I think it’s safe to say that Lena Dunham, who drops her clothes at every opportunity, falls dead center into the dictionary definition of someone with compulsive exhibitionism: “Psychiatry. a disorder characterized especially by a compulsion to exhibit the genitals in public.” Given her predilection for letting it all hanging out physically, it’s hard to imagine that Lena was plagued by any doubts that she might be revealing too much information. So Lena spilled, and spilled, and spilled some more.
What Lena didn’t realize is that her comfort with exhibitionism — both physical and mental — is a product of the bubble in which she lives. Kevin Williamson, having read her autobiography, summarizes that bubble with savage accuracy:
Lena Dunham is fond of lists. Here is a list of things in Lena Dunham’s life that do not strike Lena Dunham as being unusual: growing up in a $6.25 million Tribeca apartment; attending a selection of elite private schools; renting a home in Hollywood Hills well before having anything quite resembling a job and complaining that the home is insufficiently “chic”; the habitual education of the men in her family at Andover; the services of a string of foreign nannies; being referred to a homework therapist when she refused to do her homework and being referred to a relationship therapist when she fought with her mother; constant visits to homeopathic doctors, and visits to child psychologists three times a week; having a summer home on a lake in Connecticut, and complaining about it; writing a “voice of her generation” memoir in which ordinary life events among members of her generation, such as making student-loan payments or worrying about the rent or health insurance, never come up; making casual trips to Malibu; her grandparents’ having taken seven-week trips to Europe during her mother’s childhood; spending a summer at a camp at which the costs can total almost as much as the median American family’s annual rent; being histrionically miserable at said camp and demanding to be brought home early; demanding to be sent back to the same expensive camp the next year.
In this bubble, sexual obsessions and acting out are normative, not unusual. Comfortably ensconced in her elitist bubble, Lena felt entirely comfortable describing her childhood sexuality. In her world, that prepubescent sexual experimentation and curiosity extended far beyond the “you show me yours and I’ll show you mine” curiosity that most little kids display. Instead, Lena aggressively used her much younger sister as her own private sex toy. Again, Williamson explains:
And they [her parents] were, in their daughter’s telling, enablers of some very disturbing behavior that would be considered child abuse in many jurisdictions — Lena Dunham’s sexual abuse, specifically, of her younger sister, Grace, the sort of thing that gets children taken away from non-millionaire families without Andover pedigrees and Manhattanite social connections. Dunham writes of casually masturbating while in bed next to her younger sister, of bribing her with “three pieces of candy if I could kiss her on the lips for five seconds . . . anything a sexual predator might do to woo a small suburban girl I was trying.” At one point, when her sister is a toddler, Lena Dunham pries open her vagina — “my curiosity got the best of me,” she offers, as though that were an explanation. “This was within the spectrum of things I did.”
Dunham describes herself as an “unreliable narrator,” which in the context of a memoir or another work of purported nonfiction means “liar,” strictly construed. Dunham writes of incorporating stories from other people’s lives and telling them as though they were her own, and of fabricating details. The episode with her sister’s vaginal pebbles seems to be especially suspicious. When Dunham inspects her sister’s business, she shrieks at what she sees: “Grace had stuffed six or seven pebbles in there. . . . Grace cackled, thrilled that her prank had been such a success.” Dunham’s writing often is unclear (willfully so, it seems), but the context here — Grace has overheard her older sister asking whether her baby sister has a uterus — and Grace’s satisfaction with her prank suggest that Grace was expecting her older sister to go poking around in her genitals and inserted the pebbles in expectation of it. Grace is around one year old at the time of these events. There is no non-horrific interpretation of this episode. As for stroking her mother’s vagina, having mistaken it for her hairless cat . . .
