Feminism Fridays: Lena Dunham Describes her Rape, and Conservative Media is Awful About it

Credit: AP/Evan Agostini

Credit: AP/Evan Agostini

I have mixed feelings about Lena Dunham. Sometimes I think she's funny. Sometimes I think she's insufferable. Sometimes I connect with Girls. Sometimes I think it seems like the least relatable thing I've ever seen. Sometimes I thank people when they compare me to Lena Dunham. Sometimes the comparison makes me cringe and want to run away.

Despite all of this, however, I am 100% on Lena Dunham's side when it comes to the bravery she showed in telling the world of her rape.

Conservative media, not so much.

In her new book, Not That Kind of Girl, Dunham devotes an essay to a "terribly aggressive" sexual encounter with a Campus Republican called Barry. She was at a party, drunk and high and waiting for attention, but none of that means she consented to any of the things that happened to her that night.

Barry leads me to the parking lot. I tell him to look away. I pull down my tights to pee, and he jams a few of his fingers inside me, like he’s trying to plug me up. I’m not sure whether I can’t stop it or I don’t want to.

Barry then led Dunham back to her room, where he forced himself inside her, without a condom, and shoved his dick in her face. Dunham tried to convince herself that the encounter was consensual. She was sore for a week afterward.

The blog Breitbart doesn't doubt that Dunham was raped, but it shames her for not reporting the incident. The blog American Thinker labels her a "professional slut" and makes a whole slew of horrible statements about the ways in which she's made her money. But the article that really ticks me off is The National Review's cover story this week, “Pathetic Privilege: The Coming of Age of Lena Dunham.

In the article, author Kevin D. Williamson discusses how the real tragedy here is that poor Barry's life is being turned upside down by Dunham's accusation of rape.

Yeah, you read that correctly.

Williams did some digging and found that there was a Republican named Barry who attended Oberlin at the same time as Dunham, and he writes that Dunham's use of Barry's name, whether real or a pseudonym, was irresponsible.

“Dunham’s writing all this is, needless to say, a gutless and passive-aggressive act,” Williamson writes. “Barry is not a character in a book; he is a real person, one whose life is no doubt being turned upside down by a New York Times No. 1 best-seller containing half-articulated accusations that he raped a woman in college, accusations that are easily connected to him.”

If Williamson had his way, we would all see Barry as the real victim here, and we would pity him for being on the other side of Dunham's cowardly rape accusation. That seems totally reasonable, right?


This is rape culture at its finest. Blame the victim. Shame her into believing that the rape was her fault, that she was asking for it. Continue the cycle of teaching women how not to get raped instead of teaching men how not to rape.

The conversation needs to change. The yes means yes trend is a good start, but we still aren't nearly where we need to be in terms of education and prevention of sexual assault. Women are afraid to go out alone at night. Women are afraid of backlash if we say no to a man. Women are afraid to wear something that might be to revealing, even if it's not. I am afraid of all these things.

I don't want to be afraid anymore.

Whatever Lena Dunham's flaws, I applaud her in her bravery and I support her in her effort to change the conversation. Her story alone is not enough to fix things, but hopefully it will encourage people to start trying harder. Hopefully the day will come when sexual assault is treated just as severely as assault of any other kind, and we will stop shaming victims and start supporting them instead.