Here's Some Kittens! JK, Gonna Talk About Lena Dunham

I’m just going to throw in my two cents about this Lena Dunham book deal thing before this week ends. I know I should have written something a few days ago, but I have a day job and sometimes it wants me to do things that don’t involve working for not them. Sad story.

So Lena Dunham got a $3.7mil book deal and then a lot of people freaked out and everyone was all, “Isn’t she too young to deserve this?” and then I turned off my Facebook feed because no amount of advil can quench the headache of a thousand a**holes yelling. Sarah Palin got one, and she can barely form a proper sentence. Let’s just calm down. This is a girl with an HBO show, not Dick Cheney eating orphans on a hemorrhaging oil rig.

Dunham wasn’t just offered a book deal, there was a bidding war for it, after the 66 page proposal (complete with color illustrations) was sent to various publishing houses. This isn’t just Dunham having a good agent. It’s not her mom’s art career propelling Dunham’s fame, though I’m sure that taking photos of miniatures is the best way to get your daughter whatever job she wants in entertainment, because women totally dominate that field anyway. It’s how Gwyneth Paltrow got her first role! But for serious, let’s just pause a minute and think about how people phrased it as, “Omg she got what?” as if she were Lindsay Lohan buying a new car to wreck, and ignored the whole part about respected and established publishers vying for her work. Something about that doesn’t make sense.

When I hear to people complain about Dunham’s success, I don’t think it’s really about her. The idea that someone would be too young to be offered such a large sum is ludicrous. Do you know how much the Olsen twins made before they turned 18? And since when is ability defined by age? What I’m seeing is people getting far too upset over the success of a young woman who is thriving in Hollywood without matching the established aesthetic. She doesn’t look like a Disney princess the way that Miley Cyrus does, who got her own show at the age of 14 without anyone complaining that it was only because Billy Ray Cyrus has a guitar. Maybe there’s a gray area between child actors and adult careers that no one may enter without crossing the bridge of asshattery and scaling the mountain of Why Are We Still Talking About This.

Dunham may not look like Miley Cyrus, Drew Barrymore, or a Gyllenhaal, and her genes were less helpful to her career than the aforementioned. She works more behind the camera than in front of it (which any lady in Hollywood will tell you is an achievement in and of itself), and when she is in front of it, people lose their sh*t that a normal looking woman dare show any skin. I’m still waiting for complaints to roll in every time Anne Hathaway gets all epidermal in a film, but apparently if your aesthetics don’t qualify you to be sexualized, you better not have the audacity to take it into your own hands on screen in the script that you wrote and directed while performing it yourself. Go away, workaholic girl, with your non-starved body, we want none of your creativity encroaching on our precious Honey Boo-Boo time!

Dunham has been working to support herself since leaving school, staying up late nights to write (like the rest of us), is clearly a workaholic, and yet her career is attributed to nepotism and her achievements are met with whiny cries of unfair things and how she took all the other hipster kids’ toys. I did a quick poll of my personal Facebook feed (super accurate you guys, it’s a real scientisty method), and realized that the only people I knew who were constantly whining about Dunham getting opportunities were ones who were born pretty privileged themselves, and have, possibly, more opportunities than they do talent to make something of them with. They are people who might have more time for their projects if they spent less of it whining. My friends who enjoy Dunham’s work or are ambivalent about it, on the other hand, tend to be the ones who come from middle or lower middle class families, had to work jobs to get through college, and have to work on their personal projects after their day job ends. They also seem to be the only ones who get that ‘Girls’ is shredding privileged youths to bits in a dry, ruthless way, not parading them around in a shrine to pretension.

I’m not even a huge Lena Dunham fan, to be honest. I’ve enjoyed her work so far, but I don’t see her as the Mozart of my generation of women or anything. I just get a visceral pang of WTF every time I see her get ripped apart by people for reasons that I don’t think have to do with her as an artist. It seems to me that people get angry at her because she looks like the rest of us, so why should she be the one to do well? “She looks like me, therefore she’s like me, so why am I not the one doing what she is?” – would be the thought I assume goes through their heads. This bothers me for two reasons:

  1.  It’s lookist and I just can’t with aestheticizing women anymore, my eyes can’t handle the rolling, and
  2. Y’all get that this is great for the rest of us too, right?

