The first time I bought this book, I was in college.
Everyone was talking about the approaching date of Lena Dunham’s book release. Dunham was the feminist of the day, so I couldn’t help but notice her. So, on the day the hardcover block of essays hit shelves, I grabbed a copy from the college bookstore (overpriced of course) and took it home to devour the pages.
Lena Dunham is an actress, writer, producer, and director, known for her HBO series “Girls,” and her habit of sparking controversy. Dunham was the first woman to win the Directors Guild of America Award for Outstanding Directing – Comedy Series, and became well-known after the creation of her independent film “Tiny Furniture.” Dunham controversies include, but are not limited to: molesting her sister, having an all-white case for ‘Girls,’ defending a man accused of sexual assault, and returning her longtime pet to the shelter.
Lena Dunham was never my ‘type.’ Back in the Lena Dunham days, when she came out with “Girls” and everyone thought she was brilliant, I didn’t get it. I kept up with her Hollywood news, because celebrity gossip is my guilty pleasure, and because she was a modern young feminist, and of all my feminism classes, not one focused on modern young feminism.
I couldn’t wait to immerse myself in modern (i.e. post 2000) feminist literature. Sure, I didn’t watch “Girls.” I had slogged through the first episode, not even finishing the last third. The characters seemed highly dysfunctional and more than a little depressing. But that didn’t mean the book wouldn’t be great. Surely there was no bad feminist literature? (HA. My poor, poor, puberty phase of growing feminism)
I never finished that first copy. Halfway through, sick of its pages, I sent it home to an old friend in an attempt to share my experiences with her. And also to get the damn thing out of my sight.
The second time I bought it, I was several years wiser, and knew that feminist literature was like everything else. It had its shining moments as well as its dark ones. I could see past the sparkling light of my initial discovery of feminism, I was more familiar with its nuances. At a book sale benefiting the Friends of the Library, my fingers brushed the used copy as I considered it. Like it or not, it was filled with feminist and sexual material befitting this blog. I had suffered through worse things for the sake of my audience. I took the old copy up to the checkout stand and paid $2 for it.
I have now paid twice for a book I still hate. The things I do for you, my dear readers.
Angry pink post-it notes fill the pages of my copy, the neon color glaring out from the page with loathing in its ink. Not all the essays are bad, there just aren’t any that I feel I can fully enjoy. Reading this book makes me feel like I’m doing something wrong. I feel like I should like it, Dunham is famous for a reason, people gave this book good reviews for a reason.
But then I have to remember. I am my own woman. I have my own thoughts, ideas, and appreciations. I don’t have to like this book. I am allowed to think she is a dysfunctional, narcissistic, creepy woman who struggles to discuss race and truly understand her privilege in life. I know I’m no better; adulting is hard, I focus on my own experiences, and discussing privilege is something I didn’t learn how to do until college. But that’s just it. I did learn. I do learn. I try every day to do better by others and myself by learning about the world around me and adjusting as needed.
Dunham is an educated adult feminist, but I feel that feminism gets lost in this book. With the lack of class or race diversity or discussion, the molesting of her sister without educated discussion and examination of the events, and the complete absence of a sense of having learned from her experiences, this book barely counts as feminist. The only times I feel that feminism truly makes an appearance is in her essays on nudity and therapy.
Many of her essays seem to fall along the lines of stream-of-consciousness. This writing style can be brilliant when used correctly, but in these essays, it just feels like incessant rambling. Sometimes her topics don’t add up into a single cohesive essay because her inner monologue won’t stop redirecting. There were several times I felt that Dunham sought out dysfunction in order to prove to herself that she was of little worth. While this would work for her if there was a discussion about what she learned from these experiences (the tagline of the book, after all, is ‘a young woman tells you what she’s ‘learned’’), she instead leaves it out there, a story without a moral.
Then there are essays like “‘Diet’ is a Four-Letter Word,” a list of everything she ate on a day-to-day basis. It’s extensive, boring, and mostly pointless. “This is Supposed to be Fun? Making the Most of Your Education” involves Dunham lamenting about how sad she is that school is over, and yet, not once in this book does she really have anything good to say about her schooling experience. The introduction to the book is an essay dedicated to how much she hates herself, but to what end?
I want to yell into the void, “What are you talking about, Lena Dunham!? What, exactly, have you ‘learned’? What is the point of all these damn pages of dribbling self-hatred and bumbling awkwardness?”
Ultimately, I just didn’t get it. I didn’t find her remotely funny, or at all brilliant, like people said she was. But I feigned interest because she was a feminist, and it took me awhile to realize there were so many forms of feminism, and I didn’t have to be into all of them.