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Lena Dunham’s comments and subsequent apology regarding Odell Beckham Jr has exposed a modern-day phenomenon – third party outrage.
Over the weekend, Lena Dunham’s e-magazine Lenny Letter dropped its latest issue and with it, a big juicy gift: a conversation between Dunham and her soul-sister in comedy, Amy Schumer. What was meant to be a plug for Schumer’s new book, The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo, quickly descended into a love-fest between the two friends, interspersed with the occasional insightful and timely musing on gun control, rape culture and how women need to “hustle”. The take-away should have been that Amy – one of the funniest, fiercest and most important entertainment forces today – wrote a book and it’s good, and we should all go buy it. Instead, the interview sparked a fury online over this comment by Lena regarding her recent experience at the Met Ball:
I was sitting next to Odell Beckham Jr., and it was so amazing because it was like he looked at me and he determined I was not the shape of a woman by his standards. He was like, ‘That’s a marshmallow. That’s a child. That’s a dog.’ It wasn’t mean – he just seemed confused… The vibe was very much like, ‘Do I want to fuck it? Is it wearing a…yep, it’s wearing a tuxedo. I’m going to go back to my cell phone.’ It was like we were forced to be together, and he literally was scrolling Instagram rather than have to look at a woman in a bow tie. I was like, ‘This should be called the Metropolitan Museum of Getting Rejected by Athletes.’
Firstly, that’s a terrible name for a museum.
Secondly, Lena’s assumption that Odell (an American footballer, for all those – like me – who hadn’t heard of him until two days ago) wouldn’t even consider her human is pretty unfair. Amusing, but unfair. But in the context, it really wasn’t that bad. It was the sort of shit women say to each other all the time when they feel, yet again, that they haven’t lived up to society’s expectations of them, despite knowing full well those expectations are next-level impossible to achieve.
Of course, however, people were outraged. It is 2016, after all, and we seem to know nothing else but outrage. How dare Lena ogle Odell in the first place! The nerve of her white privilege in assuming he, a black man, would naturally be interested in her!
I’m sure dogs of the world were also outraged to be equated with women in tuxedos, when everyone knows women in tuxedos look like penguins, not canines.
Lena quickly – and sincerely – apologised. She said she’d listened to lots of “valid criticism” about her words and was wrong to blast her insecurities onto a guy who was just probably just checking his phone like most people do when they don’t want to make conversation with a stranger. And y’know what, good on her. As a bit of celebrity eavesdropping, the Dunham/Schumer/Beckham rift was wonderful. It sounded like two girlfriends beating up a guy over a glass of wine – and that was part of its genius, because it made the reader feel like their third bestie sitting across the table, nodding in agreement whilst pouring everyone another round.
We’ve all been there, amirite, ladies?
But as part of an important interview between two talented, successful women at the top of their field, it was probably beneath them. Probably.
I owe Odell Beckham Jr an apology. Despite my moments of bravado, I struggle at industry events (and in life) with the sense that I don’t rep a certain standard of beauty and so when I show up to the Met Ball surrounded by models and swan-like actresses it’s hard not to feel like a sack of flaming garbage. This felt especially intense with a handsome athlete as my dinner companion and a bunch of women I was sure he’d rather be seated with. But I went ahead and projected these insecurities and made totally narcissistic assumptions about what he was thinking, then presented those assumptions as facts. I feel terrible about it. Because after listening to lots of valid criticism, I see how unfair it is to ascribe misogynistic thoughts to someone I don’t know AT ALL. Like, we have never met, I have no idea the kind of day he’s having or what his truth is. But most importantly, I would never intentionally contribute to a long and often violent history of the over-sexualization of black male bodies- as well as false accusations by white women towards black men. I’m so sorry, particularly to OBJ, who has every right to be on his cell phone. The fact is I don’t know about his state of mind (I don’t know a lot of things) and I shouldn’t have acted like I did. Much love and thanks, Lena
A photo posted by Lena Dunham (@lenadunham) on
But here’s the thing. If you look at any of the articles covering this whole “controversy”, and indeed if you look at Dunham’s Instagram page where she made the apology, it is filled with comments like these:
He DID find her unappealing just like everyone else with any sense whatsoever.
She’s a skanky ass hag and Odell should, as any non feminist man would, find her extremely unappealing.
The woman is about as attractive as the southend of a northbound cow…. with diarrhea…
One delightful fellow even went as far as superimposing a cow’s head (and udders) onto Lena’s naked body in a screenshot from Girls. It’s the sort of hideous, sexualised abuse that can only make you think, “I know exactly why Lena made those assumptions about Odell – when you live day in and day out with this shit, how could you ever not be affected by it?” Furthermore, I know exactly why Lena felt a need to include the Met Ball reference at all. (Apart from the fact it was funny.) She included it because she knows it’s the same thought every single woman has had at some point in their life over a man they’ve felt attracted to or intimidated by. And she knows it really helps to say it out loud and in safe company.
I’m impressed with Lena’s apology. There’s a level of naval-gazing about her work that occasionally drives me bonkers but I have a huge amount of respect for the path she has walked for women of all looks and shapes and sizes and I have no doubt that path was an absolute bitch to forge. So I respect her and I think it shows maturity and fairness to admit that she made a judgment about someone without cause. But the thing is, there was cause, or rather, there was precedent for her feeling this way. And there is (as we saw in the comments) reason why, despite her success and her assumed bravado that she continues to feel this way, because these attacks against her – and Schumer, and other female celebrities who don’t fit the mould – keep coming. They keep getting harsher and more disgusting and more dangerous, like the bullying and the vicious breach of privacy against actress Leslie Jones just because she happened to be a tall black woman in a Ghostbusters reboot.
It is remarkable to me that in this day and age you can get swept up in your own little social media storm without uttering a peep in the first place. Odell Beckham Jnr hasn’t said a thing about this controversy. He didn’t start it and he hasn’t continued it. It came and went and he’s had nothing to do with it, it’s been entirely fueled by people on social media “outraged” on his behalf.
But it’s even more remarkable to me that in this day and age successful game-changers like Amy Schumer and Lena Dunham are still – despite all their talents and all their achievements – made to feel insecure, disgusting, even inhuman by a society that praises youth and thinness and beauty. And to me, that is the real thing we should be outraged by.