On Lena Dunham’s Abortion Comment Brouhaha


Lena Dunham is having her ass handed to her right now on the Internet because of several comments she made on her podcast, Women of The Hour, pertaining to abortion. There is a particular self-awareness in where she starts, by exclaiming in relation to her own experience with abortion that, “Even I, the woman who cares as much as anybody about a woman’s right to choose, felt that it was important that people know that I was unblemished in this department.”

I get it. All of the conversations that are tethered to conception are deeply personal and especially capable of making a woman feel like she is a less-than version of herself. Can have, can’t have, did lose, never lost, and so forth. Even in my own experience following a pregnancy loss, I felt bullish about letting people know that I had conceived naturally, without IVF. As if to say, I’m a regular woman too. But who the fuck cares what got me, you, anyone pregnant? What’s important is that we’ve been there.

What’s ultimately problematic about Lena Dunham’s oral prose is where she says, “Now I can say that I still haven’t had an abortion, but I wish I had.”

No one seems to be comfortable with this comment. Understandably so — it is a bold statement to make, a comment that only someone in a position of privilege can make; but I know — I know — that Dunham meant no harm by saying it. What she wanted to do was empathize with women who have aborted. The problem with empathy, however, is that it is a uniquely narcissistic emotion. It makes the experience totally about the person who is trying to “get” it.

We’re taught over and over again to have empathy, to put ourselves in the shoes of others before making a judgement. But this is flawed advice because that still makes it about us. It’s just too…binary. We only know what we know. What would be better to demonstrate, I think, is compassion. Compassion requires that we broaden our purview. That we recognize the manifold sides of life’s coin and to try to understand them — to learn and expand. This is very hard and often requires vulnerability:

Lena Dunham wanted to put herself in the shoes of a woman who knew she wasn’t ready to have a child when she got pregnant and thus aborted. She did not think about the aftermath of an abortion, the very real experience of going from pregnant to not — whether at your volition or otherwise. She wanted to be supportive. There is nothing wrong with that. Did she consider any other prototype of woman who aborts? Not really. Which sucks. But one can hope that this reaction to her words will do exactly what it’s supposed to — expand her purview. So let’s have a little compassion, you know?

Photo by Jon Kopaloff/FilmMagic via Getty Images. 

Leandra M. Cohen

Leandra M. Cohen is the founder of Man Repeller.

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