Lena Dunham's brand of feminism is hindering political change
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Lena Dunham is currently back in the public eye as American Horror Story creator Ryan Murphy announced she would be joining the show’s cast in the next season. This seventh season is to be set in the present day, in the aftermath of the last US Presidential election, though it’s not yet been revealed what role the Girls star will play. However, this announcement has caused significant backlash from online communities, once again reminding us how divisive a figure Lena Dunham has proved to be in recent years. She has been particularly controversial in branding herself a proud feminist, yet making comments that greatly undermine what the movement stands for. She received backlash over a comment she made that she wished she’d had an abortion in order to remove her internalised stigma towards it, making light of a deeply emotional decision many women are forced to make. She has repeatedly displayed prejudices and made subtly – and sometimes not so subtly – racist comments, the most infamous of which was her post about Odell Beckham Jr., in which she ascribed to him misogynistic thoughts whilst presenting herself as the oppressed and Beckham Jr. as the one in a position of privilege. Simultaneously, she has also played into repressive stereotypes about black men’s perception and treatment of women, and was oblivious to the “often violent history of the over-sexualisation of black male bodies, as well as false accusations by white women toward black men” - an implication she only acknowledged in a later apology. Those who jump to Dunham’s defence will support her status as a feminist icon because she created and starred in a show led by sexually liberated women; a show in which she herself shows the camera what a ‘real’ woman’s body looks like - an apparently revolutionary act in an industry that pressures women to squeeze themselves into a very strict, and unrealistic, mould of conventional beauty. The issue comes when these progressive acts are used to excuse Dunham’s racist or otherwise problematic remarks and behaviours. It can feel uncomfortably anti-feminist to call out and shame a woman who is attempting to partake in her own liberation, and who with good intentions tries to popularise the branding of ‘feminist’. But Dunham’s statements do not exist in a vacuum, and she again and again perpetuates a toxic system without facing, or often even acknowledging, the consequences. Her apologies are defensive, as she tries to rationalise her actions and undermines the reactions of those who suffer from her statements, essentially forgiving a culture that systematically oppresses minorities by excusing wilful ignorance.
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