I started reading Lena Dunham’s book with high expectations. After all, it was supposed to be the “voice of a generation,” “required reading for anyone who thinks they understand the experience of being a young woman in our culture.” To say I was disappointed would be a massive understatement. It wasn’t the problematic description of Lena’s relationship with her sister that stuck out for me; it was the fact that this memoir was so obviously written by a rich, white girl.
Every page of this book was steeped in indulgence and unacknowledged privilege, impossible to ignore. Dunham’s chapter, “Therapy and Me” was particularly unbearable, containing a quote from her mother that compared finding a suitable therapist to “a play date. If I like playing with her, I can go back. If not, we’ll find someone else to play with.” As someone who is more used to scoffing laughter and “why do you need a therapist? There’s nothing wrong with you!” from my mother whenever the subject has been broached, I can adamantly say that this is not my reality. My reality currently consists of putting myself on as many public counselling wait-lists as possible and trying not to panic as winter (and the 14th month I’ve been on this wait-list) approaches. Meanwhile, Dunham casually mentions her habitual appointments as a child (“allergist, chiropractor, tutor”), and how “both [her] parents have therapists,” as do her friends (who apparently have daily appointments). This leads me to question whether or not she actually knows or cares how much one therapy session costs.
Although the memoir is supposed to be an honest depiction of reality, every experience described felt otherworldly to me. I’m not sure how many young girls have grown up attending private schools in New York City, but certainly not our entire generation. Her descriptions of university life felt as foreign to me as Hollywood films — carefree and stupid. This is not a woman who has ever stressed about spending frugally, supporting herself with a part-time job, balancing academics with trying not to graduate in crippling debt. As a 19 year old young woman in this culture, my primary concern is very far from who I will allow into my bed next, and I strongly believe that millions of people my age feel the same as I do. Dunham has clearly spent her entire life in a very sheltered environment, one that is almost impossible to break into without wealth. Oberlin College, her alma mater, was incidentally my first choice for post-secondary study. I applied with a 95% average, a 90% SAT score, as EIC of the school newspaper and student council secretary. I was waitlisted. How much of that decision had to do with my family income being $30 000 a year? I can only guess. My university choices became limited to the highest ranking one we could afford. Meanwhile, Dunham makes no mention of her application process, and throughout the entire memoir, shows no sign of recognition of the wealth of choice that she was afforded all her life. She writes from an extremely limited and embarrassingly presumptuous perspective that I find indigestible.
I feel that by advertising this book as representative of a generation’s struggles is doing a disservice to young women everywhere. More than half this book was about sex and relationships, and zero percent was about monetary concern, which is entirely un-proportional to reality. If this is really all the insight that this woman has gained by age 28, I cringe at the standard she has set. The focus she has put on her “problems” in this book would’ve made my 11 year-old self roll her eyes.
Privilege aside, this memoir began to feel bland after about two dozen descriptions of different sexual encounters and 11 pages listing every single item Dunham ate one week. I might have been stretching it to expect that this book be groundbreaking, but I at least hoped for some substance. The humour promised was absent from my reading, and for a book subtitled, “A young woman tells you what she’s “learned,”” I can only pray my demographic isn’t being judged off this. In my opinion, these “essays” should not have been published outside a personal blog. If Lena Dunham wants to write a memoir, then that’s her story, and her story alone. That way, if it comes across as self-absorbed, ignorant, and indifferent to the true plights of others, young women will not all be judged off it.
All that being said, I don’t dislike Lena Dunham. I’ve never seen her work on Girls so I’m in no place to judge that. There were some parts of this book that weren’t bad, such as the Work section. I don’t necessarily think that her success is undeserved, although it would be nice if she could acknowledge it being unnaturally easy. My issue is that this is not my reality. It’s further from my reality than Harry Potter or Narnia — at least I could relate to those characters. Touted as a book written by my demographic, about my demographic, for my demographic, I can’t help but think, can’t someone do better than this?