I haven’t finished Lena Dunham’s book but I know, already, that men should read it.
I haven’t finished it because I purchased it last night and read it slow and steady in a bookstore café, trying to give every last word the weight it deserves. Not because she’s Lena Dunham (a lady, in my opinion, more worthy than Beyoncé of #bowdown), but because she’s simply a young woman sharing her story (within which are many stories) in a very direct and raw way. This is the closest thing to a holy act that I’ll ever know—to me it is a necessary ritual, a recipe for self-awareness, but one that is not easy (not for me, and, no, not even—I’d bet—for Lena Dunham).
I have so far laughed on every page—not a slight, shy chuckle to myself but a raucous, uncontrollable noise alerting all those around me that I am REALLY ENJOYING this book. Truly, world, it was my favorite Saturday night in recent memory—one more fulfilling and life affirming than any of the dumb social contracts I’ve recently acceded to.
Is it a work of genius? Not at all. Is it written with language so beautifully complex that it will be picked apart by English professors everywhere in ten to twenty years? Nope. Is it incredibly astute, entertaining, honest, and baldly authentic? Yes, world, it absolutely is. Is it unlike anything I’ve read before? In many ways (her unmistakable voice), yes, though that’s not to say it doesn’t have some overlap with other lady-driven tomes. It’s “inappropriate” by dated standards, but not gratuitous, as she’s often considered: it speaks of sex when speaking of sex is necessary, not because it fills an empty space.
It does, however, speak of those sex acts that render women themselves empty…defeated and confused. Outright rape, and the shadier stripes of it—the maybe it is, maybe it isn’t conversations that most of us females have had. It gets inside the head of a woman dealing with this opacity, these heavy blemishes so hard to shake. She takes baths to cool the pain of one such moment—the literal bruising down below from a man who just couldn’t control himself (as that too-forgiving saying goes). The pain of it lingers, still, for over a week. She shares her headspace from this time.
These are experiences that most men do not know—frankly, cannot know—even if they’re the kindest, most curious of them all. But they’re experiences that men should know if they mean to empathize with women as a whole, or to understand one sliver of what makes a woman like Dunham’s actions so affecting—that being the rocky, uncertain foundation on which she’s built her sturdy palace of success.
And poor treatment by men, of course, does not always lead to rape—often, instead, there’s belittlement, disparagement, even vilification or the “crazy” card. Lena shares these stories, too, and while familiar to me—too damn familiar—I know her perspective is one still foreign to many men. Men who live to string along, never thinking of those on the other end as requiring thoughtful treatment, or compassion. Men who, though innocent in the general sense, are so caught up in their own reflections and the harping on of their personal predilections, that they fail to really see the women on their horizons. Dunham paints these various, perplexing pains for us, transports us into the feelings of unworthiness and remedial self-loathing that often result.
Men need to read these stories. Men need to understand the nuance of their actions, the consequential inner-shitstorms that may silently ensue. This book doesn’t hate men, but it knows they’re flawed—it knows that our world, and its system of privileges, is wholly warped…that it continues to need fixing. A good starting point would be more men reading more women, exploring their inner workings in lieu of the many male-dominated works on offer. Lena’s book isn’t simply a dip in the pool, but a canon ball into widely held, but rarely shared, female mindsets—it’s an entrée point to a world in which these feelings aren’t shameful, a world in which womanhood is less debased.
If you, men, want to understand, to make better, or to repent: begin here.