Has Lena Dunham Accidentally Turned Us Into Monsters?

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Photo by Michael Buckner/Getty Images for SXSW

Like a lot of people, I had high hopes for Lena Dunham when Girls first started. I maintain that the first season's "Vagina Panic" episode was a thing of brilliance, as was "American Bitch" from the final season. There were some great times in between too. But, like most people, in the last few years, I've lost all hope for Dunham's redemption.

If there are any Lena Dunham fans left on Planet Earth at this point, they have very much gone into hiding. And who can blame them? Saying you like Lena Dunham at this point is likely to be received as warmly as standing up in the middle of a sold-out, 14-hour flight and announcing you have ebola.

The reasons to dislike Dunham are, by now, abundant. The writer / actor / producer / director has been the embodiment of outspoken wealthy white privilege since the beginning. She has turned an absolute inability to recognize how problematic she is into a postmodern art form. The necessity for Lena Dunham to issue public apologies has now become so commonplace, there is even a (very entertaining) Twitter account dedicated to parodying it.

And, make no mistake, Dunham has never been one to learn from her mistakes. After years of screw-ups, she continues to openly commit to doing unforgivable crap. Let's look back to last year, when she posted this...


...only to, three months later, defend a Girls writer who had been accused of rape, by issuing a statement that claimed her "insider knowledge of [his] situation makes us confident that sadly this accusation is one of the 3 percent of assault cases that are misreported every year."

No, Lena. Just... NO.

And it doesn't stop there. Last week, Dunham posted a photo of herself with Time's Up activists. Thor: Ragnarok star Tessa Thompson pointed out in a since-deleted Instagram post that: "Lena was not anywhere present in our group during the countless hours of work for the last two months. We hosted an open house for the actresses for red carpet messaging and Lena[‘s] presence was a surprise to us all."

This looked particularly bad for Dunham after a career that has been marred by accusations of tokenism from the get-go. (See: including Donald Glover in a few episodes of Girls Season 2, after critics pointed out the overwhelming whiteness of the show.)

I won't get into any more detail about everything Lena Dunham has done wrong in the last few years, because you will have undoubtedly heard it all before and we are all irritated enough about it already.

What is worth talking about is what has happened to the left-wing, pro-feminist folks who had high hopes for Dunham at the start of her career and have since seen their initial optimism turn into a steady stream of disappointment, frustration, and yes, embarrassment that we ever kinda, sorta liked her in the first place.

That rush to disassociate from her has reached such a zenith now that people who actively fight sexism on a regular basis elsewhere are letting it slide, as long as it's directed at Dunham. The fear of being called a Lena Dunham apologist, or a white feminist, has become so great that the left's usual rules of engagement have gone out the window. Nowadays, it seems like everyone attacks Dunham with the same degree of vehemence once reserved for alt-right commentators and men's rights activists:

For example, here's a person who obviously feels a great deal of sympathy for people in the public eye:

Here's the same person talking about Lena Dunham:

The desire to attack Lena Dunham is now so widespread, it creeps into things that have nothing to do with her. Adam Driver's post-Girls success in the new Star Wars franchise has, for some reason, been used as a springboard to attack his ex-co-star:

The hate directed at Dunham has become personal to the point of sometimes disturbing:

More than wishing death on her,  online attacks more frequently focus on Dunham's appearance and her perceived desirability:

These days, it's hard to find anyone -- even the most active of feminists -- willing to publicly object to Dunham being treated like this. Open season has been declared on Lena Dunham, and the left is not holding itself to the same degree of accountability it applies to the treatment of other less upsetting female celebrities.

This shift was made abundantly clear this week when the news of Dunham's split with her boyfriend of five years, Jack Antonoff, broke. Across the board, the news was greeted with glee that was widespread and caustic.

It should go without saying, but it is possible to criticize, call out, and ask questions of Lena Dunham's words and actions, without reveling in upheavals relating to her personal life. It is also possible to dislike what a person stands for, and how they publicly conduct themselves without plunging into the realms of unhinged cruelty. See? This guy manages it just fine:

The ease with which sexist rhetoric has been employed to tear Lena Dunham down is a disturbing indictment of how easily America's culturally ingrained misogyny can sneak into just about anything. To put this in perspective, when Logan Paul, another universally hated public figure (he laughed at a suicide victim on camera, people) was subjected to trial by internet recently, the most personal it got for him were a few declarations that he was ugly. That was it. The visceral nature of the hatred directed at Dunham is female-specific and it is -- no matter how much America hates her right now -- disturbing.


When she publicly screws up, Dunham deserves to be called out on her words and behavior. When Dunham declares herself a feminist but fails to support other women, it is fair to call her a hypocrite. When she blindly parades her white privilege around, it is right to point out her internalized racism. But it's important to remember that questioning the means with which this woman is criticized is not the same as defending her behavior. Remembering to call out misogyny when we see it is still important regardless of what we think of the person it's aimed at. Lena Dunham might be a problem, but so are trolls -- even part-time ones.