Friday evening, I came home from work absolutely exhausted. I left my husband and son to fend for themselves for dinner and crawled into bed at 6 PM. I woke up some time around midnight and as I always do, reached for my phone and scrolled down my Facebook timeline. Several friends had shared a story about how Odell Beckham Jr. had ignored Lena Dunham at this year’s Met Gala, at least according to her.
Still groggy after an epic nap, I assumed my brain was still half asleep because the headline made no sense. The Met Gala was months ago and I couldn’t imagine why Odell Beckham Jr.’s disinterest in Lena Dunham would be newsworthy. I clicked the link and after reading the story, I was even more confused.
In an interview with Amy Schumer for her site Lenny Letter, Dunham, seemingly unprompted, recalled the evening. Of the encounter which apparently lived all in her head, Dunham said, “I was sitting next to Odell Beckham Jr., and it was so amazing because it was like he looked at me and he determined I was not the shape of a woman by his standards. He was like, ‘That’s a marshmallow. That’s a child. That’s a dog.’ It wasn’t mean — he just seemed confused.” Continuing her audacious and one-sided recounting, Dunham went on to declare that Beckham had first looked at her to decide if he wanted to have sex with her before being totally turned off by her bowtie. So turned off in fact, that he “literally was scrolling Instagram rather than have to look at a woman in a bow tie.” Dunham then quipped that the Met Gala should be rechristened the “Metropolitan Museum of Getting Rejected by Athletes.”
After prompt backlash from Twitter, Dunham “clarified” her comments, tweeting that the story was clearly about her “insecurities as an average-bodied woman at a table of supermodels & athletes.” The Girls star chalked the misunderstanding up to her “sense of humor.” She ended her rant with an akward attempt at proving that sense of humor, mentioning Creed star Michael B. Jordan in an equally bizarre and offensive tweet promising to try dance onto him even when she’s an “old grandma.”
Dunham has since apologized, stating that though she “made totally narcissistic assumptions” about Beckham’s thoughts and “then presented those assumptions as facts,” she would “never intentionally contribute to a long and often violent history of the over-sexualization of Black male bodies – as well as false accusations by White women towards Black men.” Dunham’s critics have argued that she did just that, though. The Root’s Kirsten West Savali lambasted Dunham in an op-ed, arguing that the kind of assumptions Dunham made are just the kind that have resulted in the deaths, many extrajudicial of innocent Black men and boys.
That point is well made and relevant. Still, Dunham’s recklessness is as much attributable to her own consistently unchecked privilege as it is her endorsement — unwitting or not — of the stereotypes about Black male sexualization. For years now, the self-described and widely accepted feminist has made racist (even if thinly veiled) and generally problematic statements.
And for as many years, mainstream feminists have largely failed to take her task. The defense and coddling of Dunham are the typical feminist bubble of invisibility created for White women whose visibility and media power make them ideal spokeswomen for the feminist movement. Dunham makes these comments because she can. White feminism places the interests of White women above any damage perpetrated by its practitioners. As such, though Dunham’s ramblings are harmful—sometimes even spiteful to Black women and other women of color, or in this case Black men—so long as Dunham continues to use her platform to raise awareness to issues that affect White women, she won’t be held accountable.
Most relevantly, one writer for Slate found Dunham’s story about Beckham amusing, remarking that “Dunham has tapped into a real phenomenon—men who really don’t know what to make of women who don’t sexually interest them—and I, for one, intend to borrow her marshmallow line the next time this happens to me.” And while the Giant’s star’s Black male identity is crucial to the narrative, he was only indicated in Dunham’s reckless indictment by circumstance. Certainly she would not have hesitated to name any man in proximity had she had occasion. The intrinsically tied privileges of individuality and selfishness that adorn Dunham as a rich, White woman dictate that the object of her self-loathing is irrelevant. She is free to accuse, slander or demean whomever so long as it serves her.
She is also shielded by the benefit of the doubt. Interrogating her intentions is to her devoted brood as damaging to the well-constructed illusion of the inherent goodness of White women as her actions are to their victims. Further, her apology, however untimely, should serve as an immediate and complete pardon.
But if Dunham is taken at her word, that she had no intentions of participating in the furthering of stereotypes about Black men’s insatiable appetite for White women, the fact that she could make such a statement without hesitation or even inclination as to how it would be perceived makes the statement just as jarring as if she had done so with the knowledge of its impact. Not having to consider how and to whom your actions may harm are phenomena reserved for Whiteness. So while Dunham’s responsibility for her disgusting assertions about a highly visible Black man effectively ended with her hasty statement laden with apologetic buzz words, Black men and boys are still left to sift through the debris of her wreckage.
Four days, two naps, and a few think pieces later, reading Dunham’s words still has me feeling groggy, like my brain is still in half slumber. I’m as confused by her motivation for telling that story, or rather detailing her fantasy, as I was when I first read it. I guess that kind of gall will never make sense. Then again, I’m not a rich, White feminist.