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Dunham Family Values

This is a crazy story.  [1] Lena Dunham has written a memoir in which she describes sexually abusing her little sister, when they were both children. Here’s a photo of the relevant page from her memoir:

Lena Dunham actually wrote that she was back then trying “anything a sexual predator might do to woo a small suburban girl.” These are the words. That she wrote.

Mary Elizabeth Williams [4], over at Salon, is right that the Dunham anecdote that has many people upset — seven-year-old Lena spreading her sister’s legs and looking at her vagina — is not as big a deal as all that. Little kids play doctor; it’s up to parents who discover them doing this to sternly teach them the importance of privacy. I find the passage highlighted above, in the photo, much creepier. And even then, if Dunham — who, let’s face it, grew up in an extremely weird rich New York family — confessed this stuff with sorrow, it would be understandable. But she says these things (I’m talking about the passage above, about grooming her little sister) as if they were just part of her wacky, unconventional childhood. And Lena Dunham is upset that people judge her for her own words?

I have known at least two friends over the years who were sexually abused by older siblings. In both cases, the abuse had profound and lasting consequences on their psyches. What Lena Dunham describes doing to her little sister is sick and disgusting.

But her little sister Grace, all growed up and having embraced a lesbian identity, doesn’t necessarily agree with the critics. She tweets that critics are dedicated to maintaining “heteronormativity,” and that, “As a queer person: i’m committed to people narrating their own experiences, determining for themselves what has and has not been harmful.”

Now, imagine if Grace Dunham’s older brother had confessed to having done these things. Would he have any defenders? Imagine if the woman confessing to this abuse were not from a liberal Manhattan family, and had not been dubbed by some media outlets as the “voice of her generation,” but was instead a burger-flipper living in a trailer park, having confessed this on a blog. How would you feel about it then?

What if an NFL player had written the same kind of thing in his memoir? Or a Catholic priest?

Again, kids can do weird sexual things with each other when they’re little. But grown-ups feel shame and regret over these things, and if they speak of them at all, it is with a tone of deep remorse. Is Lena Dunham remorseful? Does her victim expect her to be? This is, you know, the same logic as NAMBLA: the child victim really wanted to be touched that way, and enjoyed it.

UPDATE: A reader posts another paragraph from Dunham’s memoir:

“I shared a bed with my sister, Grace, until I was seventeen years old. She was afraid to sleep alone and would begin asking me around 5:00 P.M. every day whether she could sleep with me. I put on a big show of saying no, taking pleasure in watching her beg and sulk, but eventually I always relented. Her sticky, muscly little body thrashed beside me every night as I read Anne Sexton, watched reruns of SNL, sometimes even as I slipped my hand into my underwear to figure some stuff out.”

What an exciting and admirable family.

114 Comments (Open | Close)

114 Comments To "Dunham Family Values"

#1 Comment By M_Young On November 5, 2014 @ 2:29 am

Slate sez that Lena Dunham didn’t abuse her sister…so that settles it.

#2 Comment By Will On November 5, 2014 @ 3:01 am

I don’t think anyone is saying that being abused by someone of the same sex directly leads to having a homosexual orientation. I certainly don’t want to say that, but I will say this. Some people who are abused abuse others. That’s a fact. That doesn’t mean that all abuse victims turn into sexual predators, and it doesn’t mean that those who do were destined for that fate. What’s required is a nuanced response of the factors at play. This is humanity we are talking about, not particle physics.

I truly believe some people have an inate urge to love people of the same sex, an urge just as real and powerful as my more conventional sexual instinct. I respect people who follow such impulses in a healthy and proper manner. Some don’t. That leads to social pressures to conform to the ideal or the norm. We all know that some gay people bend to such pressure, sometimes even going so far to believe they are straight. This confusion isn’t just the results of homophobic fear or guilt, but from wanting to meet peoples expectations, to fit in, to maintain ego boundaries, and even to aspire to some sort of ideal.

Is it really that unthinkable that, given a different set of pressures, a straight person could believe that they are gay, or that they should be? Is there any greater pressure than that of a family? We idolize our parents and older siblings. We want to please them. Long before we are rebellious teenagers, we a defenseless children. We rely on our families for care, we trust them. Our first experiences with love and affection are from family.

Incestuous abuse doesn’t push family aside, it coopts it, subverts it, and perverts it. Family ties are often strengthened, in a way, as they are used to bond the abuser to the abused. The victim is made to feel like they are the ones who are sick. The abuser is made out to be loving, needed, even an ideal. Who doesn’t want to love their ideal?

Sex is made out to be something that the victim should do. That implanted impulse doesn’t always have a kill switch, and the abused will often unconsciously seek out relationships modeled on their abuse. How many people live their life’s looking to recreate their first love? Even as the child grows up, and starts to heal, they will often unconsciously try to recreate the abuse. While these recreations are sometimes their programming running on automatically, it can also be a way to face the past.

