As far as I can tell, there are basically two reasons that people either refuse to call themselves feminists, or don’t take feminism seriously, or both:
- women in general are not taken seriously, and
- feminism keeps creating a space for people like Lena Dunham
On Thursday, an admittedly heavily biased right-wing blog posted an article accusing Lena Dunham, who has done some questionable stuff in the past, of sexually abusing her younger sister Grace. Now, Truth Revolt, the blog in question, is a slightly scary right-wing blog.
Despite Dunham’s claims that Truth Revolt were “twist[ing] her words”, everything they quoted was taken directly from her book, Not That Kind Of Girl, a memoir which details, among other things, her early life with her parents and younger sister. And those details are incredibly disturbing.
They’re bad enough, in fact, that although I knew I couldn’t let this go unmentioned, I really can’t bring myself to repeat any of the more graphic things she chose to share with the world for £8.99 a pop. Any survivors of child sexual abuse may well find reading Dunham’s words difficult, if not impossible, and I have both an elder sister and a young niece; I’m not going to linger on anything she’s said in great detail. Anyone looking for a fairly comprehensive review of all that’s been said so far can find it here.
Whatever Dunham’s sister has said – and honestly, “heteronormativity deems certain behaviors harmful, and others “normal”; the state and media are always invested in maintaining that…As a queer person: i’m committed to people narrating their own experiences, determining for themselves what has and has not been harmful” is a noble sentiment, but far from unequivocal – writing about what she did in the way that she did was wrong. And defending her for any of it is even worse.
I said that people won’t take feminism seriously because it creates space for people like Lena Dunham. It does more than that. Feminism – particularly mainstream feminism – allows people like Dunham to feel not only safe, but valued and lauded to such a degree that they can comfortably, openly, admit to and perpetuate harmful behaviours and people will still defend them for it. Everyone from Lena Dunham and Hugo Schwyzer to Joss Whedon and Julie Burchill feels safe within the feminist movement. They shouldn’t.
Feminism should have no space for racists. It should have no spaces for transmisogynists. It should have no place for homophobes. It should have no place and no tolerance whatsoever for abusers of any sort. But it does. The real failure of the feminist movement was never going far enough. It’s never been able to move beyond the confines of the patriarchy it supposedly wants to destroy and really stand for women. For all women. Our society supports racism, transphobia and victim-blaming as much as it supports misogyny. Feminism shouldn’t do so as well.
Anti-feminism may be a direct and natural result of patriarchy, but womanism and #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen and the myriad other movements and discussions like them are not. They’re a direct and natural result of white feminists in particular royally screwing up. Cisgender, heterosexual, middle-class white women are doing pretty well for themselves these days, but it generally seems to be at the expense of just about every other sort of woman on the planet. Dunham’s just one more woman profiting off a movement that was never designed for people like her, and using it to protect herself from the criticism, outrage and humiliation she so thoroughly deserves.
I don’t want any more Lena Dunhams. I don’t want one more privileged person spouting superficial pro-woman soundbytes to mask the fact that they’re a bigot at best or outright abusive at worst.
I want us to smash the patriarchy, not redecorate it.