I'm very disturbed by this recent media/Twitter storm against Lena Dunham regarding the depiction of her childhood sexual curiosity in her new book Not That Kind of Girl. The jump to call her a “sexual predator” for masturbating next to her little sister lying in the same bed, or for looking into her baby sister’s vagina (when she was seven!), is in my opinion grotesque. Somehow I feel like if Lena were a boy, this would not be considered such a shameful offense. The fact that she was a little girl curious about a vagina seems too much for our society to handle, and this I find really sad and upsetting. Even the fact that her curiosity about her sister’s vagina could be misconstrued as sexual in any way is frankly ridiculous.
It makes me reflect on my own childhood and how I was taught from a very young age to have no shame about my sexuality. Whatever I did or asked about, my parents indulged, never shaming me or telling me I was wrong or gross for thinking or feeling a certain way. And I feel like Lena’s upbringing was maybe similar in this way. And so she grew up feeling shameless about her sexuality, which has molded her into who she is today and given us, her audience, the body of work we love in Girls, Tiny Furniture, and now her memoirs.
I’d been working on writing a piece about how my mom bought me a vibrator when I was twelve. This is one of the examples from my childhood that I feel shaped me into the confident, sex-positive woman I am today. Now I find myself questioning if the public would have a different view. I wonder if my honest account of this event could potentially bring down a shitstorm of judgment on me and my mom—judgment that I know actually has nothing to do with me or how I feel about how I was brought up, and has everything to do with other people’s disturbing cultural denial of female sexuality. Because Lena’s sister Grace has clearly not been deeply scarred by these events. They have a wonderful healthy relationship, they’re clearly very close, and she is the first to defend Lena on Twitter, citing heteronormativity as the reason people are up in arms against her.
I just can’t believe the extent to which this has been blown out of proportion. Again, I reflect on my own upbringing. My parents coming to tuck me into bed at night, butt naked. My mom’s diaphragm sitting on the edge of the bathtub. The fact that she bought me a vibrator when I was twelve. To me, these aspects of my growing up naturalized sex and nudity in a way that’s made me more comfortable with my body and my sexuality than most of the women I know, and I wouldn’t trade that for anything. The fact that other people might then take my experience and put their own prejudice on it and tell me it’s wrong or sick or that someone should be punished for it—well, I can’t imagine what that must feel like and my heart goes out to Lena.
I was a very sexually curious and precocious child, and the stories I could tell that might be misconstrued are endless. I remember one time my godfather was babysitting me and I took off all my clothes to show him my naked body, and he looked uncomfortable and told me to go get dressed. When I was seven, I flashed my vagina at my best friend’s older brother and he told his mom on me, and I was sent home. In kindergarten, I gave my little male classmate a box of crayons to show me his penis—I had forgotten about this episode until I saw him again in high school and he wouldn’t talk to me for this reason. My best friend and I used to take off our pants and take turns sniffing each other’s butts. One time I kissed my mom on the lips and stuck my tongue in her mouth.
Yes, there’s no older person taking advantage of younger person in any of these stories, but they all involve a child’s curiosity about sex and bodies. And I think what’s really bothering people is not the harmless childish things Lena did to her little sister, but the fact that a little girl might have sexual feelings or curiosity at all. Somehow, as a society, we’ve tricked ourselves into forgetting these moments in our childhoods when we first started having sexy feelings, or we suddenly started paying attention to the junk between our legs—somehow, this is still taboo.
To me, this incident suggests a much larger conversation we need to have, as a culture. Sex education is still not taught in many schools throughout the country, girls continue to be ignorant about their vaginas, sex and nudity are still considered shameful topics of conversation. We can stop beating up Lena Dunham now. We’ve got more important work to do.