Lena Dunham is finally speaking out (and saying all the right things)
If you read Lena Dunham’s “Not That Kind Of Girl,” then you remember that one of the most striking and powerful essays in the memoir is a chapter in which she explains how she was sexually assaulted as a student at Oberlin, by a fellow student she pseudonyms “Barry.” Now, it seems, her publishers are revising the chapter in the next edition of her book, due to a lawsuit by an Oberlin alum claiming he’s been targeted because of coincidental similarities to the description of the assaulter.
This is not the first time her gripping essay has come under scrutiny. Since her memoir was published, according to Dunham—who wrote a moving and inspiring essay for Buzzfeed on the topic of this essay’s reception— she’s faced a barrage of negativity.
“I have had my character and credibility questioned at every turn. I have been attacked online with violent and misogynistic language. Reporters have attempted to uncover the identity of my attacker despite my sincerest attempts to protect this information. My work has been torn apart in an attempt to prove I am a liar, or worse, a deviant myself. My friends and family have been contacted. Articles have heralded “Lena Dunham’s shocking confession.” I have been made to feel, on multiple occasions, as though I am to blame for what happened.”
However, Dunham refuses to accept this blame ( “I don’t believe any of us who have been raped and/or assaulted are to blame”) and has grave concerns re: how the media is handling her story (“. . .I simply cannot allow my story to be used to cast doubt on other women who have been sexually assaulted.”)
Dunham in no way seeks to vilify the media for how they have mishandled this story, but at the same time, refuses to let journalists and outlets off the hook for being complicit in promoting misconceptions about sexual violence.
“I have a certain empathy for the journalists who asked me questions like whether I regret how much I drank that night or what my attacker would say if he was asked about me. These ignorant lines of inquiry serve to further flawed narratives about rape, but these people are reacting to the same set of social signals that we all are — signals telling us that preventing assault is a woman’s job, that rape is only rape when a stranger drags you into a dark alley with a knife at your throat, that our stories are never true, and that lying about rape is a way for women to enact revenge on innocent men. These misconceptions about rape are rampant, destructive and precisely the thing that prevents survivors from seeking the support that they need and deserve.”
Ultimately, Dunham tells us that she feels deep gratitude both “for the support” that she has received and “that this dialogue is taking place.” She refuses to deny her feelings just as she refuses to be blind to her blessings. As she puts it “I am angry, but I am not alone.”
In this powerhouse of an essay, her closing paragraph is her mightiest:
“Survivors have the right to tell their stories, to take back control after the ultimate loss of control. There is no right way to survive rape and there is no right way to be a victim. What survivors need more than anything is to be supported, whether they choose to pursue a criminal investigation or to rebuild their world on their own terms. You can help by never defining a survivor by what has been taken from her. You can help by saying I believe you.”
Even though this is a deeply personal story for Dunham, in much of her essay she talks about the universality of her nightmarish experience. She acknowledges that she is a public figure, and as a woman in the spotlight, she wants to use her platform for good. She wants to help change the conversation about sexual assault, discouraging the public from doubting and blaming survivors and encouraging both media and civilians alike to support survivors in whatever choices they make following their assault. As she so rightly says, we can all help by supporting. We can all help by saying “I believe you.”