Can Lena Dunham Call Herself A Feminist After She Victim Blamed Aurora Perrineau?
Can Lena Dunham Call Herself A Feminist After She Victim Blamed Aurora Perrineau?
It is an interesting and empowering time for feminism with powerful men being exposed for sexual violence almost daily since Weinstein-gate. The media and the world are listening, with most taking these claims seriously. There is therefore no room for Lena Dunham’s latest insensitive, hypercritical as well as controversial stance.
Murray Miller, ‘Girls’ writer and friend of Dunham’s, has been accused of raping actor Aurora Perrineau in 2012 when she was 17 years old.
Lena Dunham and ‘Girls’ executive producer Jenni Konner made a statement, in the now deleted tweet, claiming to stand by Murray.
The full statement reads: “During the windfall of deeply necessary accusations over the last few months in Hollywood, we have been thrilled to see so many women’s voices heard and dark experiences in this industry justified. It’s a hugely important time of change and, like every feminist in Hollywood and beyond, we celebrate. But during every time of change there are also incidences of the culture, in its enthusiasm and zeal, taking down the wrong targets. We believe, having worked closely with him for more than half a decade, that this is the case with Murray Miller. While our first instinct is to listen to every woman’s story, our insider knowledge of Murray’s situation makes us confident that sadly this accusation is one of the 3 percent of assault cases that are misreported every year. It is a true shame to add to that number, as outside of Hollywood women still struggle to be believed. We stand by Murray and this is all we’ll be saying about this issue.”
Hours later they quickly retracted their statement writing off with “we apologise if this has disappointed women”.
It is telling that the only rape survivor Dunham has dismissed, Aurora Perrineau, is a woman of colour. It would seem that Dunham stands up for feminism except when her white male friend is being accused by a woman, especially one of colour. Dunham essentially created a feminist show through ‘Girls’ by showing complex female characters that are not always likable, if anything she has built her personal brand on speaking out on women’s rights, so why is she defending rape allegations?
Rape and sexual violence is common, as 1 in 4 women will experience sexual violence in their lifetime. Falsely reporting rape however, is not common, it is as rare as ‘3% is misreported’ as quoted by Dunham. This accusation happened 5 years ago when Perrineau was 17 years old. Why would this be a false accusation?
Through this recent controversy Dunham contributes to the detrimental rape culture of not believing sexual assault survivors. It reinforces the victim blaming culture that protects rapists and silences survivors. Dunham has a powerful and far-reaching voice. Her voice is heard by millions of people including sexual assault and rape survivors who are too ashamed or scared to tell their story. This is just another example of victims not being taken for their word. However there should not be pressure for survivors to publicly tell their story.
This controversy displays that publicly revealing sexual trauma can be further traumatising for the survivor if they are not believed. One in five women will report workplace sexual harassment, however this often does help the situation. According to a report conducted by Everyday Sexism and TUC, 80% of cases did not change and 16% found that reporting aggravated the situation.
Dunham vocally stood up for the #metoo rape and sexual violence victims and she tweeted in August: “Things women do lie about: what they ate for lunch. Things women don’t lie about: rape”.
The hypocrisy is palpable. And the Internet has come down on her like a ton of bricks. Dunham represents white feminism, women who have been so sheltered in their white liberal middle class bubble. We cannot have selective feminism. Feminism must be able to hold everyone, all intersectionalities of identity. If the people who claim to support feminism also protect the accused, their message of feminism is flawed and has failed.
It is laughable that as soon as someone within her circle is accused, she denies it with the questionable proof of ‘insider knowledge’. Comparatively, in a similar situation Sarah Silverman recently came out out against her longtime friend Louis CK about various sexual harassment accusations with the statement “So I hope it’s ok if I am at once very angry for the women he wronged and the culture that enabled it, but also sad, because he’s my friend.” This is how Lena Dunham should have responded, taken the time to process these difficult emotions in order to take her own advice and listen to rape survivors. By defending Murray, Dunham displays a wilful ignorance when the accused had a friendly familiar face.
Lupita Nyong’o was the only woman out of seventy-nine accusations against Weinstein he specifically denied, stating that he remembered a “different version of events”. Women of colour, and especially black women are less likely to be believed when it comes to rape and sexual violence as black women are stereotyped for being hyper sexual and fetishised in the objectification of black bodies. The misogyny that women of colour face when it comes to sexual violence makes it considerably more difficult for them to come out against their abuser, making sexual violence a greater danger to women of colour than to white women.
Jane Fonda recently said in an interview in regards to the Weinstein-gate that “It’s too bad that it’s probably because so many of the women that were assaulted by Harvey Weinstein are famous and white and everybody knows them. This has been going on a long time to black women and other women of colour and it doesn’t get out quite the same.” Which is why white women must rally behind women of colour in these cases. As white women we must hand the microphone to women of colour and not release a statement charged with emotion with not much knowledge.
Zinzi Clemmons former writer for Dunham’s The Lenny Letter has left the publication in response stating that “It’s time for women – especially women of color – to divest from Lena Dunham… She cannot have our words if she does not respect us”. ‘Girls’, even though it broke through a lot of boundaries, was a limited depiction of white privileged middle class women with first world problems.
In Clemmons’ statement she said that she had mutual acquaintance of Dunham’s friends in college who would display ‘hipster racism’ – ‘wealthy white privileged liberals with good connections… I’d call their strain of “hipster racism”, which typically uses sarcasm as a cover, and in the end looks a lot like gaslighting—“It’s a joke. Why are you overreacting?”’.
It is time for women of color–black women in particular–to divest from Lena Dunham. pic.twitter.com/dxOWCLhTpA
— zinziclemmons (@zinziclemmons) November 19, 2017
Women of colour deserve to be heard and believed. After this controversy, it is hard to take Lena Dunham seriously as feminist when she clearly does not stand for all women, especially those who are not in her bubble.
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This is what my social media mentions are like every day. I've gotten used to it, I keep moving and I consider these people sad leftovers from a bygone era when female sexuality was caged and these pathetic basement dwellers were the gatekeepers. But this week, as so many brave women/people come forward with stories of assault, I want you all to remember what they are facing: yes, some gorgeous applause and sisterhood. I wish I could focus only on that. But also a lot of surprising and cruel reactions by people who don't deserve the publicity. When I disclosed my rape 3 years ago I was ignorant- I assumed (despite having been in the eye of the storm before) that you share a painful story and people say "hey, we may not agree on everything but fuck I hate that this happened to you." That isn't often the experience of coming forward with assault, which is why I am endlessly and eternally proud of the women who have spoken up, those I know and those I don't. All love. This is just the beginning.