Lena Dunham's Donald Trump-Inspired Halloween Costume Misses The Mark — UPDATE
We can never have too many outspoken critics of Donald Trump, and Lena Dunham is one of them. The 30-year-old actor appeared at the Democratic National Convention and stated, “I am a pro-choice, feminist sexual assault survivor with a chronic reproductive illness... Donald Trump and his party think I should be punished for exercising my constitutional rights." So, it was no surprise that Dunham's Trump-inspired Halloween costume mocked the Republican presidential candidate — but it missed the mark. In reference to the Trump tapes, in which the candidate bluntly states that he feels entitled to sexually assault women because he's a celebrity, Dunham quite literally dressed up as a "Grabbed P*ssy." Update: A rep for Dunham released the following statement to Bustle: "Lena is an outspoken sexual assault survivor and a critic of Donald Trump. She uses humor as an important tool for self-expression and survival - and that’s what this costume represents.”
Earlier: In an Instagram post showing off her Halloween costume, Dunham is dressed up as a cat with two hands attached to her costume — one at her crotch and the other at her breast. She captioned it "Happy Halloween! With love from a Grabbed P*ssy" and used the hashtag "#imanasshole."
Although Dunham has publicly condemned the Trump tapes in an articulate manner, her costume comes off as insensitive and could potentially be triggering to survivors who don't appreciate any sort of joke about assault — even if it's intended to make a statement about how disturbing Trump's comments were.
Dunham is clearly aware that the Trump tapes are harmful and triggering. Last month, she spoke with People and described the candidate's words as "hurtful" and "shocking." She went on to say, “Those comments aren’t just about women — they were about everyone whose body is treated like the property of other people," referencing people of color, Muslims, and transgender people who have been denied basic human rights. Dunham told the outlet:
“It’s scary, and it’s triggering, and it brings up experiences that we’ve all had, because I guarantee you — so many of the women who heard him say that flashed back to experiences of their own of unwanted physical contact, and that is what is so destructive about that."
I couldn't agree more. But a point that Dunham seems to miss is that joking about sexual assault can be harmful to women who don't want to see a visual reenactment of something traumatic that happened to them — and that's exactly what her costume was.
It's not the first time Dunham has dismissed the problem of joking about rape. In September, she interviewed Amy Schumer for Lenny and both comedians made problematic remarks about the topic. They discussed a now-deleted Facebook post from Kurt Metzger that mocked sexual assault survivors. Because Metzger is a longtime friend of Schumer's and has written for her show, people expected her to condemn the comments — but many were disappointed with her response. In the Lenny interview, both women stated that we should be more focused on problematic actions rather than words. Dunham said:
"The other thing that I get really crazy about is this new world in which women aren't just supposed to be protected from actions, they're supposed to be protected from language. Women are so strong. My ovary has basically exploded in my stomach twice, and I was pretty chill about it. You think I can't listen to some short comedy loser say something dumb about rape? I'm not not going to cry, I'm a f*cking queen."
First of all, she implies that any woman who found Metzger's jokes to be offensive isn't "strong." And the fact that she's not going to cry because she's a "queen" is great for her, but not every survivor is in a place where he or she can simply laugh off offensive jokes — and that doesn't make them any less strong than the survivor who isn't fazed by such comments.
I get that there's a major difference between a comedian joking about assault and listening to a presidential candidate describe his own actions — but the Trump tapes illustrate that words do have the power to trigger strong responses in survivors. Dunham was spot-on when she told People in the aforementioned interview that hearing Trump's words caused many people to flash back to their own assaults.
But Dunham seems to miss the point that she's not the mind and voice of all survivors — some do feel triggered when we see men like Metzger make wildly offensive "jokes" and (I hate to say it) women like Dunham dress up in costumes that make light of sexual assault. I totally believe that she intended to make a statement about Trump, but this isn't an issue to joke about on Halloween. As a public figure, Dunham has a platform to speak out about assault — and she's done so very effectively on numerous occasions. I just wish she'd think twice about sexual assault jokes. They may not impact her, but they do affect plenty of strong survivors who don't think making light of the issue is the answer.