Before the True Revolt piece on Lena Dunham was published, making her feel it was necessary to cancel her book tour, I joined two and half thousand people at The Southbank Centre to see her and Caitlin Moran have a chat about her first book ‘Not That Kind of Girl’. As usual, living in my own time zone I came to the whole Lena Dunham craze late. A friend recommended Girls saying that she wasn’t a fan but “it was inappropriate, grose, a bit weird” and reminded her of me. Not taking offence to this comparison (as it is mainly true), I was intrigued.
A year later and I am hooked! Though the situations in Girls were different to my own experience as a twenty something, I could relate to many of the characters reactions and felt for the first time I was watching a show that represented a coming of age story that was not too far away from my own or someone else I knew. The awkward sexual encounters, changing friendships, trying to find your way but clumsily tripping from one situation to another, all whilst laughing was more real to me than the glossy or gritty representations that I was used to viewing.
I was not only impressed by the show but also by Lena, (this is when the skeptics go “well, she is the daughter of two artists, white and middle to upper class so her success is not that remarkable”). I don’t care about where people have come from, I am more interested in what they do and there is no denying that being able to create such a successful show at the tender age of 22 is an exceptional achievement.
I also enjoyed the way that she seemed to confuse the media, making both the worst dressed list and the cover of Vogue in the same month. Was she to be celebrated or slated? I am firm believer that we need to see more types of people represented in popular culture so that we are not conditioned to think that there is not only one type of beauty; Lena should not be the poster girl for ‘real’ women as all females are in fact real but it is nice to see someone made from a different mould.
Though like everyone that has watched Girls, I had seen A LOT of Lena, I was interested to see what she was like in the flesh. Just as I had hoped she was well spoken, funny and entirely charming.
Lena opened the evening with a reading where she talked about how her mother created the selfie by standing in front of her camera either naked or partially naked taking hundreds of pictures of herself. From this icebreaker it was obvious that the audience were going to get an incite into the no boundaries Lena that we had come to expect. This open attitude may be seen by some as an over share however I love an honest, sometimes awkward conversation much more than the polite media trained monkeys that we are so used to viewing.
Due to Lena and Caitlin already having a friendship the conversation between them flowed with ease and covered a large variety of topics from individuality, women in media, award ceremonies, fashion, show business, career, family, food, feminism, and Taylor Swift to name but a few. Though I am not such a fan-girl that I agree with every word that came out of Lena’s mouth there were many of her views that I could associate with.
She talked of recently learning to say “no”. As a female growing up you are often taught that being appeasing and polite is how to be a ‘good girl’ resulting in saying yes as not to cause upset. I am pretty good at saying no but because of this I am labelled as being hard or a bitch, this is frustrating but I would rather be honest and characterised than be fake, simply because it is easier for others.
The media and cat calling
In classic Daily Mail style they reported that Dunham had debuted a ‘noticeable slimmer face’; even though she was annoyed that they had honed in on her appearance rather than her writing she hated herself more for enjoying the admiration.
This is the same with cat calling; though vile and often intimidating, there is something equally validating about it. If I am having a day where I look like shit and a van man toots his horn or I get whistled at in the street I first throw daggers at the perpetrator, turn my head then smile at myself. I hate the fact that men (or the media if I was famous) can have this effect but we currently live in a society where looks are celebrated more than intelligence. This is not behaviour that is going to change over night, but I hope that shining a light on why it is unacceptable that future generations will be more well rounded in their admorationtion for one another rather than focusing so prevalently on aesthetics.
The media is often scathingly brutal towards Dunham’s dress sense for not fitting into their idea of fashion. She explained how they report like she has actually gone and picked out a dress to purposely piss them off, whereas in reality she wears what she thinks looks good and feels comfortable in. Again, on a much smaller scale, I totally understood where she was coming from. I unintentionally have my own unique style which has often gained the response “you’re not actually wearing that are you?”. This used to make me feel pressured into adorning something that was prettier. Though I got compliments, dressing in the same way as my peers made me feel awkward and unattractive.
…or how hollywood loves someone that transforms from being ‘kooky’ to ‘normal’. Since I was about 15 people have described many of my opinions and decisions as a ‘phase,’ whether it be my love for tattoos, putting on too much eyeliner, wearing a lot of black, travelling, not wanting children, not loving the idea of getting married or being vegetarian. I don’t plan on changing anytime soon and I hope that Lena doesn’t either.
Another topic that was raised by an audience member was how she felt about being called racist due to the Girls cast being predominantly white. Lena explained that she writes mainly from her own experiences and, as a white girl from an affluent background, she felt that she could not properly represent characters from a different ethnic background. However she hoped taking the hit and being criticised for her actions would open up conversation and make people realise just how sexist and racist the media can be, in turn opening up the doors for more types of people to write about their experiences for an audience to enjoy. She went on to explain that her motivation for writing both Tiny Furniture and Girls was because there was no one she could identify with on TV.
I hope that the backlash from the most recent criticism also opens up conversation to make some changes. Lena was accused of molesting her sister as a child because in her book she wrote of finding pebbles in her vagina, masturbating next to her in bed and bribing her for affection “in the way a sexual predator would”. Dunham has admitted herself that the use of sexual predator was insensitive and has apologised. However, I believe that the other actions she describes are only seen as sexual through the eyes of an adult.
Children do not have boundaries or an understanding of sexuality; these are behaviours that are learned through both education and experience. I hope that from this controversy the importance of sexual education in children is highlighted, it should not be a topic that is shyed away from or encouraged but simply properly educated, helping them to understand it is ok to be inquisitive but other peoples bodies and their own are sacred places to be respected and not to be touched without permission.
I do not want to leave this piece on such a negative note as the event itself was positive, funny and empowering so I will instead leave you in the same manner as Lena did which was by saying that, “We live in a golden age of women taking action”.