SHAH: Dunham, Swift must be held accountable
Opinions Column: Wait, Was that Racist?
On Aug. 4, Lena Dunham tweeted, “Things women do lie about: what they ate for lunch. Things women don’t lie about: rape.” But in the midst of the bold and brave #MeToo movement, Dunham accused actress Aurora Perrineau of lying about the sexual assault accusation she filed against "Girls" writer Murray Miller when she was only 17 years old.
“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." said Dunham and her fellow "Girls" showrunner, Jenni Konner.
While Dunham may feel protective over her colleague, her response reads as extremely tone-deaf, especially because her brand relies on her so-called unapologetic feminism. Giving each woman a chance to tell her story is an essential pillar of feminism because the system is rigged heavily against sexual assault survivors — particularly against men and women of color like Perrineau.
For example, of over 83 accusations against Harvey Weinstein, Lupita Nyong’o’s accusation was the only one contradicted by Weinstein himself. For every Black woman that reports her sexual assault, there are 15 who do not. A study of 331 jurors in Indianapolis concluded that most dismissed Black women’s claims due to the stereotype of promiscuity and hyper-sexuality.
When an affluent white feminist immediately discredits a woman of color, it reflects poorly on not only her personal feminist values but also on all feminists. Feminism is no longer regarded as a safe space for women of color — intersectionality is not a priority.
While Dunham may have apologized, the damage is done. Her knee-jerk reaction to the accusation is indicative of her brand of feminism — a profitable label that can be utilized only when convenient and neglected otherwise. It is moments where women act more like opportunists than feminists that discredit the modern-day feminist movement, leading to a version of feminism that helps no one except for those like Dunham, who wield it as a commercialized tool to market themselves.
This is widely known as "white feminism" — feminism that is used casually when a woman chooses to play victim to garner attention, but is abandoned when times get tough. Grace Hong, associate professor in the Department of Gender Studies at UCLA said, “Historically, the category ‘woman’ has implicitly meant white women.”
She said that a lack of intersectionality in feminism occurs because “critique and dissent undermine a unity that’s based on the lowest common denominator.”
But the truth is, a lowest common denominator is a weak method in creating a movement that is nuanced due to the diverse set of struggles women have had to face due to the other factors, such as race and sexuality, that set them apart.
White Feminism is not exclusive to Dunham. Her good friend, fellow self-proclaimed feminist Taylor Swift also plays a pivotal role in the movement. While Swift herself was included in the TIME Magazine "Person of the Year" cover and has fought a brave and relatively unpublicized battle against DJ David Mueller, it hardly excuses her lack of activism within the feminist movement and her disappearance during perhaps one of the most overt attack on women — the 2016 presidential election.
In 2015, I remember sitting in my $250 nosebleed seats, feeling connected in sisterhood as Swift said that girls had to stand up for one another no matter what. But the more I dissected Swift’s politics, the more it became clear to me that Swift’s tagline of feminism is merely her way of playing the victim, a narrative she has continually perfected — from creating hit songs out of breakups to attacking powerful women like Nicki Minaj and Katy Perry when they threaten her reign. With her disappearance perhaps due to much-needed escape from the spotlight or scrutiny regarding her handling of Kanye West’s “Famous,” Swift displays the qualities of white feminism painfully well. She may use her girl-squad under the guise of female empowerment as a marketing tool, but when activism is crucial and controversial, she is nowhere to be found.
Swift and Dunham are not bad people — just bad feminists. Dunham’s feminism is vastly hypocritical, and Swift’s shies away from necessary controversy. When we allow Swift and Dunham to become spokespersons for feminism, we oppress the continually excluded voices of women of color and allow their barrier-breaking successes to excuse their half-hearted and self-serving advocacy. We must hold feminists in the public eye to a higher standard because their representation fuels a reputation that will forever help or haunt an already-controversial movement.
Anjali Shah is a Rutgers Business School first-year, double majoring in finance and political science. Her column, “Wait, Was that Racist?”, runs on alternate Fridays.
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