She’s opening doors for other young women. Every time a young female writer or director is successful, it increases the chances for other young women to be able to do the same. Gender ratios in television and literature are still pretty heavily tipped to the male side, and there is still more of a medieval attitude towards women of “no one wants to hear from little girls” than you’d think, keeping many stories from being told, and the storytellers from being able to tell them. Dunham is proving that our stories are marketable, and that taking a chance on telling them is worthwhile.

Maybe we can all try to be OK with a woman looking normal, using her lady brain instead of her lady boobs and stop freaking out over the fact she has the audacity to be 26 years old and successful in several fields without looking like a Kardashian. Or being a man.

Image Copyright HBO

  • Almie Rose

    You’ve said it all, so accurately. Young women artists/writers/filmmakers/etc have to stick together, not tear each other apart, even if you don’t enjoy their work. 10,000 for you, Glen Coco!

    • Julia Gazdag

      I love what Caitlin Moran wrote in her book about not having to like every woman just because they’re a woman, but not liking someone doesn’t mean ripping them to shreds for every move they make. Professional criticism is fine, but people are just annoying with their petulant childish whining, and it’s destructive. If I have to listen to someone complain, it might as well be constructive.

  • Ramou Sarr

    I think that the criticism on Dunham differs depending on where you look. I don’t really see much vitriol of her because of her body or her looks (I know it’s out there though), but continue to see the criticism that has been there from the beginning about the niche (rich, white, privileged) that she represents and whether or not that is problematic. Also, I’ve seen a lot more attacks on the inconsistency between her statement that her parents told her post-college that they weren’t going to help her financially and the fact that her parents helped fund Tiny Furniture. So it’s kind of this lack of willing to admit that yes, that privilege exists and yes, it helped contribute to her success. Which isn’t really anything that I think anyone should be demonized for – the getting help, the being privileged – it’s the lack of acknowledgment that I see the most anger towards. That being said, I’m a fan of Dunham’s work! And I think that one (me, in this case) can take issue with her and still enjoy her work. I disagree, however, that we (women) need to all stick together. My vagina doesn’t dictate who I must support – thank God, right?

    • Julia Gazdag

      I still don’t understand why she’s become such a lightning rod for the race and privilege issues in this country, to be honest. And most of the friends (j/k, ALL) who I see criticizing her are white, crazy privileged, and some still live on their parents’ support. It’s great that her parents could help fund her film, and as much as its an opportunity others may not have, or have to start a Kickstarter project for, I have more respect for funding a child’s creative endeavor which requires a lot of work, than funding funemployment.

      • Ramou Sarr

        I honestly think it was just timing with her. I admit to also rolling at my eyes at the equally situated white ladies who hate her (I did get cray cray on tumblr and asked my white followers who criticized Dunham for the lack of diversity to tell me all about their PoC friends. I did a “Show Me The Receipts!” rant.), but I see a lot of anger and criticism from PoC women, mostly writers, artists, who are fed up with the lack of representation. And yes! I don’t think the issue is her getting help from her parents. That’s fine! But it’s the downplaying of that fact that is frustrating. The access to money &/or people is a privilege that she has and great! Good for her! But then don’t turn around and say that you did it all yourself.

        • Julia Gazdag

          Well, I do think credit is due to the work itself that’s done. And most of the women (heck, people) in Hollywood whose careers were supported both financially and in other ways by family don’t acknowledge that, and they started off focusing on a single track, not three. I mostly feel compelled to defend her because I feel like there are less intelligent people with less potential getting paid way more than she is, who are just as privileged if not more so, but they aren’t getting flack for it. Attacking one individual makes the issue personal, instead of using the opportunity to point out the overall problem and trying to move towards positive change.

    • Julia Gazdag

      (I’d also just like to beat a dead horse’s ghost into a fog and say that I don’t think pointing out that Lena Dunham is not the sole and primary cause of racism in entertainment negates the idea that her show reflects a larger problem in media representation. Not that you’re saying that, I just felt compelled to put it out there.)

