Why Lena Dunham Matters

The 26-year-old writer, director, actress and comedienne receives a lot of flack for doing her job really, really well.

Have you watched television lately? Just flipping through my guide now, the only watchable programming available is a marathon of Law & Order: SVU, a marathon of a 5-year-old season of America’s Next Top Model, or an edited version of Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me on FX, while everything other channel is filled with courtrooms, soaps, and news. Even beloved prime time programming - Breaking Bad, Homeland, Louie - leaves me dismayed and craving a female lead that leaves all the typical tropes behind. Would a Wendy White be as effective as Walter? Was it necessary for Skylar White to be so intolerable? If Carrie Mathison weren’t bipolar, would anyone give a shit?

Enter: HBO’s Girls. Girls gave audiences female characters that weren’t flawed to an extreme, didn’t exist to clean up after a male character (or make his problems worse), and acted in an environment I knew and understood. I recognized their situations and personalities as my own. Most importantly, I praised Lena Dunham for creating a concept that was both fresh, complete, and worthy of a place in our cultural timeline.

Apparently, though, people really fucking hate Lena Dunham. Browse through a sampling of comments on Buzzfeed and you’ll notice that most comments talk about how she’s a try hard, she’s unfunny, and she has nothing on Amy Poehler and Tina Fey. These are some of the nicer points. Recently, Gawker posted her entire book proposal to Random House (which she was paid a whopping $3.7 million for) and, when she threw the lawyer card at them, they passive-aggressively took random quotes from the proposal to specifically attack.

You don’t have to like Lena Dunham. You don’t have to like Girls. But this hate for Dunham and her work is such a clear-cut case of sexist jealousy that I’m having trouble wrapping my head around it.

A lot of people accuse Lena of nepotism, claiming she owes much of her success to her parents: artist Carroll Dunham and, more famously, photographer Laurie Simmons. Even if they did help her, which I’m sure they did, stop acting like she owes her entire fame to her family. This isn’t Kim Kardashian using her family money to start bullshit clothing lines. Lena used her opportunities to create her own image and build her own career. Judd Apatow wanted to executive produce Girls based on Dunham’s film Tiny Furniture, not based on Laurie Simmons’ daughter’s film Tiny Furniture.

Beyond that, Lena Dunham gets so much shit for not being Tiny Fey or Amy Poehler. You know what that rhetoric says? Women can’t be funny unless they’re that kind of funny.If they’re the quirky, kind of sexy but mostly adorable ladies that we’re used to coming straight off the stage of Saturday Night Live, they have no place in our comedic world. While Tina and Amy, along with Kristin Wiig and Maya Rudolf are certainly important and iconic figures for women in the entertainment industry, it’s audacious to think that women can only be funny when they’re being outlandish characters. Hannah Horvath, the lead character played by Dunham, blends comedy in real-world drama. Lena Dunham knows and understands that she doesn’t match the physical ideal for a woman on television, and she furthers her ‘fuck you’ to traditional standards by being naked on camera as often as possible. Lena’s perfectly misshapen, tattooed body helps viewers understand that they don’t need to be perfect to experience physical love.

Speaking of which, all that awkward sex featured in the show? Dunham’s critics can’t seem to accept the visual image of less-than-perfect sex, though it’s the most real portrayal of a young-adult sex life I’ve ever seen on television. Why perpetuate the stereotype that everything will go right all the time? Dunham isn’t afraid to say that sex isn’t always fun, but people seem afraid to hear it.

Maybe I’m biased because she’s living my dream, but her slew of award nominations and the professional respect she’s received from her colleagues in the entertainment industry tell me I’m not alone. Shouldn’t we all be so lucky to receive success at such a young age? Why does the public refuse to accept her as a role model? Yes, she received a fat check from Random House for a book she hasn’t written yet, but she’s already been able to prove her writing credentials. The book will be a bestseller no doubt, and will have more worthwhile things to say than Snooki and Paris Hilton’s bestsellers did.

Season 2 of Girls premieres on HBO January 13th.

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