In her newly published collection of personal essays, Not That Kind of Girl, Lena Dunham describes experimenting sexually with her younger sister Grace, whom she says she attempted to persuade to kiss her using “anything a sexual predator might do.” In one particularly unsettling passage, Dunham experimented with her six-year younger sister’s vagina. “This was within the spectrum of things I did,” she writes.
In the collection of nonfiction personal accounts, Dunham describes using her little sister at times essentially as a sexual outlet, bribing her to kiss her for prolonged periods and even masturbating while she is in the bed beside her. But perhaps the most disturbing is an account she proudly gives of an episode that occurred when she was seven and her sister was one. Here’s the full passage (p. 158-9):
“Do we all have uteruses?” I asked my mother when I was seven.
“Yes,” she told me. “We’re born with them, and with all our eggs, but they start out very small. And they aren’t ready to make babies until we’re older.” I look at my sister, now a slim, tough one-year-old, and at her tiny belly. I imagined her eggs inside her, like the sack of spider eggs in Charlotte’s Web, and her uterus, the size of a thimble.
“Does her vagina look like mine?”
“I guess so,” my mother said. “Just smaller.”
One day, as I sat in our driveway in Long Island playing with blocks and buckets, 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 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 a success.
Dunham describes the book as a “work of nonfiction” in which “some names and identifying details have been changed.” She also states that she considers herself an “unreliable narrator,” which gives her some wiggle room on the truth of her accounts. As National Review's Kevin D. Williamson notes, this passage is “especially suspicious.” The one-year old Grace’s "prank" is supposedly done with the expectation of her older sister “poking around in her genitals. … There is no non-horrific interpretation of this episode.”
After Lena Dunham went on a self-described “rage spiral” in response to this article, which she called “f*cking upsetting and disgusting,” her lawyer sent a cease and desist letter to TruthRevolt threatening to sue us for “millions of dollars” if we did not pull the piece and post a retraction stating that this story was “false.” TruthRevolt refused.
Monday, TruthRevolt editor-in-chief Ben Shapiro posted a response to the cease and desist letter, which includes more of the passages from her book upon which our assessment was based and argues that “quoting a woman’s book does not constitute a ‘false’ story”:
Lena Dunham may not like our interpretation of her book, but unfortunately for her and her attorneys, she wrote that book – and the First Amendment covers a good deal of material she may not like.
Dunham announced Monday that she canceled book tour events in Berlin and Belgium. Tuesday, she issued a public apology via Time in which she said she wanted to be "very clear that I do not condone any kind of abuse under any circumstance" and apologized for passages and language in her book that might have "been painful or triggering" for readers:
If the situations described in my book have been painful or triggering for people to read, I am sorry, as that was never my intention. I am also aware that the comic use of the term “sexual predator” was insensitive, and I’m sorry for that as well.
Grace Dunham also responded to the controversy via Twitter on Monday, stating:
As a queer person: i'm committed to people narrating their own experiences, determining for themselves what has and has not been harmful / heteronormativity deems certain behaviours harmful, and others "normal"; the state and media are always invested in maintaining that / 2day, like every other day, is a good day to think about how we police the sexualities of young women, queer, and trans people
Lena Dunham commented again on this article while speaking on Bill Simmons’ podcast show “The B.S. Report” on Jan 1, 2015, suggesting that TruthRevolt had manufactured the story and published it for political purposes “the day after I launched a Planned Parenthood campaign and the day before the midterm elections.” She said, however, that she did not care “what conservative white men" think about her:
I don’t care what conservative white men think about me. But I do care if anything I write is painful for survivors of sexual abuse, if anything I write is painful for other feminists.
Though she admitted she regretted describing herself as pursuing her sister like a “sexual predator,” she insisted that she and her sister had been raised with “very healthy” sexual boundaries and said it was“painful to be accused of being things that I know I’m not, and to sort of have what I thought was a very natural childhood experience and curiosity vilified.”