All weekend and yesterday, the internet was arguing over whether it was fair or sane for Truth Revolt to have interpreted behavior described in Lena Dunham's memoir, Not That Kind of Girl, as the author's sexual abuse of her younger sister. Dunham responded, her sister Grace responded, writers responded (and responded to criticism for not responding to the passages of the books in question). Dunham canceled promo appearances in Europe (we hear, though, that her rep attributes this to "health issues") and, according to Truth Revolt, sent the site a cease and desist, threatening to sue if the quotations from her book weren't removed from the site.
This whole thing is a huge fucking mess.
Most of the analysis of Dunham's account of her childhood behavior has been coming from amateurs, mostly with axes to grind. I thought, then, it might be useful to add an expert opinion into this stew of non-professional opinions about whether the incidents Dunham describes—examining her sister's vagina, plying her sister with candy, and slipping her hand into her own "underwear to figure some stuff out" while lying next to her sister—constituted abuse.
I asked Sam Rubenstein, a psychotherapist who specializes in childhood abuse, for his take on whether what Dunham describes would be considered abuse in a clinical setting.
The short answer is: no. The longer answer, from his responses to my questions over the phone, is below:
If I had a quarter for every kid in that age demographic that touched somebody else out of curiosity, I'd be a rich man. I think that's a natural part of development and curiosity. There's no sense of control or shame or harm [in Dunham's writing]. It would be really hard to construe it that way.
I think you have to take into consideration her age, her history, and the idea that at that age, unless you've gone through severe sexual trauma, there's really almost nothing sexual about it. The same explanation could be used for grabbing the dog's tail. It's the same type of coercion. Just because it's in the sexual venue, people want to attach something to it, but it's almost totally different. It's an innocent type of thing.
On the "masturbation": That doesn't even sound like masturbation. It just sounds like a curiosity type thing. Whatever her reason is, it seems like somebody's making a bigger to do about it than what really is. There's a difference between masturbation and figuring out what's going on in your own body down there.
I remember, I made my brother touch like, hot shit or made him eat dog food. Are those things abusive? Yes, but not in the context of a 7-year-old and a 5-year-old. I think context is a huge issue here. If you want to get very psychological, in Freud's psychosexual stages, [Dunham's age] is consistent with the latency stage, wherein children of that age are almost de-genenderized and desexualized. That's even more evidence of why there would be no sexual connotation to it.
[Image via Getty]