White feminism (wīt fém-in-iz’m) noun: “Now I can say that I still haven’t had an abortion, but I wish I had.”
Lena Dunham, the creator and star of the washed-up HBO series Girls, has once again been caught red-handed with a wildly off-color remark that not only exemplifies her own privilege, but also disregards intersectionality in the feminist movement (for which she claims to be a champion) for more distasteful “humor.” Dunham’s latest comments regarding reproductive rights came during her podcast yesterday, on which she lamented at the fact that she wishes she could be the one to have an abortion in an effort to remove the stigma from the procedure. In essence, the childless Dunham wishes she had been pregnant at some point just for her to get an abortion for the hell of it.
As a gay man, I’m in no position to tell a woman what is and is not appropriate use of her reproductive organs of which I have absolutely no interest. However, I do believe abortions should be safe, legal, and hopefully rare, and the best way to ensure that is through comprehensive sexual education and prioritizing sexual healthcare. Dunham’s comments regarding reproductive rights are alarming on two fronts, though. On one hand, Dunham ignores the very difficult and sometimes painful reasons why many women, especially women of color, follow through with terminating a pregnancy. On the other, it fuels the pro-life/anti-choice campaign that still claims women get abortions out of malice for the nuclear family. Just yesterday, it was revealed that 39% of Trump voters believe women should be punished for having an abortion. Dunham’s comments are extremely detrimental in this sense, furthering the stigma.
Lena Dunham is certainly no stranger to controversy in 2016, though. Earlier this year, she and her white feminist friend Amy Schumer bantered about how boring and awful the MET Gala was back in May, as if they were forced to attend. During the evening, Dunham sat next to NFL star Odell Beckham, Jr., which made Dunham feel “insecure” because he was looking at his cell phone all night instead of eye-f*cking her, which is apparently something athletes are supposed to do to women. Not only were the comments unfounded, many users on Twitter also detected an element of racism in the interview, citing the blindingly white cast of Girls and Dunham’s stereotypes regarding the perceived sexual prowess/predation of young black men against white women. She later apologized and clarified her comments.
Despite the apology that resulted from an absolute shitstorm of criticism of Dunham on both the left and right, the comment yesterday is particularly damaging to feminist movement, which has had issues addressing intersectional issues in the past in terms of class, race, gender identity, and religion. Feminism’s roots go back to the white supremacist rhetoric of “heroines” like Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton who fought for women’s suffrage at the expense of newly freed black men, who were also advocating for their own right to vote under the Fifteenth Amendment. Women of color and queer women, once they were tolerated in the movement, have often tried to address the problematic history of feminism, but are too often silenced by well-known and high-ranking white women who claim they set the movement back for simply citing history. The privileged class of white women who ignore the intersectional identities within the movement, in turn, create the white feminist sect (read: feminist in name only, or feminist who fights for the rights of women like her).
Dunham is the de facto leader of this form of feminism, and her recent comments on reproductive rights solidified that position. Her comments imply that women often go through with abortions for the hell of it, instead of the reality that most abortions are a result of the woman’s inability to financially care for a child. On top that statistic, Dunham also fails to recognize the women who undergo the procedure to save their lives; the women who find themselves pregnant after a brutal rape or contact with an incestuous family member; and the women who fear the end of familial and other relationships if the pregnancy were carried to term.
While Dunham addresses the stigma surrounding abortions, she is completely tone-deaf in her approach. Her comments, which she claimed were derived from (another) failed attempt at weird humor, further stigmatize abortion as some callously indifferent infanticide. The procedure is not something anyone should ever wish to undergo. By just wishing she had an abortion, Lena Dunham touts her privilege in the faces of women who terminated pregnancies for the sake of their mental and physical health, financial security, and freedom from fear.