Lena Dunham: My Apology to Aurora
"I did something inexcusable," Dunham writes in her guest editor letter for The Hollywood Reporter's Women in Entertainment issue of defending 'Girls' writer Murray Miller after he'd been accused of sexually assaulting an actress.
This year has been incredible for women in Hollywood.
There has been unprecedented dialogue about issues like wage equality and systemic bias and, most notably, sexual assault and harassment. We have spoken and we have spoken loudly, and our voices, once muffled under layers of crinoline and repressed rage, have been heard.
Heroines have emerged. We are cracking open windows and beating down doors. The air is circulating and the light is pouring in. There are magazine covers and TV specials and parties and instas celebrating the very real, very important and long overdue progress that has been made.
But with that progress, there have been mistakes, there has been pain. There has been a deep and gut-wrenching reckoning. And not just for men.
This year has been incredible for women in Hollywood. But I know I'm not alone when I say that this year has also been hell.
The day that Harvey Weinstein was revealed to be a sexual predator — a secret that wasn't really a secret to women who make movies, a story we kept whispering to one another between passed appetizers — was thrilling. It felt like things were really changing.
That morning in October 2017 I cheered. I clapped. I wrote an op-ed. I was painfully unaware of how much the content of the news in the coming days would activate and disarm me, and even less aware that my plight wasn't at all unusual. I was not special because of my trauma, but I didn't know that I was part of an army.
So many of us have spent such a long time hiding our trauma. At least I know I had — even as a chronic oversharer, I tended to leave huge swaths of experience out of my story — and I walked around feeling like such a victim. Like so many women (so many people), I disguised my pain with medication and stuff and chronic overwork, with social media and mindless dating and the random day-to-day drama we generate to stay out of our own experience. I never stopped, much less stopped to consider that I might be capable of traumatizing somebody, too (the exact complaint I've always had about old white man artists).
And so I made a terrible mistake. When someone I knew, someone I had loved as a brother, was accused, I did something inexcusable: I publicly spoke up in his defense. There are few acts I could ever regret more in this life. I didn't have the "insider information" I claimed but rather blind faith in a story that kept slipping and changing and revealed itself to mean nothing at all. I wanted to feel my workplace and my world were safe, untouched by the outside world (a privilege in and of itself, the privilege of ignoring what hasn't hurt you) and I claimed that safety at cost to someone else, someone very special.
To Aurora: You have been on my mind and in my heart every day this year. I love you. I will always love you. I will always work to right that wrong. In that way, you have made me a better woman and a better feminist. You shouldn't have been given that job in addition to your other burdens, but here we are, and here I am asking: How do we move forward? Not just you and I but all of us, living in the gray space between admission and vindication.
It's painful to realize that, while I thought I was self-aware, I had actually internalized the dominant male agenda that asks us to defend it no matter what, protect it no matter what, baby it no matter what. Something in me still feels compelled to do that job: to please, to tidy up, to shopkeep. My job now is to excavate that part of myself and to create a new cavern inside me where a candle stays lit, always safely lit, and illuminates the wall behind it where these words are written: I see you, Aurora. I hear you, Aurora. I believe you, Aurora.
This space is yours to do with as you please, when you please. I will keep holding this space — it will always be here.
People often come up to me and say, "You're so open and vulnerable. You have no shame." But I have spent the past decade hiding — my own pain, but also men's mistakes. I didn't want to tell anyone about the 70-year-old Hollywood luminary who was so angry that I rebuffed his kiss that he made me do 30 takes of the word "hello," or about the Oscar nominee who drove me to the place he lost his virginity while I asked again and again when I could be dropped home. I didn't want anyone to know about the pseudo boyfriend who tied me up with my special-occasion stockings and forced himself inside me anally, or about my father's friend who asked me to lunch but that I not tell my father we were meeting. I shared the story of my college date rape publicly and found the response to be hostile and re-traumatizing. I didn't want people to know which male writers and stars had raged at me. And I thought that was my job, to absorb their misery and smile like I wanted more. I gave up on the idea that I could protect myself because, as my best friend Scotty says, "When the particular brand of validation you've received is abuse, you'll take it and like it and thank them for it a thousand times."
What I didn't know as I grappled with what made me so particularly vulnerable to violation is that I actually wasn't particularly vulnerable. In many respects, I was lucky — privileged and powerful — and that luck had shaded my experience. It took the chorus of voices of women much braver — more open and honest than I've ever been — to expose the fact that these are not isolated incidents. I went from thinking I was the only person in the room to stepping back and taking in the majesty of all these female voices, speaking despite all odds. It comforted me, but it may have also saved me. And if we really stay determined to listen, they can save us.
I won't lie: It's a hard year to make a list of reasons I love working in Hollywood. You can feel grateful while also feeling weary, and you can step back while also cheering, and there's all manner of contradiction in my relationship to this business. But the reason I arrived at 22, my hair badly blown out and my miniskirt on backwards, is that I love stories. Telling them. Hearing them. Living them. We are living in an age of pain, but it's also an age of heroism. And I love stories about heroes. Especially lady heroes.
Aurora — your bravery, openness, forgiveness, dignity and grace in the face of legal proceedings and endless questioning and in the face of my statement has been astounding. You've been a model of stoicism, all the while reminding other women that their assault experiences are theirs to process as they wish (with noise, with silence, with rage — it's all OK). You have generously allowed me to speak about your many virtues here and tell these readers that you are moving on as a woman and as an artist. You have inspired me to do the same, and I know I'm not alone.
Aurora's mother, Brittany, is fierce, powerful, a born leader, a patient mother, the kind of woman I hope to be. Getting to know her has been the unexpected gift that came from being humbled and reassessing so much over the past year: about women and power.
There are some who will think I am writing this to curry public favor (that's OK, though, I stopped thinking that was an option for me somewhere around 2014, and that's some kind of freedom). I have the only women I want or need in my life. And this is the Women in Entertainment issue, and women in entertainment need healing. Sometimes healing starts with the words: I'm sorry.
Moving forward from trauma is never easy, but there are brave women doing it for us. All we have to do is listen.
Love and more of that,
This story first appeared in the 2018 Women in Entertainment Power 100 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.