Lena Dunham, Anti-Feminist

Lena Dunham, Anti-Feminist

By Heather Wilhelm - October 2, 2014

So, did you hear that Lena Dunham wrote a new memoir? The 28-year-old Dunham is, of course, the media-declared “voice of her generation.”  She is a “feminist icon.” She is also the “wunderkind” creator of HBO’s “Girls,” which, in case you’ve missed it, is a mediocre television show featuring confused, naked, largely Caucasian body parts flopping all over Brooklyn for no particular reason.

Over the past few years, Dunham has been vexingly omnipresent:  cheerfully cruising the red carpet for her eight Emmy nominations, clasping Golden Globe awards with a crazed look in her eyes, pocketing a $3.6 million book advance, hosting a particularly sanctimonious episode of “Saturday Night Live,” hijacking the cover of Vogue, and earning approximately 10,365 media stories per day. I don’t want to scare you, but she could be hiding in your closet right now.

So when her book, “Not That Kind of Girl: A Young Woman Tells You What She’s ‘Learned,’” hit stores this week, somewhere, back in the primitive reaches of my brain, one endlessly optimistic neuron fired a valiant message, over and over: “Oh, whatever. Who on earth would buy this book? People have things like Halloween and Ebola to worry about!”

Well, blow me down, and, apparently, don’t take my stock market advice. As of Tuesday night, “Not That Kind of Girl”—which, it should be noted, is authored by a young woman who recently got a bowl cut exactly like Jim Carrey’s in “Dumb and Dumber,” on purpose, and then posed naked, towel-wrapped, chewing a birth control pill packet for a Planned Parenthood e-mail enthusiastically comparing voting to doing Ecstasy—hit No. 2 on Amazon. Yes, this is actually happening. Let’s discuss, if only to combat a creeping sense of quiet existential despair.

A number of early reviews of “Not That Kind of Girl” have complained that Ms. Dunham is not deep enough or sincere enough. One reviewer, clearly a fan, actually complained that Dunham didn’t “share” enough. After I slogged through exactly 36 references to various specific human vaginas in this book, this critique struck me as just a bit off.

Most of the Dunham press coverage, however, assumes one key point: Lena Dunham is a feminist heroine for our times. This is strange to me, given that the obvious heart of “Not That Kind of Girl”—at least to anyone who has basic reading comprehension skills and who is paying a remote amount of attention—is this: Lena Dunham is completely obsessed with, run by, and dependent on men. 

Don’t believe me? Read the book. Well, actually, don’t read the book. It’s awful, and it has worse sex scenes than an Ayn Rand novel, which I honestly did not think was possible. It also contains a full chapter, and I am not kidding, devoted to Ms. Dunham’s weight-loss food diary and questionable, obsessive calorie counts. Ladies! We are better than this. Life is bigger than this! I’m serious!  

OK, back to the men. Dunham spends the entirety of her book bouncing from awkward casual sexual encounter to horrible casual sexual encounter, desperately searching for love in all the wrong places. Quickly, it becomes painfully clear that Dunham believes a) sex is meaningless and b) a man will solve her problems, which, to put it charitably, are legion: self-absorption, dietary dysfunction, obsessive-compulsive disorder, consistent attraction to “jerks,” routine abuse of prescription drugs, and a beloved New York “artist” father who paints like a half-drunk Picasso cousin sentenced to life in a combination gynecologist’s office/meth lab. 

“Wait a minute,” you might be saying, especially if you’re actually serious about women’s empowerment. “A man won’t solve your deep-seated issues. You need to address them yourself!” That is correct. I was reminded of this in high school, in fact, when my mom gave me a copy of “Ten Stupid Things Women Do to Mess Up Their Lives,” written by one crazed genius, Dr. Laura Schlessinger.

Say what you will, but unlike “Not That Kind of Girl,” Dr. Laura’s book is pretty brilliant, centering on a simple thesis: Women, as Dr. Laura so eloquently puts it, should not be just “Wo- Wo- Wo- on a Man.” They should not, in other words, define themselves through their romantic relationships. This will make them crazy, Dr. Laura argues, and unhealthily dependent on men.

Lena Dunham has clearly not read this book, for at the end of “Not that Kind of Girl,” her conclusion centers on a man—her newest boyfriend, a hipster guitarist—who has indeed solved her problems, creating a new and lasting peace. I am not exaggerating. From the ending: “Stuff like this only happens to characters played by Jennifer Garner, right? ... He seems to be there without reservation. He pays attention. He listens.” Yes, but how about when existential angst strikes in the middle of the night? “He settles that. … He helps you sleep.”

It’s kind of like the end of “A Tale of Two Cities,” except there’s no self-sacrifice, no introspection, and it doesn’t make any sense. But here’s the good news for the man-dependent Ms. Dunham: The feminist in-crowd won’t be blackballing her anytime soon. She’s got the “woe is me” act down cold.

“There are still so many forces conspiring to tell women that our concerns are petty, our opinions aren’t needed, that we lack the gravitas necessary for our stories to matter,” Dunham writes, describing the chapters of her book as “hopeful dispatches from the frontlines of that struggle.”

If there is a sentence written in the history of the world that is less self-aware, please let me know. Meanwhile, let us ponder those lines while Ms. Dunham counts the millions she’s earned by writing what may be the most banal, man-obsessed, and oblivious anti-empowerment book I’ve ever read.

Heather Wilhelm is a writer based in Austin,Texas. Her work can be found at and her Twitter handle is @heatherwilhelm.

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