Lena Dunham seems to be on a bizarre PR offensive. Over the past few weeks, the ‘Girls’ creator and incorrigible controversialist has become ever more difficult to ignore. First, ‘New York’ magazine published a long interview with Dunham, inspiring a gazillion hot takes. Now Dunham has catalysed a new wave of headlines for doing what she seems to do worst: apologising. On Wednesday, she caused an uproar by publishing a guest editor letter in the ‘Hollywood Reporter’s’ Women in Entertainment issue, in which she said she felt terrible for discrediting the actor Aurora Perrineau.
Some background: last year Perrineau accused Murray Miller, a writer on ‘Girls’, of raping her when she was 17. Dunham, alongside the ‘Girls’ producer Jenni Konner, immediately defended Miller. The pair published a statement proclaiming that: “Our insider knowledge of Murray’s situation makes us confident that sadly this accusation is one of the 3 per cent of assault cases that are misreported each year.” In other words: Perrineau was a liar.
The statement was not well received and Dunham, who had previously tweeted that women don’t lie about rape, was accused of hypocrisy. She was also accused of “hipster racism” : Perrineau is mixed-race and Dunham has a history of appearing to marginalise women of colour and their experiences. After the backlash Dunham issued an apology. Then the news cycle churned forward; public attention moved on. (Miller had denied the allegation and the police declined to prosecute, citing inconsistencies in the evidence.)
You don’t have to be a PR genius to know you should let sleeping scandals lie. Dunham, however, decided to breathe vigorous new life into this one. In her piece for the ‘Hollywood Reporter’ she apologised again to Perrineau and confessed: “I didn’t have the ‘insider information’ [regarding Miller] I claimed but rather blind faith in a story that kept slipping and changing.” In other words: Dunham was a liar. But don’t judge her too harshly — the patriarchy made her do it. Dunham explains: “I had actually internalised the dominant male agenda that asks us to defend it no matter what, protect it no matter what.”
Dunham didn’t just apologise in print. On Wednesday, the ‘Hollywood Reporter’ held a high-profile Women in Entertainment event and Dunham brought Perrineau’s mother on stage with her. Dunham told the audience that calling Perrineau a liar had been her “greatest moment of evolution and education”. Dunham further stated that she had “learned the ways in which my own heart and mind had been colonised by the patriarchy”.
Oh please! Let’s be clear: internalised misogyny is a very real phenomenon. As women, we are encouraged to loathe ourselves and look suspiciously on each other. Internalised misogyny is something we could all do with talking more about. But you can’t blame all your mistakes on the patriarchy. You can’t slander a woman, spin the situation into PR for yourself, use it as evidence of how you have grown and matured, and then blame the dominant male agenda. You have to take some responsibility for what you did wrong — and taking meaningful responsibility seems something Dunham is incapable of doing.