It seems that conservatives everywhere are freaked out by Lena Dunham. And now, the National Review is the latest conservative outlet to take issue with Dunham's book, Not That Kind of Girl. Specifically, writer Kevin D. Williamson objects to the essay in which Dunham describes her sexual assault. The piece, titled "Pathetic Privilege: The Coming of Age of Lena Dunham," is the cover story for this week's National Review, and is highly critical of Dunham's decision to share her story.
First, some context: In the essay, Dunham describes an allegedly "terribly aggressive" sexual encounter with a boy identified as Barry — who also happens to be a member of the Campus Republicans. Dunham writes about why it took her so long to come to terms with the fact that what happened between them was non-consensual.
But rather than seeing the essay as courageous, Williamson sees it as irresponsible, mainly because she had the gall to include what Williamson concludes is the real first name of the boy who allegedly raped her.
It freaks people out when young women have the power to tell their own stories — and name names.
Though Dunham does change many of the names in her book, Williamson's fact-checking, which he details in the article, claims that there was a Republican named Barry who attended Oberlin at the same time as Dunham. He concludes that either Dunham used the boy's real name or she didn't do any research before deciding on his pseudonym. Either way, he brands her as irresponsible.
"Dunham’s writing all this is, needless to say, a gutless and passive-aggressive act," Williamson writes. "Barry is not a character in a book; he is a real person, one whose life is no doubt being turned upside down by a New York Times No. 1 best-seller containing half-articulated accusations that he raped a woman in college, accusations that are easily connected to him."
The National Review article contains many criticisms of Dunham's wealth, as well as a fairly cringe-worthy fixation on her sex life ( The Washington Post actually counted how often it was mentioned), but her decision to "expose" Barry is what Williamson seems most outraged over. He never once speculates about the ways in which Barry's alleged actions might have impacted or harmed Dunham, but he gets intensely upset at the harm she might now have caused him, simply by using a first name that even he cannot definitively prove is the alleged assailant.
Apparently, in Williamson's world, Barry (whether that's his real name or not) is actually the real victim, the one who deserves to be the center of attention in the story. Because that makes sense.
Williamson is certainly not the only conservative who has gotten upset with Dunham over her book, nor the only one who has focused on this particular essay. The blog the American Thinker calls Dunham a "professional slut," and implies that the story, even if it is true, is only being used to further her career.
The conservative blog Brietbart, meanwhile, doesn't doubt her alleged sexual assault per se, but seems obsessed with criticizing her for not reporting it, and has repeatedly tried to shame her for this personal decision.
But it is Williamson's outrage over Dunham's decision to include what might be Barry's real first name that gets at the heart of something fundamental to the anti-Dunham backlash: It freaks people out when young women have the power to tell their own stories — and name names.
The truth is that we are now in a world where getting to tell your own story is no longer the virtually exclusive territory of straight, white, cisgendered, middle, or upper class men. And that means rape narratives don't have to center on men, or on what men's idea of what rape is.
Barry got to move on with his life as though nothing happened. Meanwhile, Dunham spent years coming to terms with the alleged events of that night. She has every right to tell her own story, in whatever way she chooses. Every person has that right.
And unfortunately for Kevin D. Williamson, he doesn't get a say in any of that.