This week, Lena Dunham threatened to sue TruthRevolt.org, a 501(c)3 website I run, for covering her new book, Not That Kind of Girl. More specifically, she threatened to sue us for “millions of dollars,” as well as punitive damages, unless we both retracted a story about her book and ran something like the following apology:
We recently published a story stating that Ms. Dunham engaged in sexual conduct with her sister. The story was false, and we deeply regret having printed it. We apologize to Ms. Dunham, her sister, and their parents, for this false story.
What, specifically, was false? According to Dunham’s lawyers, by quoting her book and then stating that she “experiment[ed] sexually with her younger sister, Grace,” “experimented with her six-year younger sister’s vagina,” and “use[d] her little sister at times essentially as a sexual outlet,” we had defamed her. Of course, all of those characterizations of Dunham’s activities were based directly on her book.
In her book, Dunham describes sexually abusing her sister.
She tells the story of “lean[ing] down between her legs and carefully spreading open her vagina…My mother didn’t bother asking why I had opened Grace’s vagina. This was within the spectrum of things I did.” Dunham says that she was seven years old and her sister one at the time, but the other elements of the story – her sister had “stuffed six or seven pebbles in there” as a “prank” – suggest that the two girls may have been older. (It is extraordinarily unlikely that a one-year-old would be playing pranks by shoving objects up her vagina, and it is even odder that a one-year-old would shove pebbles up her vagina for her sister to find unless there was prior history of such activity).
This passage has drawn the most scrutiny, because it is most arguable as to its sexual abuse – there are some who claim that children of seven years of age investigating the genitals of younger children is “relatively common,” like Debby Hebernick of Indiana University School of Public Health. “That doesn’t mean it’s OK,” Hebernick added, although USA Today ran a whole article attempting to slough off the incident.
Of course, the media largely neglected to quote the other problematic portions of Dunham’s book with regard to her sister. In a second section, Dunham writes:
As she grew, I took to bribing her for her time and affection: one dollar in quarters if I could do her makeup like a “motorcycle chick.” Three pieces of candy if I could kiss her on the lips for five seconds. Whatever she wanted to watch on TV if she would just “relax on me.” Basically, anything a sexual predator might do to woo a small suburban girl I was trying.
How old was Dunham when she was bribing her younger sister to kiss her on the lips or “relax” on her in the manner of a “sexual predator”? If she paid her sister to dress like a “motorcycle chick” at the same time that she paid her for kisses, that would apparently make Dunham 11 and her sister 5, given that Dunham has tweeted a picture of her 5-year-old sister dressed as a “Hell’s Angel sex property,” complete with lipstick and fake breasts.
And Dunham writes, too, of masturbating in bed as a teenager next to her prepubescent sister:
I shared a bed with my sister, Grace, until I was seventeen years old. She was afraid to sleep alone and would begin asking me around 5:00 P.M. every day whether she could sleep with me. I put on a big show of saying no, taking pleasure in watching her beg and sulk, but eventually I always relented. 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.
But we were the bad guys for calling this sexually abusive behavior.
Originally, Dunham went on a self-described Twitter “rage spiral,” writing that accusations that she “molested my little sister isn’t just LOL – it’s really fucking upsetting and disgusting.” She then added “by the way, if you were a little kid and never looked at another little kid’s vagina, well, congrats to you.” She did not congratulate those who did not dress their siblings up as sex properties, or pay them for prolonged mouth kisses, or masturbate in bed beside them.
After Dunham issued her legal threat regarding our original article, she went silent on Twitter. A few days later, she issued a statement via her friends at Time.com, in which she said that she did not “condone any kind of abuse under any circumstances.” She then added:
Childhood sexual abuse is a life-shattering event for so many, and I have been vocal about the rights of survivors. 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.
In her Time statement, Dunham did not alter any of her original narrative, nor did she explain why her behavior did not constitute sexual abuse. She simply said that her sister, Grace, had approved the writing. And Grace defended her sister by stating, “As a queer person: i’m committed to people narrating their own experiences, determining for themselves what has and has not been harmful,” and blaming “heteronormativity” for the hubbub.
That’s nonsense on stilts – we didn’t back off of Ray Rice’s assault against his then-fiancée just because she defended him. There are standards of sexual abuse, and Dunham’s behavior fits within them (huge portion of sexual abuse happens within families, and 31 percent of female sexual abuse victimizers were younger than 12, according to the US Department of Justice). That’s why even those on Dunham’s side of the political aisle are wildly uncomfortable with her revelations, including Samantha Allen of The Daily Beast, or Monica Weymouth of PhillyMag.com, or Sara Luckey at Feminspire, or Perez Hilton. John V. Caffaro, Professor at the California School of Professional Psychology, writes at The Washington Post:
Drawing a conclusion about Dunham’s interactions with her sister is impossible without much more contextual information about her family. But, in general, the topic of sibling sexual abuse is more common than many realize and deserves much more discussion than it has received. Sibling sexual abuse is the most closely kept secret in the field of family violence.
If Dunham were a boy doing this to his brother or sister, everyone would rightly see her behavior for what it was – and certainly her lighthearted writing about it at age 28 would be seen as perverse. If Dunham were named Bristol Palin, the helicopters would never stop swirling over Wasilla, and the calls for prosecution would come from the same people now defending Dunham. If Dunham weren’t a leftist feminist icon, who would be covering for her now?
Dunham never even thought, apparently, that writing publicly about her behavior might be problematic. That’s what happens when you live within a leftist bubble in which your every sexual thought is labeled cute, charming, feminist, and delightfully subversive. But that doesn’t mean that suing those who disagree is permitted by the First Amendment, or that sickening behavior is justifiable.
Ben Shapiro is Senior Editor-At-Large of Breitbart News and author of the new book, The People vs. Barack Obama: The Criminal Case Against The Obama Administration (Threshold Editions, June 10, 2014). He is also Editor-in-Chief of TruthRevolt.org. Follow Ben Shapiro on Twitter @benshapiro.