Lena Dunham’s Poorly-Phrased Abortion Remarks Draw Outrage

A headline is making the viral rounds: “Lena Dunham: ‘I still haven’t had an abortion, but I wish I had.’” What Dunham was expressing, in her Women of the Hour podcast, was a wish for abortion to be destigmatized. But she expressed this wish in very on-brand (that is, oblivious and outrage-inspiring) terms, thereby insuring virality. Who — regardless of stance on abortion — wouldn’t be offended by a remark like that? (There’s also a persuasive progressive critique.) And so here we are, neck-deep in a conversation about how problematic Lena Dunham is, rather than one we ought to be having, about threats to reproductive rights.

Why does Dunham keep going viral? I was going to point you to my 2013 blog post, “The millionth thing you’ve read about Lena Dunham and privilege,” but why not start with Michelle Dean’s 2012 (so how did I only just find this?) Nation article, ” What We Talk About When We Talk About Lena Dunham,” which is overall quite thoughtful, but which contains the following frustrating passage:

“The word ‘nepotism’ gets thrown around, and even disputed, although its use doesn’t much bother me. Though I’ve yet to hear of some precise connection Dunham pulled, I’m sure somewhere there is one. This is, after all, New York.”

With all the honest-to-goodness nepotism around, I’m inclined to skip calling out the forms that are only inferred.

In any case, four years on, we’re still hearing about Lena Dunham’s privilege, the left and right taking turns, but landing in much the same place. Kay Hymowitz’s (right-leaning) City Journal piece from December 18th, i.e. two days ago, which makes the point, by now rather familiar to Sisterhood readers, that mainstream feminism didn’t manage to predict (or prevent) Trump. “[T]he Girls creator and star doesn’t know much about ‘women,’ but she has a Ph.D. in privilege,” is how Hymowitz’s piece wraps up.

I’m not a “Girls” fangirl (fanwoman?), exactly, and don’t know Dunham personally. So why do I keep returning to the topic? Two reasons: First, I think there’s something sloppy about the knee-jerk attribution of all the world’s woes to one (intentionally?) controversial celebrity. Yes, she made for odd choice of Democratic presidential surrogate, but unlike a certain other controversial celebrity who comes to mind, she is not president-elect.

Next and more importantly, I’m not convinced anything all that… politically beneficial comes of Dunham scapegoating. Anti-Dunham-ism hovers between much-needed critiques of a certain brand of celebrity activism and a socially acceptable way of channelling distaste for women, and more specifically: outspoken women, feminist women, progressive women, ambitious women, Jewish women, ordinary-looking women, and women who are just a bit too New York. Women, that is, who are not, by and large, either rich or famous. Anti-Dunhamism, in other words, has all the risks of populism, with the added one that comes from anointing just one person the elite.

The Abortion Lena Dunham Never Had

The Abortion Lena Dunham Never Had

Phoebe Maltz Bovy edits the Sisterhood, and can be reached at bovy@forward.com. Her book, The Perils of “Privilege”, will be published by St. Martin’s Press in March 2017.

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