We can’t handle the truth – even when it’s Lena Dunham showing it to us

The ‘incident’ with the Girls’ creator’s younger sister highlights our confusion over children’s sexuality

Grace Dent
Monday 03 November 2014 15:55
Girls star Lena Dunham says she would rather other women took leading parts
Girls star Lena Dunham says she would rather other women took leading parts

Girls writer Lena Dunham is currently defending accusations that her latest book – Not That Kind of Girl - contains a passage that suggests that as a child she molested her own baby sister.

Dunham has been in the UK promoting the book, which TV, radio and all sections of the press declared a wondrous and fascinating venture. Meanwhile, readers who didn’t have a vested interest in keeping her publicity team sweet for future promotional tours have noted the anecdote, which some might class as a creepily enthusiastic “doctors and nurses” experimentation and others see as plain child-on-child abuse.

Dunham is outraged by this thought. Those who are outraged do not seem – to me at least – chiefly outraged at Dunham, but at the easy ride she’s receiving over this stink plainly for being the white, feminist, media-darling Lena Dunham.

In some circles the knives have been out for Lena Dunham for some time. This is the problem with being hoisted up as the “Voice of a Generation”. Anyone elevated to “Voice of …” status will be so overly-welcomed by media outlets desperate to ride the zeitgeist that pretty soon everyone but your true fans will wish you would bloody shut up with your “honesty” and your “truth”. Russell Brand – “the Voice of Revolution” – is in a similar pickle, making a lot of salient points among the scatterbrain ones, but to the general greeting of “Oh bloody hell, not YOU again”.

Personally, I think Lena Dunham’s niche has always been eye-watering intimacy. Her characters in Girls must be constantly pissing, scheduling abortions or crab removals, changing tampons, lying in the bath naked with their best girl-friends, or squeezing out a public poo.

This toe-curling admission of infantile sexual curiosity is painfully on-brand. The anecdote in Dunham’s book is also quite tame, once one sweeps aside Dunham’s visceral language about “carefully spread open” vaginas. Aged seven, Dunham wanted to know about vaginas.

She looked at her baby sister’s. She found that on that particular day her sister was storing some small stones in her private parts. Both children laughed. The end. Dunham’s tale is an uncomfortable trip down memory lane for all of us about sexual awakenings. I told the story twice on the morning I heard of the furore and was greeted by friends with eye-watering tales of misplaced Lego, and about groups of five-year-olds enjoying a stolen copy of Razzle magazine.

Of course, what happens with this “news” now is the interesting thing. Here we are in Britain, currently at war with the past over historical male abuses of power, no evidence seemingly being too flimsy to investigate. Feminists like myself tend to be in full support of this. Creepy is as creepy does. Round them up, let them explain themselves to the PaedoFinder General.

But then Lena Dunham talks provocatively about very complex infantile sibling sexual power games. “As she grew, I took to bribing her time and affection: one dollar in quarters if I could do her make-up like a ‘motorcycle chick’. Three pieces of candy if I could kiss her on the lips for five seconds. Whatever she wanted to watch on TV if she would just ‘relax on me’. Basically, anything a sexual predator might do to woo a small suburban girl, I was trying.” And anyone who raises the alarm is branded hysterical, right-wing, nit-picking or in dire lack of perspective.

Of course many blogs have been written – but very few mainstream pieces – about Lena Dunham’s “privilege” and how her "Voice of a Generation" art simply portrays the lives of affluent white girls whining introspectively while awaiting parental hand-outs. Any young woman not from this background can be forgiven for looking at Girls and thinking, “This is not my voice”.

Privilege in art is a thorny issue. I’d personally rather see one person’s truth, however nauseating, than that person trying to emulate other voices badly in an attempt to keep everyone happy. But, in this “stones in the vagina” anecdote incident, there is a curious sense that Dunham’s privilege is allowing her to provoke and make light over subjects that anyone else would not.

Poor, exhausted Russell Brand – nowadays a political animal and by no means a rampant shagger any more – would not have been able to casually throw a passage into Revolution in which he recalled being a young boy and “carefully spreading open” his baby sister’s vagina. Nor would any other man, for that matter, if he wanted to feel the warm glow of primetime or the book shop bestsellers’ promo list ever again.

The Dunham incident – which has resulted in her cancelling dates she had scheduled in Antwerp and Berlin as part of her promotional tour - has drawn attention to our huge taboo over children’s sexuality. Or more accurately, it’s shown us that we gush over writers like Dunham for their thrilling veracity, but when push comes to shove, we just can’t handle the truth.

Older drinking vs younger drinking: It’s just not fair

The over-60s drink twice as often as adults in their teens and twenties, a survey for Channel 4 News has found. Out of 1,119 adults, 15 per cent of the over-60s drank every night of the week. Perhaps this explains why they send all their text messages in block capitals. They’re too pissed to tackle punctutation.

The findings also shed light on their love of Mediterranean cruises – which are essentially floating 24-hour bars – and why BBC dramas like Last Tango In Halifax are much easier on the eye after a massive gin with optional splash of tonic.

Is one reason the Baby Boomers are more permanently sozzled, I wonder, that they’re the ones who can afford it? Spare a thought for those jammy sixtysomethings who enjoyed free education, easy mortgages on price-rocketing homes, and what would now seem like a curious sensation – “spare cash” to squirrel away. No wonder they’re treating themselves to a weekly bottle of single cask or a nice case of Pinot Noir.

Of course while the oldies get hammered more, they tend to do it in the privacy in their homes (they can afford central heating and Sky multi-package). It’s because their indiscretions are so public that teens have such an image problem when it comes to booze.

For all you young abstemious souls: it's all very well claiming to drink just once a week, but if that one evening involves a Batman costume, a bucket of alcopops and a funnel, and results in a visit to an NHS booze recovery gazebo, then it makes taking the moral high ground that little bit harder.

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