Frisky Q&A: Nona Willis Aronowitz & Collier Meyerson Talk Lena Dunham & The “Those Kinds Of Girls” Tumblr
Lena Dunham’s memoir, Not that Kind of Girl was published at the end of September, and in the last two days, the internet has basically exploded around its contents. Dunham’s narration of her sexual behavior towards her younger sister, Grace, has resulted in many demanding that Planned Parenthood “#dropdunham” as its celebrity spokesperson. And then there’s the notable fissure that Dunham’s very presence has caused in feminist communities: Is she a sexual predator hiding behind quirk and white privilege? Is Grace Dunham, actress, poet and a supporter of her sister’s work (she’s traveling with Lena on her book tour a victim of sexual abuse, in spite of the fact that she doesn’t identify herself as one? Is everyone defending Dunham against the accusation that she’s a predator a child abuse apologist?
In response to the chaos, Nona Willis Aronowitz and Collier Meyerson created Those Kinds of Girls, a Tumblr where women can post stories of childhood sexual experiences – “strange shit” they did, or that was done to them, when experimentation was everything and boundaries were not yet a thing they, and their peers, were cognizant of. I talked to Willis Aronowitz, the newest editor at Talking Points Memo, and Meyerson, a web producer at All in With Chris Hayes, about the motivation behind the Tumblr, policing women’s experiences, and the stories we’re afraid to tell.
Okay, so what was it about the Lena Dunham situation that made you both say, “We have to create a Tumblr right now?”
Collier Meyerson: A group of our friends have an ongoing girls’ chat (not to be confused with a “Girls” chat), and when we saw all of this happening, we thought, what can we do to help her? I did xyz when I was a kid and had xyz done to me by other kids. It was the first time I’d told anyone those stories, I’d felt ashamed of them before. I felt relieved telling them, and then my friends told me theirs. Tumblr is a great place for a project like this, because people can tell their stories anonymously.
Nona Willis Aronowitz : We wanted to get through the noise. There’s so much baggage about Lena Dunham – around sex, white feminism, etc. The actual thing being debated is completely out of line. What happens in her book seems completely normal, and if everyone knew each other’s stories, conversation would feel easier and clearer, people wouldn’t be looking at the issue as so black and white. I’m not super proud of stuff I did before I was socialized about sex and boundaries. I was so young no one had ever explained that stuff to me
Collier: My own experience wasn’t consensual. My mom walked in while it was happening, and then we had a conversation about consent. She said, “Do what feels good, don’t do what doesn’t feel good.”
What role do you want the Tumblr to play in the conversations that are happening?
Nona: There’s been a lot of talk about Lena, why she’s not claiming her rightful place as a rape survivor. Not That Kind of Girl is a memoir, not an autobiography, and when you write a memoir, those are the things you get to decide. This Tumblr is another way for women to be able to claim their own experiences via memoir.
Collier: Grace Dunham isn’t identifying as a survivor of abuse. She had agency, presumably, she and her family read the memoir manuscript, and she could have told her sister that she didn’t want certain parts published. We’re seeing a lot of projecting the identity of a survivor onto Grace, and she isn’t claiming it. That’s a form of policing women’s bodies and minds.
In their critiques about Dunham’s memoir, folks have pointed to her boundary issues, a pattern of escalating, manipulative behavior, and the problematic word choices she made (calling herself a “sexual predator”). How do you view these things in the context of “Those Kinds of Girls”?
Nona: In regard to the word choice, yes, it may have been uncomfortable or tone deaf to use the actual words “sexual predator.” It’s clear that she was trying to make a joke. Whether or not this falls flat is one issue, but I don’t think it proves that she’s a sexual predator.
We did respond to these concerns here on the Tumblr:
Yes, some of the stuff described here is manipulative, ambiguous, and messy. Just like some of the things we did as children to other children (younger or otherwise) feel weird and icky now. But Dunham has a right to write about her experiences. We all do. What bothers us is that people are trying to shut up someone—a woman—who’s attempting to parse out a part of her youth that’s discomfiting to some. This is the stuff of memoir, the stuff that venerated male memoirists explore all the time in their work.
She was a kid, and didn’t know shit about boundaries. There’s absolutely zero evidence that Dunham grew up to be a sexual predator, which is an extremely important point. THE point, really.
Collier: I don’t think it’s up to me to police the way Lena Dunham writes about her childhood experiences. It’s a memoir. She has artistic license. It might not have been the language I would have used in my own memoir, but I’m not Lena Dunham.
I don’t feel particularly equipped to assess Lena Dunham’s boundary issues. I’m not her therapist, or anyone’s therapist for that matter, so I really can’t say with any confidence how her boundary issues matched up to her peers with the same socio-economic status. I do think if Lena Dunham were a young black boy that the behavior she recalled in her book would have been criminalized. But her having the luxury of telling that story is a a function of systemic privilege and nothing else. We can’t take away Lena Dunham’s lived experience, or her privilege. We can only consume her story and relate to it or not relate to it.
Talk about what the response to “Those Kinds of Girls” has been.
Nona: We’ve gotten so many amazing submissions, but some people totally don’t get it. We haven’t heard from the right wing, but someone did say, “You realize that you’re just creating pedophile erotica, right?” I never even considered that. There is difference between objectifying and sexualizing children and admitting that kids are sexual. We’re not trying to protect Lena Dunham so much as give context to this conversation: she isn’t a freak and she isn’t alone, many people have similar experiences.
You can submit your experience to the Those Kinds of Girls Tumblr here.