(trigger warning: sexual abuse) I’ve been spending the past few days reading, tweeting, and generally being upset about Lena Dunham’s abuse revelations–and the way that a certain corner of the feminist internet has responded by defending her, normalizing her actions, and accusing her critics of being right-wingers who either have an agenda or are jealous of her success. Some good background and analysis can be found here, here, here, and here.
I’ve been especially flabbergasted that Planned Parenthood Federation of America is continuing to use Dunham as a spokesperson. Last night, I took part in the #DropDunham hashtag on Twitter, started by Deva (@CatsBaril), which asked PP to remove Dunham as its spokesperson; this morning, I wrote an email to its president, Cecile Richards. If you want to join the conversation, you can email her at Cecile.Richards at PPFA dot org, or tweet to @ppfa using the #DropDunham hashtag. My letter is beneath the jump:
Dear Ms. Richards,
I urge you to remove Lena Dunham as a spokesperson for Planned Parenthood in light of the admissions in her memoir of sexually and emotionally abusing her younger sister, Grace. What is so disturbing is not just the oft-quoted incident that occurred when Lena was seven and her sister was one–although that certainly raises some red flags due to the large age difference and infant Grace’s inability to consent–but a pattern of coercion that happened over the course of years, and the near-pornographic and remorseless way Dunham describes these incidents as an adult.
Dunham writes about masturbating as a teenager in bed next to her sister’s “sticky, muscly little body”; about, as a younger child, coercing her sister into kissing her on the lips and “relaxing” on top of her while watching TV; and about using classic abuse tactics such as fear to drive Grace into her arms. For example, this particularly disturbing passage: “I took a perverse pleasure in delivering bad news to her–the death of our grandfather, a fire across the street–hoping that her fear would drive her into my arms, make her trust me.” Dunham literally says that she was trying “anything a sexual predator might do to woo a small suburban girl.” She may have intended this comparison hyperbolically, but it is telling.
Dunham shares these stories as though they are merely funny, quirky anecdotes–and many of her apologists, including a shocking number of self-identified feminists, have defended her behavior as normal childhood experimentation. Some have even called her brave for writing about it. But there is nothing normal about Dunham’s stories, except in the sense that our culture far too often normalizes abuse.
Children are often sexually curious, and sometimes touch their own or other children’s genitals. This is normal and not reason for concern–unless their behavior involves much younger children and/or a pattern of coercion, both of which Dunham’s did. I’ve read too many stories of people who were sexually abused as children by older children in ways much like what Dunham describes–and are now hearing experiences like theirs brushed off and normalized by mainstream feminists. It’s a heartbreaking betrayal from the same women who regularly call out male celebrities’ abusive actions.
I won’t link to any of these stories here, as I’m not sure how widely their authors would want them shared. But you can find them easily by searching for Dunham’s name on social media, including the #DropDunham hashtag on Twitter. Keep in mind that this hashtag was started by a feminist woman of color, and that the vast majority of people speaking out against Dunham have been feminists, womanists, liberals, and leftists–not right-wingers, as some of Dunham’s defenders have ludicrously claimed.
I beg you, listen to survivors. Listen to the many survivors and their allies who are saying this is not ok. Planned Parenthood has a long history of supporting and providing resources to survivors of sexual abuse and assault; if it continues to associate with Lena Dunham, it will no longer be a safe space for them.
I say this all as a Planned Parenthood supporter who has donated money, interned, and volunteered at multiple locations. I say this as a proud feminist who cares deeply about sexual and reproductive health and access, and has long admired PP’s commitment to these values. I say this as a human being who believes survivors.
Please drop Dunham, or I will no longer be able to support Planned Parenthood.
Laura (last name)