This month we tackle everyone’s problematic fave, Lena Dunham, and her collection of personal essays.
Lena Dunham, acclaimed writer-director-star of HBO and Sky Atlantic’s ‘Girls’ and the award-winning movie ‘Tiny Furniture’, displays her unique powers of observation, wisdom and humour in this exceptional collection of essays.
As somebody who was fairly undecided on Lena Dunham, I read this book for clarification and so I could make an informed decision. We didn’t get off to a good start, as the title alone left me feeling puzzled. Saying you’re “not that kind of girl” feels awful similar to stating “I’m not like other girls” and I thought Lena was above this destructive, internalised misogynistic way of thinking..I guess not.
I’m not particularly interested in writing negative reviews but it’s really hard to write about this book, and Lena in general, in a positive way. First and foremost, the book is actually quite boring! ‘Personal essays’ is definitely a stretch, as most of the writing is disjointed and feels like it’s come straight from an extremely privileged teen’s diary. I was led to believe that the book would be an insightful read as the full title is: “Not That Kind of Girl: A Young Woman Tells You What She’s Learned“. But here’s the thing, it is quite clear Dunham hasn’t learned anything. One of the biggest problems the nation has with Lena Dunham is the fact that her feminism isn’t intersectional. In the face of criticism, she doesn’t take any responsibly for her words and refuses to accept that her watered-down version of feminism isn’t as inclusive as she likes to believe. When Dunham is challenged, she gets very defensive and doesn’t seem to hear anyone out. Her self-obsessed, woe-is-me attitude gets boring very quickly.
Unfortunately, because Lena refuses to educate herself and become more inclusive, the good she is doing is quite often overlooked. Whether you like her or not, she has successfully (particularly with Girls) opened up a discussion about some important topics such as: body image, mental health, sexuality, sexual abuse as well as sexism in Hollywood.
WHAT DID OTHERS THINK?
I picked up Not That Kind of Girl: A Young Woman Tells You What She’s ‘Learned’ on a trip to my local bookshop whilst feeling rather sorry for myself, as I’d just been made redundant. I didn’t really know much about Lena Dunham, aside from watching the first few episodes of GIRLS, but I had heard good things about her book. Besides, I felt like I could use some female inspiration.
The book is an autobiographical text made up of essays, lists and personal emails all written by Dunham herself. With no prior opinion on Dunham, I had no idea what to expect. I can confirm now that I am now a fan of Lena. Although there is nothing particularly groundbreaking about this book, Dunham’s writing is warm and her stories are hilarious. I found myself looking forward to my commute to work just so I could fit in the next bite-sized chapter. As the text is made up of such short pieces, it is easy to dip in and out of. In some ways, the book feels like a blog but less polished.
There is also a fair amount of frank discussion in the book as Dunham explores what constitutes as rape when you’re young, naive or drunk, which is an on-going issue for women – and men – everywhere. Overall, Not That Kind of Girl is an honest, raw and touching text that I’d recommend to any young woman who wants to feel like she’s not alone.
My feelings about Not That Kind of Girl are about as mixed as my feelings towards Lena Dunham in general. The main accusation usually (quite rightfully) thrown at her is that her feminism is not inclusive, and by writing an entire book about how she’s “not that kind of girl”, she’s certainly writing all other kinds of women out of her feminist narrative. She even admits proudly within the book’s first section that she was raised at “forward-thinking private schools” and supported by a family that understood “feminism was a worthy concept”. The fact that she doesn’t seem to recognise the privilege in that upbringing is more than a little frustrating.
While reading Not That Kind of Girl, I stuck red Post-its in whenever Dunham said something that offended me. By the end, I had highlighted rape jokes and STI jokes and racist jokes; bi erasure and straight-washing; the glamorisation of depression and an insensitive use of the word “retarded”. The whole book read like the journal of a sheltered rich girl who had never even met a poor woman, a black woman, a gay woman, or a male rape victim—not like the debut of a well-educated, well-travelled, worldly New Yorker. For a book that claims to tell you “what she’s learned”, the main problem with Not That Kind of Girl is that Lena Dunham doesn’t seem to have learned anything—not since summer camp, at least.
However, I had also highlighted (with green Post-its) body positivity, self-esteem, a frank and honest approach to her own mental health, a rare acknowledgement of her cis privilege, and a deservingly unabashed attitude to her own sexuality.
So after reading Not That Kind of Girl, I love Lena Dunham for championing female nudity, for being open about mental illness, and for believing herself worth listening to. But for someone whose voice is coming to stand for feminism for our generation—I just wish she would make an effort to make that voice include more people.
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