Misogyny in the Media: Keep it to Yourself, P.J. O’Rourke

I was going to call this post “In Defense of Dunham” but I decided against that when I realized that it’s not even really about her. I mean, I’m a fan of Lena Dunham. I LOVE Girls. LOVE IT. I also really enjoyed Tiny Furniture. I find her themes to be very relatable. I admire her efforts to tell the stories of twenty-something females. I like how she challenges Hollywood conventions.

Regardless of my admiration of Dunham, when I was reading P.J. O’Rourke’s article, I found myself getting annoyed, not on her behalf, but behalf of my own experiences, and on behalf of any girl/woman/female/person who has had any of the experiences he was disparaging from up on his throne of Old White Manness.

Yes, I’m aware that this is supposed to be comedic. I’m a fan of comedy and I can appreciate some good satire. But, this wasn’t funny. When I take a step back, I can sort of see how it was trying to be funny…but it missed the mark entirely.

Rather than rant ad nauseam about this column, I present it to you below with my comments in red.

Dunham4

As taken from The Daily Beast

(http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/12/13/up-to-a-point-they-made-me-write-about-lena-dunham.html)

Up to a Point: They Made Me Write About Lena Dunham
P.J. O’Rourke stares into Brooklyn’s heart of darkness.

My editor called and said, “Do a column on this Lena Dunham flap!”

And I said…

Actually, back up. What I did NOT say was, “Who the hell is Lena Dumbwhat?”

Isn’t it great how he gets the laughs rolling right out of the gate? He made fun of her name! How clever!

I’m a 67-year-old guy. I live in rural New Hampshire. I don’t subscribe to US Weekly, assuming that still exists. I watch football, basketball, and hockey on TV and sometimes “The Bass Pros” on Outdoor Channel.

Thank you for acknowledging that your age, gender, and penchant for televised sports means that you’re unlikely to be able to relate on a personal level to any of the experiences and themes Dunham writes about. This does not give you permission to be a judgmental asshole.

And for the record, I don’t subscribe to US Weekly and I also enjoy a good hockey game. Look at me subverting all your gender norms!

The only Lena I know of is Lena Horne, a wonderful performer, who is not involved in any flaps, and who is also dead.

Oh, I get it. You’re reminiscent of a time when female performers stayed classy. But WAIT! Lena Horne was also a civil rights activist. She fought discrimination, was blacklisted, and participated in the 1963 March on Washington. Horne was tracked by the goddamn FBI for her activism. If that doesn’t qualify as a “flap,” I don’t know what does.

But I’m a writer. That is, I was a writer for 40 years. Now I’m a “content provider.” And the Internet has declared that “content is free.” So when I get a call from someone who—startling as this is in our times—pays me…

But the Internet isn’t all bad. I can Google “Lena Dunham.”

She created and stars in (young content consumers please excuse this aside to readers who are as out-of-it as I am) a television series on HBO called Girls.

Ms. Dunham is 28. I was under the impression that “girls” is a demeaning term for adult women. The title must have something to do with this hipster “Irony” thing, which I confess I don’t understand. The root of the word irony is in the Greek eironeia, “liar.”

The tone of this paragraph is so painfully dismissive, I wonder why you bothered forming an opinion on any of this at all.

I had my 14-year-old daughter, Poppet, instruct me in how to watch an episode of Girls on my computer. (Turns out “content” is not completely “free.”)

Two seconds into the opening credits I was trying to get my daughter out of the room by any means possible. “Poppet! Look in the yard! The puppy’s on fire! Quick! Quick! Run outside and roll him in the snow!”

It turns out Girls is a serialized horror movie—more gruesome, frightening, grim, dark, and disturbing than anything that’s ever occurred to Stephen King.

I have two daughters, Poppet and her 17-year-old sister Muffin. “Girls” is about young people who are only a few years older than my daughters. These young people, portrayed as being representative of typical young people, reside in a dumpy, grubby, woeful part of New York called Brooklyn, where Ms. Dunham should put her clothes back on.

Why should she? Because it makes YOU uncomfortable? I think more people should take their clothes off without your unwanted, unnecessary judgment entering into it.

I lived in New York for fifteen years. No one had been to Brooklyn since the Dodgers left in 1957.

The young people in Girls are miserable, peevish, depressed, hate their bodies, themselves, their life, and each other. They occupy apartments with the size and charm of the janitor’s closet, shared by The Abominable Roommate. They dress in clothing from the flophouse lost-and-found and are groomed with a hacksaw and gravel rake. They are tattooed all over with things that don’t even look like things the way a anchor or a mermaid or a heart inscribed “Mom” does, and they’re only a few years older than my daughters.

Housing is expensive; roommates are inevitable. Since undergrad I’ve had over a dozen roommates. I don’t even wish that I’d had my own, nicer, bigger places. It’s all part of becoming an adult and I’m pretty sure is the reality for more people than you seem to realize.

The characters in Girls take drugs. They “hook up” in a manner that makes the casual sex of the 1960s seem like an arranged marriage in Oman. And they drink and they vomit and they drink and they vomit and they drink and they vomit.

Much like your thoughts on the appearances of the characters in their clothing and tattoos, your judgment on their sexual exploits is, frankly, typical and boring. A 67 year old man who doesn’t want his daughters getting tattoos and having sex? Someone start the presses!

