Before we get too far into this, I have to confess: I am a Lena Dunham fangirl. I attended Dunham's New Yorker Festival talk last year and geeked out over just about every last thing she said. So naturally, I jumped at the chance to go to Round 2, in which she added her new book Not That Kind of Girl to the lineup of topics, including but not limited to Girls, Tiny Furniture, and nagging questions about nudity and nepotism. At the risk of gushing, I've always loved the way Dunham has handled her detractors, and the 2014 New Yorker Festival chat was no different.
Of course, things ran a little differently this year. In 2013, there was actually a Q&A portion of the talk, but I'm guessing after the real life Shoshanna hijacked it to thank Dunham for creating Ms. Shapiro on Girls, the folks at the New Yorker thought better of opening it up to the floor. (It should be noted, however, that Dunham seemed absolutely tickled by the IRL Shosh, so her charm was not lost on everyone.)
Still, things felt a little more official this year, with the talk being held on a Friday night rather than smack dab in the middle of a Saturday afternoon. Haagen Dazs handed out free gelato outside (so clearly, it was the best Friday night ever) and folks lined up, pouring through the pages of Not That Kind of Girl in preparation for the chat. I know that I can't speak for everyone, but I think it's safe to say that none of Dunham's fans would have been disappointed.
Here are the highlights:
On Nudity in Film & TV
"I was intellectually prepared for what shitbags would say [about my nudity], but I was not emotionally prepared ... It's a sort of, don't let the terrorists win situation," she said regarding her steps to normalize female nudity.
"One of my biggest pet peeves in movies is when women wake up from a torrid sexual encounter in a negligee ... I do think all those little things are destructive," she adds. And she's right, as she points out, when women like Reese Witherspoon in How Do You Know? wake up after a chance sexual encounter in a relatively demure outfit, it promotes unrealistic depictions of women and an unfair expectation of modesty.
Plus, as Dunham says, "Where did you suddenly get that cute hot pink nightgown?"
On Deciding to Write Not That Kind of Girl
Dunham says Nora Ephron helped her come to the conclusion that she was ready to write her book, but not before she dealt with a mountain of self-doubt:
She was a big part of my deciding to write the book ... I felt at every moment that everything was going to be taken away from me, like I was pushing my good fortune too far. I wasn't allowed. She empowered me to go for it.
This one needs little introduction:
So many young women think they need their life whipped into shape by some idiot who runs a design firm.
The implication here, ladies, is that you sure as hell don't. Of course, Dunham knows she's not your psychiatrist:
I'm not a clinical psychologist. I'm just a girl who's had a lot of rude boyfriends.
On Claims of Nepotism
At this point, everyone with a cell phone knows Dunham is constantly accused of benefiting from Nepotism because her parents are famous visual artists. Dunham, however, set the record straight — hilariously, of course:
My parents are successful in two block radius ... My parents are successful on 27th Street ... It's more like, I'll put in a call and see if I can get you a day pass at the New Museum.
Sure, Dunham certainly grew up with privilege, but the woman has more than earned her acclaim.
On Lena Vs. Hannah Horvath
Fans were a little divided on Dunham and Hannah after last season of Girls, in which Hannah has some remarkably short-sighted and navel-gazing moments. And while we all knew Hannah isn't exactly Dunham, she is inspired by her. So what happened last season?
Hannah doesn't actually write that much. She's very invested in the idea of being a writer. But I had a relationship with my writing. It was my escape ... Hannah is obsessed with being successful and being seen as the girl about town.
On Amanda Bynes (Yes, She Talked About Amanda Bynes)
Just like the rest of us, Dunham is following Amanda Bynes' latest antics rather closely. And what's interesting is that she found a bit of Hannah in Bynes' tweets.
"[Bynes] says 'I'm not nuts, I just feel and know everything and am better than everyone,'" Dunham said before comparing that tweet to Hannah's speech from Season 2 of Girls when Hannah plays house with a hot doctor (Patrick Wilson) and gives an almost identical speech about wanting to have experiences and not be attached and feel everything. As a writer, I know I often drift into that territory, but Dunham's endcap on that conversation gives me a little hope:
I feel really lucky to be out of the phase of my life.
On Being Compared Uncomfortably Compared to Woody Allen
A tough question, answered perfectly:
I like the Louis C.K. [comparison] more because there's no molestation. And I love Louis C.K. ... but everyone who makes personal films in New York has a connection to Woody Allen.
She might be a wizard.
On Giving Advice In Not That Kind of Girl
She says that writing the book as advice was just "an organizational tool," but the fact is, she's doling out some pretty great advice. But, she knows someone might get some real advice out of it:
If even three people feel mildly less alone I'll be thrilled.
So. Freaking. Humble.
And finally, on Sex
It's the undercurrent of so much of what she does, do of course, she had some damn interesting things to say about why it's great for storytelling:
When people undress literally, they undress figuratively ... Sex is where our issues go to roost. Sex is really the great battleground.
Can we get matching jackets? Because I think I just became the president of her fan club.
Images: Getty Images (2)