Is someone seeing themselves as they were taught to see themselves, acting in ways they were taught to act, and thinking about it in ways they were taught to think suddenly implausible once homosexuality enters the equation? Training isn’t just an aspect to abuse, it can be its very essence. Clearly, in some people world views, saying the right things about homosexuality is more important than asking the right questions about incest.

#3 Comment By Nick On November 5, 2014 @ 6:35 am

Amazing how pedophilia is acceptable when practiced by some left-wing activist Hollywood harpy who literally orgasms over the prospect of voting for Obama. Is there any behavior so craven, so repugnant, that “progressives” will not overlook it when committed by their fellow travelers?

#4 Comment By Boston Bob On November 5, 2014 @ 9:16 am

Am I supposed to know who Lena Dunham is? Is she worth googling?

#5 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On November 5, 2014 @ 10:40 am

Kathleen Parker, one of the most intelligent conservatives in print today, seems to have put this whole Lena Dunham thing in its proper perspective:


Moreover, she has done so while upholding a distinct preference for archaic notions like, people waiting until they are married to have kids.

#6 Comment By Ben H On November 5, 2014 @ 10:41 am

Here’s a description of Dunham’s parents lifestyle from Kevin Williamson at NRO:

‘Her father, Carroll Dunham, is a painter noted for his primitive brand of highbrow pornography, his canvases anchored by puffy neon-pink labia; her photographer mother filled the family home with nude pictures of herself, “legs spread defiantly.” ‘

They are WASP and Jewish millionaires from Manhattan. The modern American version of aristocracy, in other words.

Given that background its hard to judge her too harshly on the specifically sexual stuff, especially committed at a young age. Seeing grownups treat sexuality and sexual body parts as toys is going to affect the way a child will see such things. Its also hard to imagine a person from a more normal background writing what amounts to ‘raped my sister, LOL!’

Frankly she seems like a pretty warped, damaged person overall. Specifically the sort of person who should not be in a position to influence others in any way. Yet she has been given a show on the most high profile high status TV network in the country without having had any particular previous successes to merit such a thing.

So, deranged heiresses getting TV shows where they encourage young women to live the lifestyle of deranged heiresses (if I understand the gist of the show correctly). Pretty much 21st century America right there.

#7 Comment By Sean Scallon On November 5, 2014 @ 11:35 am

“[NFR: I wish I knew what you were getting at, or rather, who you’re mad at. Or maybe I don’t. — RD]”

Trashy behavior should be judged the same regardless who, what, where or level of income. Of course we both know that’s never been true. The rich can be just as depraved as the poor. But it seems to me you save your fire for Dunhams compared to the Shannons because it fits a certain cultural-politico narrative you have and because, as you said: “everybody holds the grotesque Shannons up as sick jokes.” Everybody? Are the Dunhams more in-line for a Culture Wars attack because you think they should have known better because they were well-to-do and well-educated while the Shannons were far down on the income and education scale? I really don’t think it takes a PhD or Upper East Side penthouse to figure out dating the violator of your own daughters and thinking of them as liars is not exactly family appropriate behavior, certainly not when the whole nation is watching your family on TV. My argument basically comes down to this: Once again you were selective in your outrage for the wrong reasons.

Instead, I’d rather not have known what Lena Dunham did with her sister growing up since I don’t watch “Girls”, don’t have her book nor plan to do either. And there was no need to make a big deal of this passage her book that majority of most Americans probably won’t even read other than to once gin up the old outrage machine against one’s perceived political-cultural enemies and feel morally superior.

Yes, there is a certain segment of the “media” which holds Lena Dunham a paradigm of, well…something. But I think you’ll find more people watch “Duck Dynasty” and read or watch other forms of media than pay attention to what she does or even she know who she is to begin with. I know what you’re going to say: “NYT/Slate/Salon/New Yorker sets the cultural tone for the nation…blah, blah, blah.” Really? Is that even true anymore? You’re talking a national of millions of people of difference races, religions, backgrounds who can easily wall themselves off into liking whatever forms of entertainment or media they receive whether its books, TV, online, newspapers, magazines, you name it. They can see what they want, read what they want and watch what they want. How can a handful media outlets have that much power to culturally direct the nation with so many choices of media in front of it? Just because they’re in New York? Because a few writers from Slate like watching “Girls”? Wonderful. That means absolutely nothing for the rest of the country. If Tuesday’s election results didn’t prove that point, nothing will. I think your scarred, having worked for big media companies or having lived in New York when you did, as to their or its perceived cultural power. Twenty years ago, maybe 10 years that might have been true. It isn’t now. We’ve niched ourselves into our enclaves and the behavior of the Shannons or the Dunhams isn’t exactly new nor is it widespread to cause a panic.

