POLITICS

05.27.15 9:15 AM ET

The Right-Wing War on Lena Dunham

The right-wingers obsessively document and chastise her every move. Why are conservatives so threatened by a 29-year-old TV showrunner and author?

In honor of Memorial Day, Lena Dunham Instagrammed herself in a lacy bra and panty set, and captioned the sultry snap, “I think I will wear it to dinner with some boots & a smile because we are all very lucky to be free.”

Dunham clearly presents her exhibitionism as a celebration of personal and political freedoms, but certain fringe elements of the right-wing media have taken the peaceful photo as further evidence of Dunham’s personal war on male retinas, Republican values, and the American Dream.

The friendly folks over at Breitbart even took it upon themselves to share the photo on Facebook along with a PSA: “DISCLAIMER: Breitbart News is not responsible for any emotional, spiritual, or psychological damage that might occur as a result of viewing this article.” Because trigger warnings are a liberal tool used to infantilize and over-coddle—unless they’re giving big, strong men ample warning that the nude woman they’re about to ogle and objectify is not a piece of eye candy constructed exclusively out of the world’s most physically arousing, dude-approved lady parts. 

While hating on Lena Dunham is, at this point, an odd national pastime, conservative Dunham demonization is particularly widespread and cruel. It’s also strange—for all the fuss Breitbart & Co. made about Lena in her lingerie, you would think Instagram had published a picture of Obama’s REAL birth certificate. But the far right has been picking on Lena Dunham her entire career, for various slights ranging from her insistence on sharing her personal narrative to her insistence on not walking around in a potato sack with a paper bag over her head.

In 2012, Dunham appeared in an Obama campaign ad about her “first time” voting for the Democratic nominee. In the ad, Dunham quipped, “You want to do it with a great guy…somebody who really cares about and understands women.” Republicans were shocked and irate, both by Dunham's political affiliations as well as her insinuation that she knew what sex was. While some conservative tweets merely accused the actress and showrunner of “devil worship,” others went the slut-shaming route: “The #MyFirstTime ad is the height of vulgarity.”

Imagine the backlash when this “over-sexed starlet” actually started to use her celebrity to campaign on behalf of Planned Parenthood, in keeping with her pro-choice beliefs. In November 2014, Alison Howard of Concerned Women for America went on Fox News with an important message for Dunham, criticizing her for supporting an organization that had “murdered millions of young women,” and making the political very personal in the process. 

While Dunham’s ideological deviances from the conservative value system were well-documented from the start, they hardly justify the ensuing right-wing witch hunt. The outcry surrounding Dunham’s 2014 memoir Not That Kind of Girl illustrates some of these fringe conservatives’ cruelest tactics. In the memoir, Dunham details a sexual encounter she had as a college student, which she now identifies as an assault. She later explained her reasoning for going public with the story, citing the bravery of other survivors who have spoken out and asserting, “I don’t believe any of us who have been raped and/or assaulted are to blame.”

Although the number of men and women who have been bold enough to challenge the patriarchal and silencing culture surrounding sexual assault does appear to be rising, the far right never fears. Got a troublemaking young woman using her visibility to encourage empowerment? Just dim the lights, put Fox News on mute, and blast the greatest hits: victim blaming, reputation trashing, and an insistence on false rape accusations. Keep playing these classics on loop and eventually someone will have to issue a statement! In Lena Dunham’s case, the conservative reckoning was perpetrated by sites like Liberty News and our old friends at Breitbart, which respectively boasted the headlines, “Lena Dunham Lied About Being Raped by ‘College Republican’” and “Lena Dunham ‘Raped by a Republican’ Story in Bestseller Collapses Under Scrutiny.” Of course, if Dunham hadn’t insisted on being raped by a Republican (and telling the world about it), the conservative right might have been a little less ardent about insisting that she had made the whole thing up. Naturally, they would protect a perceived member of their own tribe by attacking her story—she was practically asking for it!

The friendly folks over at Breitbart even took it upon themselves to share the photo on Facebook along with a PSA: “DISCLAIMER: Breitbart News is not responsible for any emotional, spiritual, or psychological damage that might occur as a result of viewing this article.” Because trigger warnings are a liberal tool used to infantilize and over-coddle—unless they’re giving big, strong men ample warning that the nude woman they’re about to ogle and objectify is not a piece of eye candy constructed exclusively out of the world’s most physically arousing, dude-approved lady parts. 

While Dunham did apologize, it wasn’t for publishing a false narrative, but rather for any pain she might have caused by failing to emphasize that the name “Barry,” which she used to identify her rapist, was a pseudonym. Not content to call Dunham a liar, the conservative media conjured up an even more defamatory label: child abuser. In the National Review, Kevin D. Williamson published a now-infamous review that culled two passages from Dunham’s memoir, asserting that they were proof that Dunham molested her younger sister. Dunham took to Twitter to offer a number of choice replies, including, “I told a story about being a weird 7 year old. I bet you have some too, old men, that I’d rather not hear.”

While sexual assault and child abuse are two thorny, nuanced issues, the conservative vendetta against Lena Dunham is as uncomplicated as it is undeniable. More troubling is the manner in which she is so utterly dismissed, an ignorant misreading that’s got everything to do with Dunham’s political views and, more importantly, her gender. Lena Dunham was not accepted as a survivor in the same way that so many young women aren’t. Similarly, her tales of sexual exploration could never be read as such by a conservative culture that actively denies the sexuality of young women in favor of their sexualization. To these right-wing critics, Lena Dunham’s every-woman sexuality isn’t just disgusting, it’s downright threatening—and therefore warrants an all-out smear campaign.

According to conservatives, Lena Dunham isn’t hot enough for Vogue, and she isn’t even hot enough for her own Instagram account. She’s a liar, a molester, and an all-around vulgar chick. From challenging standards of beauty to acknowledging her sex life, from standing up for survivors to speaking out against victim blaming, Lena Dunham isn’t afraid of much. Meanwhile radical right-wingers, when faced with change in the form of a lady who talks too much and wears too little, are almost comically frightened. Maybe they’re afraid that their wives and daughters will join the revolt, or maybe they’re just really not attracted to empowered women.

Whatever the reason, Lena Dunham has a message for the conservatives who have endlessly mocked and maligned her: I probably wouldn’t fuck you either