First excerpt: "I shared a bed with my sister, Grace, until I was seventeen years old. She was afraid to sleep alone…. Her sticky, muscly little body thrashed beside me every night as I read Anne Sexton, watched reruns of SNL, sometimes even as I slipped my hand into my underwear to figure some stuff out."
Second excerpt: "…my curiosity got the best of me. Grace was sitting up, babbling and smiling, and I leaned down between her legs and carefully spread open her vagina. She didn’t resist, and when I saw what was inside I shrieked. My mother came running. "Mama, Mama! Grace has something in there!" My mother didn’t bother asking why I had opened Grace’s vagina. This was within the spectrum of things that I did. She just got on her knees and looked for herself. It quickly became apparent that Grace had stuffed six or seven pebbles in there. My mother removed them patiently while Grace cackled, thrilled that her prank had been such a success."
Excerpts from: "Not That Kind of Girl: A Young Woman Tells You What She's 'Learned'" authored by Lena Dunham.
The Legal Definition of Sexual MolestationThe legal definition of sexual molestation involves the inappropriate touching, etc., between an adult and a child. Dunham was seven years old when she looked at her sister's vagina. As described in the text, it was clearly not done for the purpose of sexual gratification or for any sexual reason at all. Siblings often see each other naked, take baths together, sleep together, and kiss each other on the lips. It's all perfectly platonic.
The vagina isn't the Ark of the Covenant. It won't make your face melt off even if you look directly into it. So, why has the internet reacted as if simple childhood curiosity equates to being a violent predator?
Exploration is a Taboo TopicThe sexual molestation or sexual exploitation is one of the only topics most people cannot discuss without some level of hysteria. Obviously, using children to satisfy a sexual urge is illegal, morally wrong, and very serious. But a curious seven year old? This isn't really the same thing. Yet, so many people are ready to offer up Dunham for virtual crucifixion?
Could it be that we're just that uncomfortable with the idea that children are naturally curious about their bodies (and how they compare to other bodies)? Last summer I wrote about a Japanese artist who was arrested for making 3D scans of her own vagina. When asked why she did it, she explained that the vagina is taboo in Japan, and many women grow up without ever having seen one—even their own. One might think that Americans would have less hang ups and encourage more frank discussion about the human body. But no, not if the reaction to Dunham's book is any indication.
The Dunham Smear CampaignsIn their smears, both "National Review" and "Truth Revolt" go on at length to describe Dunham as bullying, privileged, and difficult while repeatedly confusing her with a character she plays in the HBO show Girls: Hannah Horvath. The problem? None of the commentary about her alleged personal attributes has anything to do with whether or not she molested her sister. Ironically, these accusations come from the same websites who lament that "political correctness has gone too far" when citing sexual harassment lawsuits against kindergarteners. A mere two months ago, "National Review" ran an article saying that the "rape crisis" was "made up" in an article disturbingly titled "Crying Rape." (I'm not linking to it, because gross!)
Dunham has since cancelled several dates on her book tour. Her Twitter feed reveals comments that Dunham has entered a "rage spiral" over the "disgusting" ways some in the media have interpreted her book. In fact, a cease and desist order has been filed against "Truth Revolt" over their allegations, and over publishing excerpts from her book. Publishing excerpts is legal for review or promotional purposes, but not for the purposes of defamation. Duh. A possible libel suit may be coming as well.
"Truth Revolt" has made a show of standing by their accusations despite Grace Dunham's statements that she's in favor of people "narrating their own experiences, determining for themselves what has and has not been harmful." Lena Dunham also tweeted that she "wished her sister wasn't laughing so hard." While that may not be proof of anything, it seems unlikely that a victim of sexual abuse would be filled with mirth about it.
Is Dunham's book a little TMI? Maybe, but that's a matter of taste rather than morality. Does she seem like she was kind of a weird kid? Again, maybe. Is the outrage impacted by the perception of Dunham as liberal, from wealthy family, or not conventionally attractive? It's impossible to say. Regardless of what you think of Dunham as a writer, actor, director, or a human being—an accusation that she repeatedly and willfully molested her sister is in no way supported by her book or her sister.