#8 Comment By Hector_St_Clare On November 5, 2014 @ 1:20 pm

Am I supposed to know who Lena Dunham is? Is she worth googling?

Short answer: No.

#9 Comment By Reinhold On November 5, 2014 @ 4:48 pm

“You aren’t doing your own side any favors here.”
I hope not, liberalism is not my side. And I don’t even think Dunham thinks it’s ‘normal behavior,’ she thinks it’s “weird.” But the passage Dreher printed about kissing is not evidence of grooming, though the passages, if they exist, about masturbation and the like, maybe so. But one thing is clear to all: below a certain age this stuff is normal infant sexuality, above a certain age it’s some kind of sexual abuse. Though we don’t really know exactly what that age is, we all know this simple fact.

#10 Comment By Peg On November 5, 2014 @ 4:52 pm

You seem to be missing the point: her technique she compares to that of sexual abusers–but sexual abusers use the technique of grandmamas, beloved aunts, parents, siblings, friends. It’s not the technique that’s the question, per se. Basically all people manipulate, and use emotional levers to get what they want–to lure in their desired targets. The issue is what they want to do having used those lures. Is the intent sexual seduction, or the worshipful codependent love imagined by a little girl who wants a perfect adoring little sister?

There is a difference. Dunham makes it quite clear that what she wanted was not sex, it was a fictional sappy little sister who’d be worshipful and dependent and all tied up in her big sister. Which is juvenile and self-centered and a horribly immature fantasy of what loving relationships are supposed to be like, but then she was juvenile and immature at the time, and the juvenile and immature are notoriously self-centered.

What she does not appear to have wanted to do is diddle her sister, or use her “seductive wiles” to get her sister to diddle her. Her comparison actually shows perhaps overblown but real awareness that her child-self wasn’t ideal, and remorse, and perhaps a bit too much campy guilt. But that’s all the comparison to sexual predators actually suggests: mature awareness that button-pushing of that sort is not only wrong, but is associated with mature sexual abusers.

But neither she nor her sister appear to think Dunham pursued sexually abusive goals or outcomes. The sad thing is that she’s doing the uber-liberal thing of judging herself in the worst possible light for using manipulative levers everyone uses, for goals that are at worst just immature and needy. She wanted to be special to her little sister–the most special big sister. She did it like an inexperienced, immature little girl, not like a mature, wise woman. That’s about it….

#11 Comment By Giuseppe Scalas On November 5, 2014 @ 8:46 pm

@Darth Thulhu

My understanding, also from the so-called scientific literature, is that the matter is controversial and, you are right, the relationship child abuse-homosexuality appears to be more prevalent for men.
(please note: I’m not counting APA statements as provided of scientific value)

I also stumbled across very specific texts from homosexual political extremists that call for an homosexual cultural/educational takeover on childhood, in schools and other institutions. It looks like those extremists think that homosexuality can be actually “primed” (of course, we’re talking here about male homosexuality).
Also, (male) homosexual philosophy and literature is full of pederastic episodes.

You are also right that anecdotics is not data, but in things related to human nature, I trust much more philosophy, history and literature than science (psychology calls itself a science, but is not. At most, when correctly understood, is a branch of philosophy)


There can be only two logically possible explanations why homosexuality has not been wiped out by evolution:
1) there are not homosexuals, but only bisexuals
2) homosexuality is either caused by epigenetic factors or childhood trauma.
Tertium, it looks like, non datur.

#12 Comment By Giuseppe Scalas On November 5, 2014 @ 8:54 pm

We must be very clear here: there are hints that liberal media outlets are starting what will become, in a few years, a full blown campaign to legitimate pedophiles as the next “victimized category”.

#13 Comment By Richard Parker On November 6, 2014 @ 5:44 am

“Is there any behavior so craven, so repugnant, that ‘progressives’ will not overlook it when committed by their fellow travelers?”

Being pro-life will get you expelled.

#14 Comment By Church Lady On November 6, 2014 @ 3:21 pm

There can be only two logically possible explanations why homosexuality has not been wiped out by evolution:
1) there are not homosexuals, but only bisexuals
2) homosexuality is either caused by epigenetic factors or childhood trauma.

Well, no. The other, and most likely, possibility is that the same genetic combinations that sometimes produce same-sex attraction, also confer evolutionary advantages in other areas, or in other people. That would explain why these genetics hang on even when they seem to produce those with reproductive disadvantages (which is what same-sex attraction is).

That sort of genetic combination of factors that produce both advantages and disadvantages are quite common. The genes which produce sickle-cell anemia, for example, also can produce protection against malaria, which accounts for why they have persisted in the gene pool for so long. The same genes that produce Tay-Sachs syndrome also produce high intelligence. Similarly with bi-polar disorder. Likewise with aspergers. Genetics are seldom actually merely a case of good/bad, but often a mixture of things. Probably something similar is going on with same-sex attraction.