These experiences of sex and drugs and binge drinking are the norm for many, many girls in their twenties. I don’t think Dunham is advocating this lifestyle but rather telling the stories of the choices that so many of us may have made or may be making.

It’s every parent’s nightmare. I had to have a lot to drink before I could get to sleep after watching this show about young people who are only a few years older than my daughters.

Then I had to buy a copy of Ms. Dunham’s book Not That Kind of Girl for $28.00. And it’s just the type of thing the IRS could nail me for, if I try to make it tax-deductable.

IRS Agent: “You mean to tell me that you are attempting to take a tax deduction for buying this… this… Sir, did you read page ___? And page ___? And — WHOO-EEE — pages _______? Did you receive your copy of the book through the mail? You do know, sir, that there are laws against distributing or receiving obscene material via the U.S. Postal Service.”

Not that I read it. Who can read a memoir by a 28-year-old? What’s to memorialize? The last 28-year-old who could have written a memoir worth reading was Alexander the Great in 328 B.C., after he’d conquered the known world, but he was too busy conquering the rest of the world to write it.

This ageist assertion negates the fact that a young woman could have a story to tell and, moreover, that her story is one worth reading.

Yet, after flipping through Not That Kind of Girl, I do begin to understand what “this Lena Dunham flap” is about.

Ms. Dunham accuses someone of having had sex with her. Re-reading that sentence, I see it didn’t come out right, leading me be condemned for trivializing sexual assault. Which I’m not doing because Ms. Dunham is only a few years older than my daughters.

Ms. Dunham accuses a Republican student of sexually assaulting her when she was an undergraduate at Oberlin, although she never reported the assault to the police or the university.

This has caused consternation among conservative journalists in places such as Breitbart and National Review because – if I’m getting the conservative journalists’ arguments straight – 1. The Republican student described by Ms. Dunham is easily identifiable and at risk of social shaming or worse as a result of Ms. Dunham’s accusation. 2. Upon investigation of Republican students attending Oberlin when Ms. Dunham was there, the Republican student described by Ms. Dunham didn’t exist. (Ms. Dunham has since responded to the whole brouhaha.)

Consternation has also been caused because Ms. Dunham admits to, as a child, having done with her younger sister what used to be obliquely called “playing doctor,” leading her to be condemned for trivializing sexual assault.

And I’m supposed to have an opinion about all this.

My opinion is that Lena Dunham created and stars in a television series on HBO called Girls, about young people who are only a couple of years older than my daughters.

Your repetition of this statement was not lost on me. I imagine it was meant to convey your panic regarding their impending adulthood and their inevitable sexual/spiritual/educational/professional/emotional awakenings. I assume you think by assigning them precious nicknames and openly disparaging against cultural norms you can prevent them from that.

I’m looking into Women-only military schools run by strict nuns for Poppet and Muffin. I think there’s one in the Philippines.

Good call. Systematically silencing and repressing young girls is always the best way to prevent them from gaining independence and thinking for themselves.

As you can probably see, this article isn’t really about Dunham’s book or even her assault allegations. It’s barely even about Dunham herself. It’s a thinly veiled critique of my generation — females in particular — and I’m so over it.

As infuriating as I found the whole article, I also made the mistake of scrolling down to the comment section. I know. I know. I was basically venturing into a den of trolls for whom this type of content is pure fodder. Still, I was disgusted with the type of bullshit that commenters were piling on in judgement of Lena Dunham. For example:

Dunham2Dunham1And I actually think that it’s the relationship between O’Rourke’s article and the comments section that best highlights the problem: O’Rourke attempts (unsuccessfully) to poke fun at Dunham and twenty somethings by criticizing the surface-level issues (clothing, residence, drinking, various hipster-isms) and by opening up the door of criticism, O’Rourke — whether intentionally or not — created a forum for trolls to pile on irrelevant criticisms of Dunham’s body, appearance, writing, and life.

O’Rourke uses an easy target to get some laughs (and please let me know if you genuinely found any of his piece funny) and commenters snowballed the invitation into a collection of hate and women-bashing and generation-bashing. That may not have been his intention but, unfortunately, it’s what some commenters are wont to do. If he wanted to discuss Dunham’s book, I think it was irresponsible of O’Rourke to resort to insulting her as a person. And, since we’re on the subject, it’s irresponsible of The Daily Beast to encourage and allow commenters to be so hateful.

I’m not talking about censorship. I’m talking about not welcoming misogyny in the media. And when it happens, responsible reporters, publishers, and moderators need to SHUT IT DOWN.

If this article was truly meant to be a work of satire, I’m disappointed. Penning your cantankerous opinion from a misogynist, ageist perspective is a cheap ploy. If I wasn’t too busy being offended as a young(ish) woman, I’d be more offended as a consumer of comedy. It was a hack job, in every sense of the word. And you can suck my lady balls, P.J. O’Rourke.

4 thoughts on “Misogyny in the Media: Keep it to Yourself, P.J. O’Rourke

  1. EXACTLY. I’ve never watched Girls, but I’ve heard of Lena Dunham and her book. It’s a great example of a white man of power facing the reality that his daughters will have to live in the sexist and misogynistic world he has helped (and continues to help) to create.
    scary for him, as it should be.

  2. I have no idea how I missed this, but oh how ideal it is!

    Seriously. Excellent!
    (I am so happy I am tumbling down a Halitrax rabbit hole this morning.)

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