On at least one issue in American public life, a cultural consensus is developing: Lena Dunham has worn out her welcome as the mouthpiece of posh left-wing Millennials, one hopes for good. Dunham’s latest egregious misstep, this time meriting derision from left, right, and center? Her unequivocal defense of Murray Miller, a writer for her intensely self-referential TV show Girls, against allegations of sexual assault.
Last week, the news broke that the actress Aurora Perrineau had filed sexual-assault charges against Miller. Specifically, Perrinaeau claims that Miller raped her in 2012, when she was 17 years old. Almost immediately, Dunham and fellow Girls showrunner Jenni Konner sent a statement to the Hollywood Reporter defending Miller, which read, in part:
While our first instinct is to listen to every woman’s story, our insider knowledge of Murray’s situation makes us confident that sadly this accusation is one of the 3 percent of assault cases that are misreported every year. It is a true shame to add to that number, as outside of Hollywood women still struggle to be believed. We stand by Murray and this is all we’ll be saying about this issue.
But this was not, in fact, all they’d “be saying about this issue.” The following evening, Dunham took to her Twitter account to apologize for her hasty statement defending Miller:
I naively believed it was important to share my perspective on my friend’s situation. . . . I now understand that it was absolutely the wrong time to come forward with such a statement and I am so sorry. . . . Under patriarchy, “I believe you” is essential. Until we are all believed, none of us will be believed.
One has to wonder if Dunham will ever examine the glut of tearful apologies populating her Twitter and Instagram accounts and ask herself whether perhaps, just perhaps, she ought to give a bit of consideration to her off-the-cuff statements in advance, so as to eliminate the need for her semi-regular groveling. One could fill an entire piece with accounts of the scuffles for which Dunham has had to issue mournful atonement during the last year alone.
There was the time that she accused New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. of sexism simply because he chose not to speak to her at last year’s Met Gala. Dunham quickly redacted the outrageous story — providing the excuse of her “own insecurities as an average-bodied woman” — after intense backlash against the utterly arrogant assumptions about a man whose only crime was to remain politely silent in her presence.
Getting to the bottom of sexual-assault claims requires an earnest dedication to finding out what really happened.
On another occasion, Dunham announced on her podcast that she wished she’d had the opportunity to get an abortion so that she could more fully advocate “abortion rights.” This insane rant was followed closely by another apology, this time blaming the “delusional girl persona” she inhabits. Dunham attempted to atone for her latest misdeed by donating to abortion funds, which directly finance abortions for women who can’t afford them.
The ostensible sincerity that accompanies Dunham’s brand of ritual self-flagellation becomes more difficult to believe with every iteration. But let’s not pretend that this latest episode in the Lena Dunham Apology Tour is evidence that the writer and actress is actually a “rape apologist.”
She’s not. She’s a hypocrite.
It’s currently rather unpopular to suggest that we should take five seconds to think critically about allegations of sexual misdeeds before presuming them to be true. Nevertheless, doing so remains necessary. We can’t discover the truth beneath the horrifying stories pouring out of Hollywood and the media if we unblinkingly assume that every woman is truthful and every man is a liar.
Does Dunham comprehend this? That depends. This, remember, is a woman who has built much of her feminist persona around the insistence that women never, ever lie about rape. This is a woman who has falsely and very publicly accused a Republican of raping her in college. A woman who, depending on how one reads a troubling passage in her own memoir, may be guilty of having molested her younger sister.
And after all of this, she expects to be taken seriously when she emerges to claim that, actually, sometimes women do lie about rape . . . at least when those women are accusing Dunham’s friends?
We’re in the midst of a cultural “reckoning,” and thus of a panic of sorts. Getting to the bottom of the sexual-harassment and -assault claims hitting one public figure after another requires, above all, an earnest dedication to finding out what really happened. This goal is hindered immensely by any subordination of truth to political agenda, and it is harmed by those who would shame an entire gender without cause or defend their friends and allies against any accusation simply because they’re friends and allies.
Given her history, Dunham’s voice has no place in the kind of conversation America desperately needs right now. And yet, like The Thing That Couldn’t Die, she just keeps coming back. Can this woman do us a favor and cause a controversy so egregious that it will once and for all render her obsolete as a revered spokesperson for the Millennial generation? For the sake of our discourse, let’s hope so.
— Alexandra DeSanctis is a William F. Buckley Jr. Fellow in Political Journalism with the National Review Institute.