By Binjal Shah
“It will surprise absolutely nobody that I identify as a feminist.”
And if it does surprise them, they’re in the wrong place, Lena Dunham informed her audience at the Variety’s Power of Women 2015 Lunch, in an empowering speech.
“There’s no such thing as a perfect feminist, and I am no exception,” she clarified – possibly as a shout out to the uproar on the internet, over the negative connotations of the word “Feminist.”
She refers to her “normal” childhood, when she, just like her peers, surrendered to tasteless pop culture that didn’t strike as warped and demeaning to women. Because it was made to look “cool” and “empowering” instead. Like the casual use of the words ‘hoe,’ to refer to each other in music videos and songs, with girls dancing to them casually. As if to portray that pronouncing the word casually is a way to show approval, to prove maturity in your thinking.
“Some phrases have left my lips (too) in the past. ‘What a hoe’, ‘hey hooker’. Some songs I have lip-synced too – Big Pimpin’, ‘It’s hard out here for a pimp.’
We don’t acknowledge the power of language in shaping our perceptions. Language is the biggest euphemism there is. Terms that make you feel like the power of your sexuality lies with you, are in fact still products of the male perception of you.
“When I used those words I felt subversive, naughty and strong, but I did not realize how these songs were not ways for me to reclaim my feminine power. In fact, these songs silenced and shamed the women they purported to describe and reduced them to objects and worse yet- punch lines.”
They “celebrated the exploiters and hid the exploited.”
She began learning about these ideas of power, to make sense of her own childhood and the abuse she had to endure. “From the beginning of her (a victim’s) story, somebody else held that power (over her own body).”
She shared her own story at the platform – that she was raped by a fellow undergraduate at Oberlin College. She described what she underwent as a result of medieval taboos. “When I was raped, I felt my value had been determined by someone else, someone who sent me the message that my body was not my own, and my choices were meaningless.
“A woman’s idea of self-worth is thoroughly shaken, and begins to question the purpose of a woman’s existence, and whether it is at the mercy of the men. “It took years to recognize my personal worth was not tied to my assault; the voices telling me I deserved this were phantoms; they were liars.”
This is not the first time she decided to share her story publicly. She has courageously done so in the past as well, through her memoir “Not That Kind of Girl,” that was released last year.
Being a survivor of sexual assault and rape herself, she now works for an NGO called GEMS- Girls Educational and Mentoring Services, which focuses on counseling young victims in a society where victim-blaming is rampant. It also focuses on rehabilitating victims of flesh trade and trafficking, by making them believe that their life is their own, and so is their body – that they can regain control of it.
“Trauma can make us narcissistic and myopic, turning us inward as we struggle with what we have seen, felt, and repressed,” Dunham said. “But connecting with other survivors reopens our world. Instead of scrambling for power by silencing other women, we’re able to mutually strengthen each other through collaboration and support.”
“As a feminist, and a sexual assault survivor, my ultimate goal is to use my experience, my platform, and yes, my privilege, to reverse stigma and give voice to other survivors.”
It is sad that the idea of privilege is so relative in a girl’s life that a victim of rape considers herself privileged because she managed to survive. But it is laudable that she is willing to see it that way, and channelize the anger into a worthy cause of saving others from the same fate.
Image Courtesy: Variety.com