Feminist Book Club: Not That Kind Of Girl

Feminist Book Club: Not That Kind Of Girl

This month we tackle everyone’s problematic fave, Lena Dunham, and her collection of personal essays.

SUMMARY

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.

REVIEW

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?

carolannI 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. 

– Carolanne Kate Minter (@Carolannekate)
A Literary Cocktail

eggplantemojiMy 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.

not-that-kind-of-girl

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.

– Emma Oulton (@eggplantblog)
Eggplant Emoji

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36 Comments

  1. December 10, 2015 / 10:33 am

    I was a fan of Lena, and then I quickly became the opposite. I haven’t read this book though, but it is on my list as I am still interested to read it.

    • Catstello
      December 10, 2015 / 11:04 am

      I know what you mean, I quickly went off her too.

  2. December 10, 2015 / 11:34 am

    I’ve never heard of Lena Dunham before so yet again this is another book and author that is totally new to me. I found it interesting reading the different reviews of the book and also that the author decided to write in essays rather than as a novel. It sounds like an interesting book and something that’s worth a read.

  3. December 10, 2015 / 2:31 pm

    I have never been a fan of Lena ever since I read an excerpt that ‘touching’ her sister was normal and appropriate. That is not ok and as someone that was abused as a child what she stands for is not what I would call feminism, as you stated her perceptions are very sheltered and the fact that she makes jokes about rape culture is quite frankly disgusting. I try to keep an open mind when it comes to things like this but she is an exception to the rule.

  4. Fuss Free Helen
    December 10, 2015 / 4:12 pm

    Rape jokes are simply not funny under any circumstance. It is a bit bleak that people feel the need to put them in books.

    • Catstello
      December 21, 2015 / 11:14 pm

      I agree.

  5. December 10, 2015 / 8:08 pm

    I really do not think that this is a book I could read, am sorry x

  6. December 11, 2015 / 10:48 am

    I don’t get to read often but this doesn’t really appeal to me. Give me a good horror and I’d consider it though 😉

  7. December 11, 2015 / 1:43 pm

    Maybe one to NOT buy for me then? I think it’s important to write what you really feel about a book – even if it is negative xx

    • Catstello
      December 21, 2015 / 11:04 pm

      I mean if you like her, buy it. But if not, I guess I wouldn’t recommend buying it.

  8. December 11, 2015 / 3:03 pm

    I like Lena in the Girls series but I am not a fan of her in real life so I usually just go past her books.

    • Catstello
      December 21, 2015 / 11:05 pm

      I feel like she plays an OTT version of herself.

  9. December 11, 2015 / 4:34 pm

    I was obsessed with Girls, but got a bit bored of it during its third season. I quite like Lena for questioning the glamour that *has* to exist in hollywood and for redefining that beauty isn’t the means to success. I’m not sure how I’d feel about her book, something I’d have to comment on after reading.

    • Catstello
      December 21, 2015 / 11:12 pm

      I got bored during season 3 too.

  10. December 11, 2015 / 6:57 pm

    I am not sure I could ever find rape jokes funny but I do like the concept of the book and it is one I might seek out x

    • Catstello
      December 21, 2015 / 11:03 pm

      I agree, they’re never funny.

  11. December 11, 2015 / 9:00 pm

    Oh, I’m so sad that Lena Dunham turned out to be the way she has. As you say, it overshadows the change that has been brought about. I haven’t brought myself to read this book yet, and the more I hear about it the further down my list it’s slipping to be honest. It’s very refreshing to read a truthful review!

    • Catstello
      December 21, 2015 / 11:11 pm

      It’s a real shame, I hope she redeems herself.

  12. December 11, 2015 / 9:53 pm

    I love girls and I was obsessed when I discovered it on box sets.

    • Catstello
      December 21, 2015 / 11:03 pm

      I think it went downhill mid-season 3.

  13. December 11, 2015 / 10:14 pm

    Not sure I fancy this one, especially after the review! I have heard of her, but that’s about it. Not sure I could get over all those red post-its to be honest with you.

    • Catstello
      December 21, 2015 / 11:01 pm

      That’s fair! There is an awful lot.

  14. serenityyou
    December 12, 2015 / 11:09 am

    Never heard of this book before or Lena Dunham. Never rad a book like this before, so unsure if I would like it or not.

    • Catstello
      December 21, 2015 / 11:01 pm

      I think some of the chapters are an interesting read regardless.

  15. December 12, 2015 / 4:39 pm

    I’d like to re-read this book now that I have a more rounded opinion of Lena Dunham. I originally read it when I was (potentially) blindly obsessed with her, although I have always had issues with, for example, the lack of diversity in GIRLS. I’ve always felt that her “art” is rather self-involved; just because she didn’t happen to have many or any non-white people in her life doesn’t mean that Hannah shouldn’t have in GIRLS. It is fiction, after all!

    In terms of the book I agree that it’s all a bit disjointed and some of the passages and phrases she used were problematic, for which she doesn’t apologise. I’ve been listening to her podcast, which imo does feature a good variety of voices, so perhaps she is making moves towards improving the intersectionality of her feminism. I agree that, as she is so well-liked by our generation, she has a responsibility to use her fame to promote inclusive, intersectional feminism.

    • Catstello
      December 21, 2015 / 10:58 pm

      I think it’s more to do with how clumsily she ‘addresses’ these issues. Like the shameless cameo from Donald Glover in Girls. Would be interested to hear your thoughts after you re-read though.

  16. December 12, 2015 / 9:13 pm

    I’ve been meaning to pick this up, having heard lots about it both positive and negative. I want to read it to form my own opinion but I must admit that I will be going in with preconceptions from what I’ve heard about her, her feminism and her book.

    Rape jokes are never funny and neither is racism or any other of the other things she seems to find funny to joke about.

    Great review and thanks for including the two other reviews on the book – it is interesting to gauge people’s opinions on this book as a whole.

    • Catstello
      December 21, 2015 / 10:52 pm

      Thanks for reading. I think most people are generally quite mixed on her.

  17. December 12, 2015 / 9:44 pm

    great, honest review. Sounds like an interesting read, I’d be curious to read it now.

    • Catstello
      December 21, 2015 / 10:52 pm

      Thanks. Let me know your thoughts if you do read.

  18. December 13, 2015 / 3:45 pm

    considering she is everywhere i’ve not really seen any of her work etc. although that said i’ve been fancying this book, think i may have to treat myself to it from amazon x

    • Catstello
      December 21, 2015 / 10:52 pm

      Would love to hear your thoughts!

  19. December 13, 2015 / 8:18 pm

    I am yet to watch Girls, looks amazing plus I always watch before I ready so will have to take a read of this after i watch the series.
    Thanks for sharing hun
    Charlotte x

    • Catstello
      December 21, 2015 / 10:51 pm

      I liked the first couple of seasons in fairness.

  20. December 13, 2015 / 10:46 pm

    hmm interesting review, i’m so on the fence about her so probably, like you, have to read a bit more to decide if i like her or not!

    ps, love your blog name and header!

    from helen at thelovecatsinc.com

    • Catstello
      December 21, 2015 / 10:50 pm

      I think the book did it for me.

      Thank you 🙂

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