Lena Dunham, Mythmaking, and the Left

The self-absorbed writer, actress and Obama Left icon Lena Dunham, along with her publisher Random House, have admitted the falsity of a kinda-sorta “rape” accusation she irresponsibly made against a man identified as “Barry” in her bestselling memoir, Not That Kind of Girl: A Young Woman Tells You What She’s “Learned.”

I have no interest in Ms. Dunham and haven’t read her book, although I was fascinated by Kevin D. Williamson’s piece about it in National Review. What her celebrity says about the culture is far more interesting to me than whatever she thinks she has learned about life at the ripe old age of 28, and after a privileged and -- to put it mildly -- eccentric existence.

My general apathy extended to her highly qualified claim that she was raped while a 19-year-old undergrad at Oberlin College. Of course rape is extremely serious business … when it really happens. The rapist should be prosecuted and do serious jail time -- something I say not just as a member of civilized society but also as a former prosecutor who dealt closely with violent crime victims and the lasting trauma they suffer.

Still, like many parents, I’ve closely followed the slide of American universities into bazaars of regulated licentiousness (the work Heather Mac Donald has done on the subject is especially important -- see, e.g., her recent feature essay in the Weekly Standard). It is thus difficult to take all rape claims in that setting at face value.

That is not to say rape does not happen on campus. But a certain skepticism about rape reports is inevitable once there is no longer a common understanding of what the word means. Much of what is portrayed as “rape” -- indeed, as a campus “epidemic of rape” -- turns out not to be sexual assault at all. It is consensual sex about which at least one of the participants  post facto regrets. Shrieks that equate such relations with rape are the sounds of reality colliding with Sixties-sculpted fictions: that traditional sex roles are mere social constructs, that when non-intimates copulate there should be no more complication or consequence than there is when they shake hands, etc.

Ms. Dunham’s account of being “raped” is a good example. “Barry” is depicted as “our campus’s resident conservative.” The depiction has arguably created legal exposure for Ms. Dunham because there really was a Barry during her time at Oberlin, and he really was openly and notoriously conservative at the small, heavily Left-leaning school. This Barry, who is easily identifiable, denies ever having met or having any kind of personal relationship with Dunham, let alone having been intimate with her, much less sexually assaulting her.

As best I can make sense of it, Dunham’s story does not involve rape. She describes it as a consensual sexual encounter -- after drinking and drug use, and after she took “Barry” back to her room even though he had groped her intrusively. Sometime during intercourse, she says she discovered that “Barry” had, without permission, removed his condom. She thus tells him to stop; he complies and leaves. The next day, he callously ignores her upon passing her by.

It trivializes real rape to describe this as rape. To analogize, it exaggerates what, at the very most, is a minor embezzlement into a violent armed robbery. Whether there was some degree of fraud involved depends on the understandings, if any, of the parties … but forcible sexual assault? The suggestion seems ridiculous.