Lena Dunham’s new memoir, Not That Kind of Girl, is written with just the sort of unabashed honesty and self-depricating wit you’d expect from the voice of her generation — or at least, “the voice of a generation.” And it also reveals the extent to which her personal experiences — some of them , some of them hilarious — have seeped into her work.
Take this, for example: in a chapter titled “Platonic Bed Sharing: A Great Idea (for People Who Hate Themselves),” Dunham recalls wanting to kiss a fellow Oberlin student who “had the severe face and impossibly great hair of Alain Delon but said ‘wicked’ more than most French New Wave actors.” He talked his way into her bed by saying his dorm room was mold-infested and he needed a place to crash. That exact move is used on Dunham’s character in her lesser known student film, Creative Nonfiction.
Another scene in that film, Dunham confesses in Not That Kind of Girl, was inspired by the time she lost her virginity to a boy who dressed “vaguely like a middle-aged lesbian” — though the film doesn’t include the part where a distraught friend accidentally walked in on the copulating couple and said, through tears, “Mazel tov!”
And Dunham’s confession that she has always been attracted to jerks, “from sassy weirdos who are ultimately pretty good guys to sociopathic sex addicts,” adds some context to Hannah’s early days with Adam (Dunham now considers herself in “jerk recovery”).
In between the narrative passages about issues like weight (at one point she was “the world’s least successful occasional bulimic”) and on-camera nudity (“it’s fucking weird”), there are fun little lists like “10 Reasons I <3 NY,” which includes reasons like “because everyone hates a suit. Even the suits,” and “because the rules are really more like suggestions.” (Ha! Tell that to Alec Baldwin.)
And then there’s this reason to love our fine city: “Because everyone gets catcalled. And I mean everyone.”
That was certainly evident in the closing scene of the Girls pilot, when a homeless man tells Hannah, “Oh, girl, when I look at you I just want to say hello New York!”
If you have a vagina, by birth or by choice, you will be called “mami” or “sweetie” or “Britney Spears.” And the catcalls can be so creative! Once, my little sister was walking down the street in her thick black glasses, and a homeless man muttered, “Talk nerdy to me.”
This is, of course, treading on sensitive ground. Remember the shitstorm that erupted when a New York Post writer said that wolf whistles from construction workers “send your ego soaring”? That article, memorably titled “Hey Ladies! Cat Calls Are Flattering — Deal With It!”, was met with a flurry of disdain: Brooklyn Magazine, for one, insisted that “catcalling isn’t flattering, it’s harassment” and said the article was worthy of a “rage aneurysm.”
That’s exactly what Daily Show correspondent Jessica Williams seemed to be having, a month ago, when she shut down a Fox News commentator who shared his method of applauding attractive women on the street. (She later told The Cut about her own catcalling experiences, including a sketchy encounter in Williamsburg.)
Hannah Horvath did smile a little bit — though she kept walking — when the homeless man asked her, “Why don’t you smile?” But others wouldn’t be so quick to do so. Take the Stop Telling Women to Smile campaign. Or the Contra Catcalling Consensus stickers that went up around Williamsburg some months ago. Or the author of the Hey Baby blog, who a few weeks ago told Al Jazeera, “I am always concerned with people saying it’s just a compliment.”
But part of what Dunham touches on in Not That Kind of Girl is that there shouldn’t be just one brand of feminism. In the chapter “Emails I Would Send If I Were One Ounce Crazier/Angrier/Braver,” she answers a letter from a feminist: “I understand that you come from a generation of women who had to work hard to be heard, but for you to impugn my feminism and act as though I’m a scourge upon women everywhere, just because I refuse to spread your particular agenda?”
Dunham made a similar point the last time she spoke in favor of catcalls.
With that settled, we’d love to know how she felt about that guy who attended her B&N reading in a t-shirt printed with nudes of her…