  • Elizabeth Stemmer

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  • Elizabeth Stemmer

    I think you’ve said all the big things that piss me off. People really need to relax. You sum it up best with “They also seem to be the only ones who get that ‘Girls’ is shredding privileged youths to bits in a dry, ruthless way, not parading them around in a shrine to pretension.”

    Here, Here!

  • Jillian Allison

    Most of the criticism I’ve seen directed towards Dunham has nothing to do with the way she looks. It’s more directed toward the lack of POC in her world view, ridiculous when you consider that her show based in NYC. This is a valid point, but as you’ve mentioned, it is true of most of Hollywood. I think most of the vitriol towards her actually stems from hearing her back story and judging her by the character she’s created and plays, not the actual person. She’s purposefully blurred the line between her and Hannah, the character is obviously based partly on her, but based on what I know of her role in running the show, she’s not very Hannah like. She may have gotten a hand up, but she appears to be working her ass off. But a lot of people think she’s lazy, entitled and narcissistic just like her character. A poster child for the millennium generation and that’s where I suspect a lot of the rage stems from. Maybe part of it is the idea of deserving and that as the non-ideal woman, she doesn’t deserve our attention. Mostly it just seems to be annoyance.

    My own dislike for her and show is that I don’t like the characters and they cut a little too close to home for me. I know many people like Hannah and her friends and have no desire to hear more about them as they do enough self-promoting as it is. I am happy to see more women getting shows and roles and glad we can finally have these discussions because you can only discuss how Meghan Fox doesn’t represent real women so many times before it becomes boring.

  • Marianna Tabares

    Excellent Article. At first I wasn’t sure how I felt about the stories Lena shared in her movies and her show, but when I expanded my thinking, I realized that I actually understood it all in a way that startled me. I realized I was very reluctant to admit that I could relate to what her characters convey.
    Thus far, her work has taught me that I too deserve to share stories and fight for them to be read/heard/watched.

  • Diana Zapata

    on my end, the thing that bothers me most about lena dunham isn’t her body or the lack of POC on her show, but it was the way she reacted when confronted with this observation by reporters and such. i think the answers she gave in that respect were more telling than the fact itself. people keep saying that she shouldn’t be made responsible for every single instance of racism going on in hollywood. fair enough. but when she keeps talking about how her “girls” are so relatable and real and how she has a privileged point of view because she was such an outsider growing up- she does kind of position herself as someone who deserves to be heard and who supposedly represents our generation. i do agree that the rage directed at her is unnecessary but many of the criticisms directed at her are still valid and just because women should be supporting each other it doesn’t mean that we can’t find the problematic aspects (how else are we going to improve the world if we can’t troubleshoot our own failings?)

  • Randi Bergsma

    F*ck Yeah! I love Lena Dunham and I totally agree with this article. That is all.

  • Santina Muha

    Last paragraph – nailed it!

  • Ximena Santillan Guerra

    Great Article I really Admire Lena She´s so talented.

  • Miriam Vanzo

    Beauty is the way to get a job for people that don’t have other talents, as they say..So she might not looks amazingly beautiful- she’s “just” a normal girl like us, but yet she got to tell her story and got her way through the very narrow world of literature! Well done Lena!!! And great article! :)

  • Jamie Pain

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  • Jamie Pain

    Dear Ms. Gazdag:

    You present yourself in a similar manner to those who merely hold a superficial understanding of this country and its heritage. I accept your “hailing from budapest” as a sufficient explanation of your shortcoming in this particular regard. Nevertheless, Ms. Dunham has merely taken advantage of the degraded standards seen across the media landscape at this time. To her credit, not many individuals can readily identify opportunity of this kind. It has been said that if you are surrounded by corn then you shall pick corn for a living. It just so happens that Ms. Dunham is surrounded not by corn but by stupid, ignorant people and she has merely adapted to taking advantage of their stupidity for a living. Her endorsement of Barry Obama is of no surprise. He too has taken advantage of the largest cash crop surrounding him, Stupid people, shmucks. I’m not saying Romney is worthy of praise, you have two choices in this election. You can vote for Romney and get raped with a broomstick, or you can vote for Obama and get raped with a broomstick covered in heavy-duty staples. I am not happy to say this, but I choose the broomstick without the protruding staples.

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