BOOK REVIEW – Not That Kind Of Girl, Lena Dunham

by Emily Hughes

Prior to the release of her book, I hadn’t heard of Lena Dunham. She caught my attention due to the fact that when she was my age, she’d written, directed, produced and starred as a main role in her own TV series, (which I’ve yet to watch an episode of) “Girls”…And she played a character on Adventure time.

As my friends and co-workers know I’m a feminist, her book was brought up in conversations. Had I read it? What did I think? So I guess it was time to find out.

“Not That Kind of Girl” is another book in the growing subgenre, if you like, of “fun feminism” ( see Caitlin Moran, Amy Poehler, Mindy Kaling, Tina Fey et al). I am all for this type of book and their popularity: newsflash – girls are funny, I don’t know why this is seemingly news to so many people.

For me, reading Caitlin Moran’s “How to Be a Woman” was a struggle, despite my love for Caitlin, because I felt she was too punchy with crudeness (I’m talking about THAT chapter comparing her menstrual cycle to liver) – and I’m no prude. That was a walk in the park against Lena’s awkward and at times inappropriate autobiography.

Let me elaborate: when touching on her one time experiment with her sexuality – (which there is nothing wrong with) she titles the essay “The Time I was Almost A Lesbian” (which in my opinion there is something wrong with).

Unfortunately in 2015, we are still fighting against the minority who think sexuality is a choice that needs to be, or can be, “fixed”. We are still trying to stamp out the idea that young heterosexuals are allowed to have crushes since day dot but when someone identifies as homosexual, some people feel entitled to comment that “you’re too young to know that for sure” or “it’s just a passing phase”. I find it really odd that she can title an essay this when her own sister is a lesbian.

Dunham continues with treating things that just happen, as if they are things you can switch on and off, with her approach to her completely faux eating disorder. She describes herself as the “world’s least successful occasional bulimic.” I don’t even need to go into how bulimia is a serious illness and there’s no type of “success” involved, other than those who are lucky enough to survive it in the hope of not relapsing again.

Now to the most controversial part: the section of the book where Lena describes prizing open her little sisters vagina when she was 7 and shrieking. Then how her mother had come over and looked and seen Lena’s sister had crammed some pebbles in there.

Whilst I don’t agree with the public outcry and people labelling it sex abuse – this arguent would mean sexualising the thoughts and actions of a 7 year old and I don’t think childhood curiosity and sexual abuse should be confused. (Dear men in the wings ready to ask me if “I’d say the same if it was a male doing that to his sister, the answer is “yes”)

I can’t comprehend what this is supposed to bring to the book other than thinking that the writer is A) A weirdo and, B) Trying particularly hard to be shocking. This is mirrored by her discussing how she used to masturbate whilst sharing a bed with her sleeping sibling (something Moran also does in “How To Be A Woman”) – I’m starting to feel like I’m the only one who didn’t…

I take my hat off to her for speaking out about her upsetting sexual experience. Her instance is the type of story that many girls will read and unfortunately find it to be familiar. Society’s approach to sex crime still needs a lot of work and many are still of the thought that if it wasn’t down a dark alley with a balaclava, then it isn’t rape. However, she doesn’t do anything to oppose this notion.

She never describes what happens to her as rape but does say in the opening paragraphs that she’s an unreliable narrator because “in another essay in this book I describe a sexual encounter with a moustachioed campus Republican as the upsetting but educational choice of a girl who was new to sex when, in fact, it didn’t feel like a choice at all.”

Even though she is bravely speaking openly about what happened to her, when she tells her friend what happens and the friend says “You were raped”, Dunham responds by laughing. Then, when speaking about it with other friends she counteracts with “That’s the thing. No one knows if its rape. It’s like, a confusing situation…” despite the story she has previously leaves very little confusion to the reader as to whether it was rape.

By laughing at and questioning suggestions that it was rape, she isn’t aiding the cause. Many victims of rape fear being disbelieved and being a female celebrity that appeals to teenage girls and then writing something like this has potential to be highly damaging.

With the negative out the way, so, what is there to like about Not That Kind Of Girl? It’s well written and despite what is mentioned above, can be light hearted and funny in places. I enjoyed her tongue in cheek coverage of being a woman and working in Hollywood in the essay titled “I Didn’t Fuck Them But, They Yelled At Me.”

I respect her for being in a field of work that is so judgemental of how you look and here she is: not a size 8 with long flowing hair and she’s confident in ripping her kit off and acting out sex scenes – see essay “Sex Scenes, Nude Scenes and Public Sharing.

My favourite aspect of the book is the pattern on the inner cover and the cute illustrations throughout, probably not what she was looking to achieve. Although her triumph with regards, to breaking in and making it, in a very male orientated industry are to be praised, the book didn’t do it for me. Sorry, Lena but I feel you’re just Not That Kind Of Girl I’d like to read about.

Have you read this book? What did you think?

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