I read Lena Dunham’s memoir Not That Kind of Girl–A Young Woman Tells You What She’s ‘Learned’ because I wanted to like this pop culture feminist icon, the widely successful television creator and actress, a friend of Mindy Kaling’s and inspiration to many women I know. It did not work.
Her unchecked privilege as a cis-hetero white girl whose parents are wealthy artists support her emotionally and when needed financially is just part of who she is (and in many ways not so different from my own background tbh). However, the book does not acknowledge the fact that Dunham speaks to a limited womanhood, nor does it ever attempt to go beyond its self-imposed constraints. The few times she actually mentions them, Dunham is disdainful towards LGBTQ people (“the pickings were slim, especially if, like me, you were over bisexuals,” p5) and non-white women (“I bought my wallet while high off my ass on legal prescription drugs […] [its look] is uniformly beloved by children and Japanese women alike,” p112). She never acknowledges the relevance women of color and LGBTQ folks might have to her own project of feminism, probably because she doesn’t accord them much interiority, individuality, or interest, if they are not her good friend. There’s no indication of interest or awareness in all of Not That Kind towards a reader who cannot connect to the summer house + nanny + therapy + supportive parents + who help her get a great education + give her a network to start a career girlhood that is the backdrop to her stories.
Roxane Gay explains in Bad Feminist: “Feminism, as of late, has suffered from a certain guilt by association because we conflate feminism with women who advocate feminism as part of their personal brand […] We forget the difference between feminism and Professional Feminists” (Bad Feminist x). Taylor Swift has become persona non grata (for some of us) because we have understood this difference. Lena Dunham is another example that comes to (my) mind.
Dunham’s embrace of non size zero female bodies might have done a lot of good, and her public discussion of sexuality, consent, mental health, and insecurity are admirably and have clearly resonated with many young women. However, I can’t help quoting Bad Feminist again: “We need pop culture that demonstrates not only the ways people are different but also the ways we are very much alike […] The conversation [about the few examples of progressive pop culture such as Orange Is The New Black, but also Girls] is a measure of how much we are forced to settle or, perhaps, how much we’re willing to settle.” (253)