My objection is not that she trivialised the reality and procedure of abortion. If anything, it would be useful to have more public acknowledgement of abortion as a usually minor and minimally traumatic occurrence. I’m from Ireland, where abortion is still illegal, and we watched a film called The Silent Scream in school which depicted it as a chaotic and gory horror show. Of course, there are women who have complicated and painful abortions, but they are not the norm. The idea that abortion is inherently harrowing is one used by Anti Choice organisations for their own gains.
An ungenerous reading of Dunham’s words would say that she was simply being narcissistic and wishing to put herself at the centre of the discussion about reproductive rights; a generous one would contend instead that she wishes she could use a personal experience to further it. The truth must surely lie somewhere between these two, that it was a narcissistic expression of a basically benign wish to be of use. But, here’s what I’m interested in- that someone as powerful, as famous, as rich as Lena Dunham still believes that having personal first-hand experience of an issue as vast and crucial as a woman’s right to access abortion is necessary to speak on it.
To feel this way, let alone to feel comfortable verbalising it, is indicative of a certain rarefied strand of feminism which is alienating and unsustainable. This kind of self-centering is dangerous because it appears to provide evidence for so many of the accusations levelled against people who are, in fact, far more aware and sensitively engaged than Dunham. It looks on first glance to be vindication for the many people, both on the right and the left, who turn their nose up at what they call ‘identity politics’.
‘Identity politics’ is a phrase used with such multiplicity and varying intent that it is all but meaningless, but it’s the phrase most often used to dismiss political arguments which prioritise listening to those whose experience is not that of the straight, white, affluent man.[…] That is why I find Lena Dunham’s remark worth commenting upon, because it represents the logical end point of what those sorts of people wrongly believe we are doing when we insist that our lived experiences are important. It’s what would happen if we agreed that we only have the right to comment on vital political issues if we have been directly and personally implicated in them. We needn’t feel this and should feel confident enough in what we believe is right not to.