On the latest episode of Lena Dunham’s podcast, Women of the Hour, the Jewish actress and writer focused on reproductive choice, including the stigma around abortion. This in itself is awesome–and more of it needs to be done in general. Except she sort of missed the point.
During the episode, Dunham shared a story of visiting a Planned Parenthood in Texas–when she was asked to share her abortion story, she admitted that she had never had an abortion (which is obviously fine not to have one)–and said she realized that she had internalized the stigma against the practice herself, stating:
“I wanted to make it really clear to her that as much as I was going out and fighting for other women’s options, I myself had never had an abortion. And I realized then that even I was carrying within myself stigma around this issue. Even I, the woman who cares as much as anybody about a woman’s right to choose, felt it was important that people know that I was unblemished in this department.”
Dunham continued to mention that her mother and best friends have had abortions, and concluded by saying:
“Now I can say that I still haven’t had an abortion, but I wish I had.”
Um, what? Why would someone specifically want to undergo what could be a potentially painful and traumatizing experience, just because? To normalize it? To me, it seems like an incredibly unaware and privileged thing to say. Now don’t get me wrong, many media outlets love to bash Dunham–which I do think is unfair, as I don’t believe she has malicious intent–she truly does have a powerful and important agenda–to make sure women are treated equally. However, in this case, I disagree with Dunham’s comments.
Treating abortion, which is an uncomfortable medical procedure to say the least, like it’s an experience to gain some kind of street cred–or understanding–misses the whole point–and only perpetuates the same stigmas as before. It also, which I’m sure is not Dunham’s point, isolates women who have had abortions–especially women who didn’t have a choice. Her comments also ignore the problem that many women don’t actually have access to safe abortions in some places (like Texas!). It’s like telling someone who battled cancer that you wish you undergone chemotherapy too–it’s just an inappropriate thing to say.
Dunham did apologize on Instagram yesterday for her comments, calling them distasteful–which is a start–but it saddens me, too, that someone with a huge following wouldn’t be more careful with their comments to begin with. I don’t want to say it’s “too little, too late,” but you can’t exactly “take back” what you say–people still remember.
My latest podcast episode was meant to tell a multifaceted story about reproductive choice in America, to explain the many reasons women do or don’t choose to have children and what bodily autonomy really means. I’m so proud of the medley of voices in the episode. I truly hope a distasteful joke on my part won’t diminish the amazing work of all the women who participated. My words were spoken from a sort of “delusional girl” persona I often inhabit, a girl who careens between wisdom and ignorance (that’s what my TV show is too) and it didn’t translate. That’s my fault. I would never, ever intentionally trivialize the emotional and physical challenges of terminating a pregnancy. My only goal is to increase awareness and decrease stigma. I take reproductive choice in America more seriously than I take literally anything else, and therefore own full responsibility for any words I speak that don’t convey this truth clearly. I know plenty of people will never like a thing that leaves my lips, mea culpas or no, but this apology is for the women who have placed their trust in me. You mean everything to me. My life is and always will be devoted to reproductive justice and freedom. You know how in some households you curse and have to put money in a jar? Well in mine, if you mess up your pro-choice messaging you have to give a sizable donation to abortion funds (https://abortionfunds.org/need-abortion) in New York, Texas and Ohio 💰I look forward to fighting with you all for the next four years and beyond.
“My latest podcast episode was meant to tell a multifaceted story about reproductive choice in America, to explain the many reasons women do or don’t choose to have children and what bodily autonomy really means,” her post began. “I’m so proud of the medley of voices in the episode. I truly hope a distasteful joke on my part won’t diminish the amazing work of all the women who participated.”
The 30-year-old actress said her comments also came from a “delusional girl” perspective that “careens between wisdom and ignorance.” Sounds about right. As someone who has had an abortion myself while I was in college, her comments stung. Not because I was personally hurt, but it brought back my own trauma of becoming pregnant after an assault, having to find a Planned Parenthood, and going there on my own–and not telling my religious family (or most of my friends) out of fear of being judged. So for Dunham wanting to somehow appropriate other women’s experiences for her own personal gain, like my own, is pretty awful.
I’m glad she apologized and realized her comments were wrong, but it also illustrates many problems in some feminist discourse today that don’t take into account less privileged perspectives. Instead of “normalizing” abortion, Dunham just made it another joke.