I have a [smart] friend who thinks Lena Dunham’s work is bad, irresponsible. We go rounds on this because I love her and think that he’s too caught up on having morally good, heroic main characters. He says I’m missing the point. Dunham’s work is shrouded in controversy, but if you’re a fan of her show Girls, you’ll definitely like Not That Kind of Girl. In fact, if you just sort of like her show, you’ll still like her book. Lena Dunham’s work is so incredibly personal and vulnerable and embarrassing and painful, and human. I identify with her so much.
First, I am fascinated with the way she deals with first/early sexual experience. It is the most honest depiction of the kinds of sexual experiences people have in their late teens and early twenties. It can be weird, awkward, and embarrassing. People are unsure about what to do where and for how long. There are strange acts that exist solely because porn tells us that’s what people do for pleasure, even if very few people are doing that thing for pleasure. I actually think this is unavoidable for the most part because there are very few activities that are comparable to coupled sex. In the process, mistakes are made and confusion abounds. Young women are in a constant negotiation with owning and expressing their sexuality, while simultaneously figuring out where the media pressures and social expectations end and where their own pleasure and desire begins. [By the way, I think this is true for men, too, but I don’t read much about it.] So, that’s important.
She’s also balancing art and social commentary, which can be weird and bad, but she does it well. One could easily assume that her work is this off the cuff confessional style, and it is, but there is also real artistry in her work. She has a deep familiarity with language and a knack for creative expression through her writing. My expectation is that she will continue to write books, and they will be revolutionary, yes, and will only improve from a literary perspective.
Now, let me address the whole scuttlebutt over childhood sexual abuse when the book first came out. I assumed that it would be honest and artfully done, and even be good in that it would help us to think more critically about childhood sexuality. I wanted to read it first before forming my opinion, and after reading it, I thought it was good and important, and did the thing of making us think openly about childhood sexuality. The story is weird, and a bit uncomfortable, but true and not abuse, in my opinion. You can bet that Dunham thinks about consent and abuse because they are major themes in her work.
While I am highly invested in the topic of female sexuality, obviously, Dunham covers other ideas that resonate with me so strongly. Like, there are people who love people, and people who can’t stand to be alone, and people who are curious about other people [I might fall into that last category], but usually I have, as Dunham states, “the nagging sense that my true friends are waiting for me” (xiii). I have met some of my true friends, and when we meet, and recognize each other, there is much rejoicing! I love these people. They are my forever friends and lovers. But, they number so few I can count them on my hands, and I often feel lonely or out of place, wishing that I could be with one of my people when I’m tired of being alone. Lena Dunham—she gets me.
Here are some quotes I highlighted:
- “There is nothing gutsier to me than a person announcing that their story is one that deserves to be told, especially if that person is a woman” (xvi).
- “He was nervous, and, in a nod toward gender equality, neither of us came” (7).
- “This was the time in life before I learned it wasn’t considered appropriate by society at large to like yourself” (34).
- She quotes Joan Didion: “There is a common superstition that “self-respect” is a kind of charm against snakes, something that keeps those who have it locked in some unblighted Eden, out of strange beds, ambivalent conversations, and trouble in general. It does not at all. It has nothing to do with the face of things, but concerns instead a separate peace, a private reconciliation” (38).
- A list from a relationship…”One very unnecessary pregnancy test” (54).
- “Wherever you go, there you are” (69). An old favorite.
- “After several interactions in which he questioned my authority and pretended not to hear me speaking, it was clear he was my type” (71).
- “I had broken up with him on my seventh try, and one try didn’t even count because all I could muster was “I love you” (76).
- On meeting her love: “Look, there is my friend” (76).
- “…desire is the enemy of contentment” (143).
- “You will find,” she says, “that there’s a certain grace to having your heart broken” (144).
- “…you’ll see that later and be very, very proud” (262).
And so many others.