I'm well aware it's an unpopular opinion for me to like Lena Dunham. I think she's a talented writer and a good-hearted public figure who genuinely makes the effort to be a better person. I also know that she has an insufferably loud mouth and multiple blind spots that are exacerbated by her unchecked privilege, and that I take less offense to these missteps because of privilege of my own. These opinions aren't mutually exclusive — or, at least that's what I thought.
There was one evening when my friend picked up a copy of Lena Dunham's chapbook, saw it was written by Lena Dunham, dropped it, and went, "Ew." Like she had accidentally stepped in dog shit, "Ew." Like she accidentally touched cat food, "Ew."
There are legitimate reasons to dislike or completely write off Lena Dunham. She continues to have a huge problem with race, and can be counted on to say something totally off-color and offensive every couple of months. But blind hatred, hatred that comes from not from reading her work or consuming her TV shows but instead from jumping on a bandwagon, is all too common. Not just towards Lena Dunham, but female celebrities in general. In fact, if you take the time to look, you'll see they almost all follow the same trajectory. We go from here:
Or from here:
Or, most iconically, here:
In almost all of these cases, these stars contributed to their own downfall: The skeletons in Amy Schumer's closet still rear their ugly heads in her current comedy; Jennifer Lawrence has made some questionable jokes; Taylor Swift got caught in her own web of lies. What I'm pointing out here is not that female celebrities are unjustly called out, but that we seem to relish doing so in a way that we don't for men.
A lot of this stems from a trend that has emerged in the last ten years: Asking women if they're a feminist. It's a term that has recently dominated the cultural zeitgeist, and often places an unfair expectation on the female celebrities who do own it.
"As a feminist, I feel a lot of pressure," author Roxane Gay says in her TED Talk. "We have this tendency to put visible feminists on a pedestal. We expect them to pose perfectly. When they disappoint us, we gleefully knock them from the very pedestal we put them on."
The moment a woman is branded as a feminist, the clock starts ticking for them to do something that ruins or contradicts the label. They get about two good years before we find a reason to pounce. When Kim Kardashian posted the recordings of Taylor Swift talking to Kanye, Twitter quickly blew up with the hashtag #TaylorSwiftIsOverParty — something that's become somewhat of a trend when a female celebrity fumbles in the spotlight. They fuck up, and then we throw a "party" in hopes of their permanent demise.
But the problem is this: Taylor Swift was accused of lying about giving Kanye permission to name her in "Famous" and went into hiding. Someone like Casey Affleck was accused of sexual harassment and won an Oscar. Why can't someone say they support Taylor Swift on Twitter without being ostracised, but can buy a ticket to Manchester By The Sea with no backlash?
Casey Affleck is by no means an anomaly. So many high-profile men have been accused of things like domestic violence (Bill Murray) and sexual assault (R. Kelly), who don't just continue to dominate the box office (Johnny Depp), but also still remain public figures (Nicolas Cage) who aren't (Charlie Sheen) constantly steamrolled (Eminem) online by people (Michael Fassbender) who consider hating on women (Josh Brolin) some kind of hobby (Gary Oldman) in the name of being "progressive" (John Lennon) but who seem less interested (Sean Bean) in the men (Brandon Marshall) who actually (Woody Allen) perpetuate (Nate Parker) horrible (Rob Lowe) misogyny (Chris Brown).
As a public, we can't hold with the nuance that women in the spotlight sometimes screw up. Men can be accused of atrocities and wake up without consequences, and we still see their movies or listen to their music, and pretend that the money we hand over reluctantly carries less weight. This opens up a bigger debate of whether or not it's possible to separate art from the artist, and what is and isn't forgivable in a public figure, but if you're going to get mad at me for never having seen Manhattan, then you can't get mad at me for watching Girls.
Editor's note: A previous version of this post erroneously stated that Casey Affleck and Sean Penn had been accused of sexual assault. The story has since been corrected.