About those parents. . . . Williamson describes Carroll Dunham, Lena’s father, as “a painter noted for his primitive brand of highbrow pornography, his canvases anchored by puffy neon-pink labia.” Those words, while blunt, don’t do justice to the profound ugliness of Dunham’s work. Let me try to put that ugliness in context. Back in the 1930s and 1940s, pin-up artist Alberto Vargas definitely objectified women. He drew hundreds of pin-up images for American men — especially American troops, during WWII — to enjoy. Significantly, he created these images with a true reverence for feminine beauty. His manifest admiration for the female form seems not just old-fashioned, but wholesome when compared to Dunham’s work.
If Vargas had raised a daughter, she would have grown up knowing that her father felt this way about women:
As it was, poor Lena grew up knowing that her father feels this way about women (as seen by a screen grab of Dunham’s own website):
As a woman, I feel traumatized just looking at those images. Indeed, if Dunham were anything but a card-carrying New York Progressive, it would be very tempting to characterize those crude drawings as part of a sick rape culture that objectifies women.
Can you imagine how you’d feel being the daughter of the man who uses and sees women in that way? Add to this the fact that Dunham’s mother liked to have nude shots of her own crotch displayed on the condominium walls, and you get the feeling that poor Lena had a childhood that, while gilded, was probably just as distorted sexually as that of a little girl raised in a whore house. In both settings, women are certainly central and celebrated, but it’s for all the wrong reasons.
For a child, of course, the familiar is normal, so it’s not at all strange that Dunham embraced her parents’ sexual obsessions when she lived in their house. What’s tragic, though, is that Dunham was never able to escape them. Ordinarily, one would think that, when she left home to go to college, she would learn that this is type of explicit, all-encompassing, predatory sexuality is not the norm. Instead, though, Dunham went off to a university system that has embraced her natal culture and is working hard to bring it to every American home.
The phenomenon known as campus sex week seeks to convince those American college students who did not grow up in homes that had pictures of Mom’s crotch and Dad’s misogyny on the wall that the most extreme examples of non-traditional sex ought to move to the center of American culture rather than being hidden at the fringes. And so it that Harvard University — a place that once churned out people who,even if not very educated, had a certain degree of class — now offers seminars in anal sex. To my way of thinking, if Mommy and Daddy feel that their child’s education isn’t complete without learning about the final details of anal sex, they can probably download that information for free from the internet to give to junior, rather than spending hundreds of thousands of dollars in tuition for a four year indoctrination in Marxism and non-mainstream sexual practices.
These same kids, once released from college, take up the sexual proselytizing with a vengeance. They head to the big Blue cities, and happily participate in, observe, or applaud slut walks, topless dykes on bikes, nude street fairs, and all sorts of other genitalia displays in American popular culture. In other words, just as Dunham’s bubble remained intact going from home to college, it’s kept its integrity going from college to her professional life as a writer, actress, and activist, all within bluest of blue Hollywood.
No wonder, then, that Dunham became extremely upset when both Kevin Williamson and Truth Revolt looked at her narrative, and instead of viewing her as hip and edgy, which was the reaction she’d been schooled to expect (pun intended), instead offered their own descriptions for her childhood conduct: predatory and abnormal. Up until she revealed her sexual upbringing to the larger public, Lena had managed to live for 24 years being celebrated for her sexual adventures. It must have been a terrible shock to her to realize that, even as Mummy and Daddy and her college were all encouraging her sexual experimentation, large swathes of America would look at her conduct and say “If you lived in a trailer on the wrong side of the tracks, your parents would have been in prison and you would have been sent into the juvenile justice system.” Suddenly, Lena’s bubble has burst.
One other thing, which doesn’t quite fit into the essay above, but that is related to Lena’s description of her relentless sexual attacks against her much younger sister: Although no one wants to do these studies anymore, because they’re very politically incorrect, studies in the 1980s and 1990s strongly indicated a correlation between childhood sexual abuse and becoming homosexual. In this context, it’s probably meaningless, but nevertheless interesting, that Dunham’s sister, the one on whom Dunham sexually experimented with predatory zeal, is lesbian.