Monday, November 10, 2014

It's not even original.

I've been watching people pussyfoot around this issue.  I can barely believe what I'm reading.

If I may summarise.  There is a writer and actress in the US called Lena Dunham.  She recently published her memoirs.  Among the things she describes in her memoirs is, as a seven year old girl, looking at her one year old sister's vagina.  And then, presumably a bit older, wanking in bed next to her sister, and bribing her with sweets for kisses.  I know, right?  Pretty normal childhood.

Dunham jokingly refers to mimicking the techniques of a 'sexual predator', but obviously no one is going to read this and think that a little girl could be a sexual predator.  Right?

No one, that is, apart from the perverts, creeps, patriarchs and lunatics of the American Right.  And, somehow inevitably, a bunch of feminists too.  The National Review kicked off a controversy by claiming that Dunham had confessed to paedophilia and child sexual abuse.  Soon enough, there were some well-meaning progressive activists who worried that Dunham, if not actually a predator, had disclosed something 'problematic', 'inappropriate' and so on.  They were 'weirded out'.  It was, like, omg, creepy.  Which makes me wonder if these guys have read any Samuel Delany.

Now, Dunham is a white woman.  If the paradigm of 'privilege' is useful, then she certainly has racial and class privilege.  And as a cultural producer, she is accused of perpetuating white supremacy in her output.  Many feminists have had a problem with Dunham's particular way of representing women.  In Girls - which is otherwise not a total piece of crap - black women rarely feature, and are either caricatured or hostile when they do.

So, a number of articles and tweets and statuses - dozens, scores, hundreds of them - began to make a connection between Dunham's privilege and its manifestations in her work, and this latest controversy.  They argued that, as a beneficiary of racial privilege, Dunham had 'got away with' something.  They were not entirely sure what she had got away with.  Some openly claimed she was a sexual abuser.  For others, it was more that her behaviour was 'inappropriate'.  Or, that she shouldn't have published her memory of this.  One way or another, talking about white privilege would make the absurd accusation of child molestation - or being inappropriate, or gross, or omg creepy, or something - coherent and progressive.

Even many of those who wanted to arrest the tidal wave of bullshit felt the need to hedge a little bit.   Roxane Gay, for example, makes a substantively correct argument about the controversy, but even she confesses to finding something 'disturbing' in what Dunham wrote - even while making the absolutely correct point that what she describes is well within the normal range of stuff kids do.  I think Roxane Gay is fibbing a little bit.  I don't think she finds normal behaviour - or the description of normal behaviour - disturbing at all.

The Right's accusations are absurd.  Children are not paedophiles, categorically, by definition.  The power relationship between an older and younger sister is in no way identical to the power relationship between an adult abuser and a child victim.  And, although this is not strictly germane since Dunham's childhood behaviour is not problematic, children are also not responsible for their behaviour in the same way that adults are.  The accusation is just. downright. absurd.

The sexual politics behind the accusation are reactionary, authoritarian and patriarchal.  They would encourage parents to pathologise manifestations of child sexual curiosity, and to treat their kids as abusers - if not heathen sinners, or possessed by Satan.

The invocation of privilege politics in this context is an unfortunate attempt to obscure the presence of patriarchal ideology in sections of the feminist movement.