Lena Dunham’s Sexual Assault PSA With The ‘Girls’ Cast Got A Lot Right — But One Big Thing Wrong

There have been many statements surrounding the Stanford rape case and outcome, so of course Lena Dunham was bound to say something. Because that’s what she does. So yesterday, true to well-meaning form, Dunham released a sexual assault PSA starring herself and the cast of Girls via NowThis. If you’ve been feeling a little…unbearably enraged by the Stanford case (like we probably all have been this week), her video suggests a really simple way to help combat the prevalent rape problem: Face the reality that sexual assault is extremely common and get serious about calling it out. All the time. While this is absolutely true, the video got one major thing wrong.

Lena Dunham, Allison Williams, Jemima Kirke, and Zosia Mamet start out asking why, if one in five women will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime and one in four sexually abused before they’re even adults, our gut reaction as a society is to “disbelieve, silence, or shame?” Dunham concludes at the end of the video that this is one issue even four white women can “accurately represent,” because creating a healthy and safe environment for women to speak out about sexually assault is something that concerns every single one of us.

While it’s true that sexual assault affects everyone, four white women isn’t the most accurate representation. According to the Centers for Disease Control, women of color are more vulnerable to rape than others. In fact, 35 percent of multiracial women are assaulted in their lifetime, compared to 19 percent of white women, 22 percent of black women, 15 percent of Hispanic women, and 27 percent of American Indian and Alaska native women. So, the PSA is misleading about the fact that four white women can’t adequately represent an issue that disproportionately affects women of color, but the video hits the nail on the proverbial head aside from this. Like, goddamnit, Lena, you were doing fine until you tried to point out the one problem with your video and say it wasn’t a problem.

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CREDIT: NowThis/Twitter

Instead of just a cheesy “why don’t we support our sisters” type deal (though that’s in there, too), the Girls cast suggests things that might seem obvious, but are apparently hard for some people to grasp. Make a phone call, call out a “hurtful remark,” offer rides to healthcare, or simply listen to victims in order to help, the women suggest. Or, as Williams concludes, “don’t be afraid to have the hard conversation.”

I would add (or clarify) that calling out a “hurtful remark” should also include calling out the jerks who say things like “she shouldn’t have been drinking” or she “shouldn’t have come over” or anything to suggest that it’s somehow up to women to not get raped instead of being up to men to not rape. 

As much as the Stanford victim’s letter has changed the conversation surrounding rape and consent — and seriously, it’s pretty fucking amazing how her letter has everyone talking, isn’t it? — victim shaming and endless arguing about what constitutes consent is very, very real. It’s not just with sexual assault either, but also domestic abuse. All too often, we deem the situations to be “tricky.”

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CREDIT: NowThis/Twitter

In fact, Dunham herself has written and spoken about her own experience with sexual assault and how it’s been hard to talk about because it was essentially alcohol-infused date rape. In her book, Not That Kind Of Girl, she has a chapter about describing the incident to her college friends and everyone being like, “dude, you were raped.” When she later pitched the story as a plot line for Girls, she writes in a later chapter, she got the same reaction. She, the victim in the writer’s room, pitched it as a “confusing situation.”

Dunham knows firsthand what it’s like to be confused about your own sexual assault, and her new PSA aims to improve the way we talk about it, help victims, and ultimately prevent it.

The Girls actresses felt the to make this video because the Stanford rape case now in the spotlight is not an isolated incident. The “party culture” Brock Turner and his father claim led to the Stanford rape reminds me of the victims of alleged rapist Bill Cosby. A lot of his early purported victims didn’t come forward originally because they didn’t even really have the vocabulary to explain what they claim happened to them — waking up groggy and knowing they had nonconsensual sex with the comedian — otherwise known as rape.

Even calling it “date rape,” often used to describe rape perpetrated by someone a woman already knows, is too kind. It seems like the term was created to ensure we throw a little blame on the booze and the woman. But it’s rape. There are no levels of rape, as some of Turner’s friends have suggested, or at least there shouldn’t be. Whether it’s a stranger attacking you with a gun held to your head or a pimply frat boy trying to feel you up after doing a keg stand, it’s rape.

Now that we have everyone’s attention thanks to the bold victim of Turner, it’s a good time to start working on everyone’s vocabulary and making sure we’re using the right words — and representing the issue properly. Although Dunham was trying to do a good thing, she couldn’t help but be a little blind to her limits in representing widespread issues as a white woman.