Lena Dunham’s been taken out of context

It might come as no surprise that Lena Dunham has caused controversy today when she wrapped up her Women of the Hour podcast with “Now I can say that I still haven’t had an abortion, but I wish I had.”

Inevitably Twitter and various news outlets have gone crazy with this. Today, however, rather than split feminists and join one side or the other I attempt to put Lena Dunham back into context.

Out of context, this comment makes it seem as if abortion is a trend. Something to get in on if you support the cause. Of course, this notion is invariably wrong. Abortion is a serious matter that whittles down to body autonomy and whether you believe women have the right to this and the right to choice.

In the spirit of total honesty, I am incredibly pro-abortion on this matter. My reasons are multiple but for me it comes down to a simple manner of total self-ownership. If a stranger is dying and they need an organ and you are a match you are not obligated under law to give up your organ to spare their life. For me this analogy should speak for itself, and while the issue is far more complicated than an organ, our society values body autonomy under law in this manner and this should also extend to abortion rights. We are very lucky in the UK that it does.

However, despite this, there is still a stigma around abortion and the women who have them. If you are not a teenager, unmarried, or a sexual abuse victim our society expects you to give birth to and raise any child you conceive. This is what Lena Dunham is specifically referring to.

If you are able to provide for and afford a child, society often says you should have it. There are exceptions and the choice to not bare children is slowly being more accepted but there is still a long way to go. However, this is not only what Dunham refers to.

The theme of the episode was women’s reproductive rights, so Dunham shared an anecdote about visiting a Planned Parenthood in Texas a few years ago.

At the centre, she was approached by a girl who asked her if she wanted to take part in a project where women share their stories about abortion.

Dunham’s reaction to the question, she says, has caused her to feel shame ever since.

“I sort of jumped. ‘I haven’t had an abortion,’ I told her. I wanted to make it really clear to her that as much as I was going out and fighting for other women’s options, I myself had never had an abortion.

“And I realized then that even I was carrying within myself stigma around this issue. Even I, the woman who cares as much as anybody about a woman’s right to choose, felt it was important that people know that I was unblemished in this department,” Dunham recalls.

The comment that then follows is a direct link back to this. Dunham is ashamed that she felt the need to explicitly state, and quickly, that she hadn’t had an abortion. This isn’t a comment about abortion at all, indeed, this is Dunham’s illustration that even strong-willed feminists can fall victim to society’s teachings.

Dunham’s last comment, while outrageous, is not about her lamenting she missed out on a trend, or indeed that she hasn’t experienced this, it’s simply a comment that states that she believes it is only through experiencing an abortion that society’s negative stigma surrounding abortion can be removed from our own consciousness.

Taken out of context, Dunham has since issued an apology to any that were offended. However, to truly take the issue off the table we need to understand the context behind it and perhaps why so many fell fowl to judging a single last comment rather than an entire podcast.

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