She may or may not be the “voice of her generation,” but in the last year, Lena Dunham certainly has become a national sensation – not to mention a role model for girls and women (and men too) around the country. The 26-year old (half Jewish, by-the-by) writer, director and star of the HBO smash-hit series Girls has been widely celebrated for her awkwardly honest portrayal of the lives of post-college gals (and some guys) seeking their identities – and in many cases employment – in a post-recession New York City.
Girls has also sparked its fair share of controversy, from the many “layers” of Lena we see, to some critics’ claims that Dunham is narcissistic, that her show is exclusionary and too narrowly focused on the tiny subset of the young and the privileged.
And yet, you gotta give Dunham credit for doing her thing. Whether or not you like the show, or like the choices Dunham makes as a writer and actor, there is no question that she is making history as a fierce, fearless and funny woman. So in light of Women’s History Month - a month dedicated to honoring our shared history’s fierce and fearless women – we’re taking a look at Dunham’s social change track record. All in all, we think she’s pretty worth celebrating.
She’s a serious business woman. Privileged background or not, Dunham is an admirably hard worker. In addition to writing, directing and acting in Girls, she has also produced a full-length film (Tiny Furniture) and is hard at work on a new book of essays. She also just signed on to help create yet another HBO show. With so much success already under her belt and no sign of slowing down, it’s no wonder that Dunham was a featured presenter at Fortune’s Most Powerful Women Summit last year.
She’s funny! (And not only because the Shoshana character dropped a reference to Camp Ramah). Dunham’s humor feels familiar to us. It’s silly, self-deprecating and a little bit lewd…and she even used her talents to write/perform a Purim Speil at this year’s Jewish Museum Purim Ball! But, most importantly, it’s boundary pushing. Dunham uses humor to tell the truths about the world as she sees them. We can’t think of a better use of comedy.
She promotes healthy body image. Dunham has received lots of criticism about baring her less-than-model-thin body on television. But in doing so, she offers an alternative to the “size 0 box” promoted as the ideal standard for women by the media. Dunham is comfortable in her own skin, and has helped broaden the scope of what we consider normal and beautiful. We think that’s pretty cool.
She ushered the late Nora Ephron’s feminist brilliance into a new generation. When acclaimed writer and director Nora Ephron passed away last year, Dunham wrote a beautiful eulogy for her in The New Yorker. When referencing Ephron’s movie, “This is My Life,” Dunham wrote: “I loved whoever was making these actresses comfortable enough to express the minutiae of being a human woman onscreen.” Dunham’s must-read piece evokes a vision of Ephron that goes beyond her well-known works – like When Harry Met Sally, Sleepless in Seattle etc. – and evokes the powerful, game-changing woman she was.
She stands up for what’s right. Dunham and her boyfriend, musician Jack Anonoff have publicly stated that they do not want to get married until all same-sex couples are legally able to marry as well. While Dunham is hardly the first celebrity to make the claim, we admire her outspokenness and her support for equal marriage rights for all. She’s also well known for being very open on social media, engaging with fans and followers about causes that resonate with her, or issues she is passionate about. Dunham also responds well to the oft-negative response that comes with being so transparent and available to the public. For example, one recent incident involving comedian Lisa Lampanelli sparked widespread negative-outcry, yet Dunham handled the reactions with great tact and poise.
What do you think? Is Dunham a worthy role model worth celebrating, or too hyped for her own good? Let us know what you think in the comments below, or by tweeting @repairtheworld.
Also, be sure to check out what some of our favorite Women’s Empowerment Organizations are doing for Women’s History Month!
- Girls Inc.
- Girls on the Run
- Girls Write Now
- Girls who code
- Girl Effect
- She’s the First
- Young Women’s Leadership Network
- MADRE: International Women’s Human Rights Organization
- Rosh Hodesh
- Running Start
- Smart Girls at the Party
…And Lena, if you’re out there: Thanks for everything.