Opinion: The problem with Lena Dunham’s problematic non-apologies


We need to discuss Lena Dunham’s history of problematic non-apologies, which tend to bring up more issues than solutions.

Lena Dunham has created a new ripple of controversy following her public apology to Aurora Perrineau. This “apology” (or non-apology really) comes a year after the Girls creator defended her friend and writer for the show, Murray Miller, who Perrineau has accused of sexually assaulting her.

Instead of actually apologizing for her dangerous actions and dishonesty, Dunham somehow managed to make matters worse. Before we get into her apology, or lack thereof, here is a refresher regarding Aurora Perrineau’s rape allegations against Girls writer and executive producer, Murray Miller, and Dunham’s involvement in her sexual assault case.

Last year, Perrineau filed an official claim against Miller, stating that he raped her in 2012 when she was a minor. Per The Wrap, Perrineau passed a polygraph test, indicating that her testimony and claims against Miller are likely truthful. However, Girls co-showrunner Dunham chimed in on the legal battle, which had nothing to do with her.

Shortly after Perrineau officially came forward with her claims against Miller, Dunham sent a statement to The Hollywood Reporter. In her statement, she wrote:

"We believe, having worked closely with him for more than half a decade, that this is the case with Murray Miller. 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. It is a true shame to add to that number, as outside of Hollywood women still struggle to be believed. We stand by Murray and this is all we’ll be saying about this issue."

In the same statement, Dunham called herself a feminist, using it as a shield while she discredited Perrineau’s claims. By standing with the accused rapist Murray, Dunham cast aside a black women’s sexual assault accusations. In doing so, Dunham also invalidated the same support she claims to give to the #MeToo movement.

Granted, Dunham’s alignment with the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements has been criticized in the past. Tessa Thompson called out Dunham in January, following the Golden Globes ceremony where the Time’s Up initiative came out in full force.

Thompson alleged that Dunham’s involvement was minor at best, and that she merely appeared for a photo op and not the “countless hours of work for the last two months” leading up to the awards show.

Thompson later clarified her words, sharing in a tweet she didn’t want to “diminish Lena Dunham and her work” and that the Time’s Up campaign was “for everyone, in all capacities, contributions big and small.”

Dunham herself explained to Indiewire why she was less involved, explaining:

"For highly personal reasons, I’ve been unable to join previous efforts but being asked to be a part of this celebratory moment was truly beautiful. I’ve worked with Tessa and respect her artistry and admire her consistent candor."

If Dunham was truly dedicated to the #MeToo movement and its core goal of protecting, believing, and supporting sexual assault survivors, then why disavow Perrineau’s serious claims? That essentially negates what the movement is working towards.

This brings us to the current timeline and Dunham’s failed apology within an open letter published via The Hollywood Reporter. Dunham admits she lied by dismissing Perrineau’s allegations in order to help her Girls coworker, Miller.

"There are few acts I could ever regret more in this life. I didn’t have the “insider information” I claimed but rather blind faith in a story that kept slipping and changing and revealed itself to mean nothing at all."

Following this admittance, which comes over a calendar year after Dunham tossed aside Perrineau’s story, the actress manages to make the non-apology almost exclusively about her, not the woman she’s supposedly apologizing to — Aurora Perrineau.

"I will always work to right that wrong. In that way, you have made me a better woman and a better feminist. You shouldn’t have been given that job in addition to your other burdens, but here we are, and here I am asking: How do we move forward? Not just you and I but all of us, living in the gray space between admission and vindication."

Here, Dunham disturbingly turns another woman’s sexual assault into a teaching moment for herself. While one would hope Dunham has learned from her mistakes, this isn’t the time or place to take Perrineau’s stressful and painful situation and mold into a shining moment of growth. Sorry but not sorry Lena. There is a difference between changing and growing and actually becoming a compassionate person that doesn’t impact a person’s livelihood or otherwise. (Maybe, just maybe, we can be thankful that Dunham actually mentioned Aurora’s name in this piece — her statement from last year didn’t at all.)

Following this debacle, Dunham continued to find ways to put the focus on herself instead of Perrineau, the woman she wronged. While attending The Hollywood Reporter‘s Women in Entertainment event, standing next to  Aurora’s mother Brittany Perrineau, Dunham pivoted back to her own #MeToo story.

While Dunham could have used this moment to encourage survivors while also expressing survivors can still temporarily go against the MeToo movement, it might have been more advantageous for her to acknowledge communities who are often implicitly excluded from the MeToo movement.

Instead of spotlighting herself at this moment, Dunham could have acknowledged the following: women of color, especially black women, are both less likely to report their sexual assault and to have their claims believed. Additionally, Native American women, black women, and mixed race women have the most prevalent rates of rape in the United States. As EROC notes, white women are significantly more likely to report their assault, while women of color, who are statistically more likely to be sexually assaulted, rarely report.

Dunham didn’t recognize these statistics before the controversy with Perrineau began. While she may retroactively realize these facts, she hasn’t vocally acknowledged this amid her latest apology or used her alleged place in the #MeToo movement to discuss this disparity. I guess we can add this to Dunham’s lengthy apology list.

Finally, what is so frustrating amongst this thread of failed apologies is Dunham’s constant reference to the patriarchy or synonymous phrases for internalized misogyny as a way to distance herself from the blame within her actual apology. Her initial Twitter apology to Perrineau last year expressed how critical it is for women to stick together and believe one another “under patriarchy.” In her most recent apology published by The Hollywood Reporter, Dunham writes:

"It’s painful to realize that, while I thought I was self-aware, I had actually internalized the dominant male agenda that asks us to defend it no matter what, protect it no matter what, baby it no matter what."

And again, during her continued apology on stage at the Women in Entertainment event, Dunham says that one of the lessons learned from her experience defending Aurora Perrineau’s accused assaulter was that she “learned in which the way my own heart and mind were colonized by patriarchy.”

Though Dunham could repeatedly dual her apologies as a way to illustrate how patriarchy can afflict women with internalized sexism and misogyny, she implicitly draws the blame away from her and onto the patriarchy itself in the process.

At some point, Dunham can’t distribute blame for her own actions onto the patriarchy or a synonymous construct.

Hopefully, Lena Dunham can allow herself to be candidly accountable for her actions; however, I hope that we also won’t need to hear another Lena Dunham apology in the near or extended future.