogs and elsewhere, the pile-on began. She was 'creepy.' 'Not normal.' A 'self-promoter.' 'Full of herself.' She was told to 'get some boundaries.' To 'stop being weird.' Her story was, as one blogger put it, 'best kept in the confines of your family kitchen over Thanksgiving.'"
Please. I would suggest that some childhood foibles are far too intimate or embarrassing to discuss with the family over Thanksgiving. They are best revealed in a memoir that family members can read in private, or ignore altogether.
The criticism is apparently getting to Dunham. After describing herself on Twitter over the weekend as being in a “rage spiral” over the accusations, she issued a statement today to Time:
“I am dismayed over the recent interpretation of events described in my book Not That Kind of Girl," she wrote. "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. I am 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.”
Do note that although Dunham has apologized for how she described her entirely normal childhood behavior, she did not apologize for the behavior itself. Because as long as her sister is OK with it -- and she seems to be fine -- there's nothing to apologize for.
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