Lena Dunham is perhaps the most hated 32-year-old woman in America. The actor and writer can never seem to do anything right, even when she tries, and she’s constantly being told to apologize for something.
So it’s not surprising that after New York Magazine published a major profile of Dunham, people have delighted in detailing the most cringe-worthy moments from its text. But thanks to the brutal honesty and self-reflection Dunham exhibits in the profile, there are actually lessons to be learned from her words about how to be a good person and live a happy life in a modern age when everything seems more complicated.
Here are some of the takeaways from the New York article.
Stick to your ethics, even when it hurts
Dunham has had a year of public scandal and tragedy, including her breakup with longtime boyfriend Jack Antonoff, an emotionally difficult hysterectomy and a failed TV show that could not ride on the coattails of her HBO hit “Girls.” But perhaps the largest scandal came when Dunham and her former partner Jenni Konner issued a statement about sexual misconduct allegations against “Girls” writer and executive producer 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,” the statement read. “It is a true shame to add to that number, as outside of Hollywood women still struggle to be believed.”
The words shocked readers, who quickly reacted by calling out Dunham’s hypocrisy. She was, after all, a woman who has been very vocal about her own sexual assault, and who has long branded herself as a feminist and ally to women.
Dunham expected that people would know where she was coming from, as “an advocate for these issues.” But they didn’t. Defending her friend — or her “tribe,” as she put it — landed her in hot water for being an ally to women until an accusation touched one of her own. There’s a lesson in that: Ethics are important, even when they mean going against a loved one for the greater good (see: Sarah Silverman’s comments on her friend, Louis C.K.).
Don’t judge so quick
Dunham probably wishes she never issued the statement on Miller. But readers also didn’t know the context in which she conceived of it.
Dunham had just had surgery and was hopped up on drugs when she decided to come out in support of Miller, who had told her his side of the story months before the allegation appeared in the press. The statement was inconceivable from a feminist, and backlash was justified. But the surrounding narrative matters at least a little — Dunham, someone who has been vocal about her desire for children, had just had an invasive hysterectomy two days before and was in recovery.
That does not make her words okay, but it probably does mean she should have been shown some sympathy as she tried to piece her life back together. So there’s a lesson for us readers who are so quick to criticize — perhaps we should take a step back and try to understand a perspective before we rip it apart.
Burn it down
There is one line that stands out among all the rest in the profile:
“A lot of the stuff that happened last year couldn’t have happened if I was happy in my life, right?” Dunham says. “It was almost like I was throwing a match, burning it down.”
Though it’s probably never great to torch the life you’ve built, she’s right that all of her public shamings in the last year are likely symptoms of larger problems. She admits she and Antonoff probably should have broken up far sooner. She’s glad to be out of Brooklyn, where too many young moms reminded her of the life she could have had. She wants to refocus and turn her attention away from her own voice, which she has bolstered for most of her career, to give others a platform.
Though must of us do not exist on the same plane as Dunham, her personal struggles are a lens through which we can view our own. If we’re self-sabotaging or too focused on our selfish problems, perhaps it’s time to look outward and reassess our lives. We don’t need to light a match, but we can take a look in the mirror.