Do celebrities know best? Do they necessarily have the tools to navigate social and gender issues with purpose and curiosity? Can they relinquish the inherent powers that come with their status? Are these even questions that pass through them?
We will find out soon, as Lena Dunham and co-pilot Joni Konner just announced the arrival of Lenny, a newsletter aimed at young women. Debuting in September, the curation of “feminism, style, health, politics, friendship, and everything else” will hit subscribers’ inboxes. Backed by fellow celebrity writers, Dunham and her partner Konner are touting GOOP as one of their bigger influences.
In my younger years, circa 2012, I had really high hopes for Dunham and her HBO show “GIRLS”. When the show aired and word spread about the intended message, I was delighted. A space on popular television that explores the peculiarities of everyday women sounded refreshing and needed. However, as the show progressed and Dunham’s ideas on feminism spread across the internet, there was a constant feeling of disappointment and lack of inclusivity. Missing ideas and conversations on intersectionality, Dunham has continually reinforced the mainstream “white woman” struggle. This continued to be exemplified with Dunham’s book, Not That Kind of Girl. In full transparency, I was intrigued by the book for its positives. Witty, funny and quirky: check, check and check. A glaring example of 288 pages of self-involved introspection, unfortunately also check.
Then came marriage equality in the U.S. and, for some reason, a strangely self-obsessed essay from the “GIRLS” writer. Exploring her feelings about marriage, she explains a refusal to partake in a “bigoted and outdated institution” until all members of society’s inclusion could recreate it and her subsequent pressure on beau Jack Antanoff on June 26 shortly after the marriage equality announcement. Yes, allies were all celebrating this great win but we weren’t all making it about our own (cisgendered, straight) lives. And, this is where the worry over Lenny stems from.
Lena and Jenni chatted with Buzzfeed about the details of the forthcoming newsletter on their own terms. They chose the newsletter format to get away from, “the sort of misogyny, body-shaming, or generalized hate that follow Dunham to compromise the reading experience.” At the same time, though, they’re also succeeding in creating a one way dissemination of information. By closing themselves from online conversation, Lenny will miss out on meaningful critique and opportunity for growth.
As described in the Instagram announcement, the goal is to simultaneously “highlight unique voices”. According to their interview with Buzzfeed there will be an emphasis on celebrity authoring. What about giving space to quieter voices, though? Dunham has the power to use her platform to highlight thoughtful, progressive and deeply passionate stories and politics to the world. Glorifying the cult of celebrity when it comes to social justice issues further fractures and suppresses inclusivity in movements.
Dunham and Konner seem to also be grappling with the idea of intersectionality and dynamic feminism. When talking about it, Dunham states that the letter is for, “[p]eople who want to talk about radical politics but also want to talk about fashion and also want to talk about Rihanna, and also understand that all of those things can be happening at the same time.” This continues to be a rudimentary understanding of intersectionality and a band-aid statement to squash any critiques of their approach. Her working understanding to feminism is that it’s, “about women protecting each other, educating each other”. Although this is important, this is so limiting and completely forgets that feminism is for all genders and should not be thought of as binary. Reflection and meaningful engagement are huge factors when discussing social justice and feminist currents. On the site, an image features Dunham in a Rosie the Riveter getup, striking the iconic pose.
Seemingly, it’s harmless enough. But, we know that this image is problematic in the world of intersectional feminism. Not only was it created by a man to glorify liberal, western-centric feminism, but it also enshrines cisgender white women liberation as the “right” liberation.
I honour and respect the endeavours of the duo for wanting to create accessible, reliable information on issues women care about, but we need to be careful before we idolize and enshrine such figures. It seems Dunham, Konner and their team have a lot of exploration they still need to do. By establishing themselves in a hegemonic, hierarchical newsletter format and relying on celebrity content, it closes doors for content that is meaningful to all genders, races and economic stratas.
There’s a place where balance between celebrity and intersectional feminism exists, and I challenge Lenny to find it.