Lena Dunham, Mythmaking, and the Left
That, perhaps, is why -- or at least part of why -- Ms. Dunham could not bring herself to do more than float the suggestion of rape, at least in the book. She there describes the encounter twice, eventually claiming not to have consented -- more, it seems, to the way the sex happened than that the sex happened. (As Breitbart’s John Nolte quotes her, “[A]t no moment did I consent to being handled that way. I never gave him permission to be rough, to stick himself inside me without a barrier between us. I never gave him permission.”) Then, Kevin Williamson observes, “she has other people describe the event as ‘rape,’ thereby dodging any intellectual or moral responsibility for making the claim herself.”
But eventually, she crossed that line -- at least arguably -- in making the post-publication rounds. As John Nolte reports, she answers “yes” when Howard Stern inquisitively says, “You were raped by a guy.”
For good measure, the book also includes Dunham’s hearsay account of the same “Barry” having a rough but apparently consensual sexual episode with another woman. The aftermath is said to resemble a blood-spattered crime scene, but Ms. Dunham is happy to report that Barry accompanied the woman to get morning-after pills at the campus clinic the next day. (Translation: the campus conservative is a hypocrite.)
From the standpoint of “Barry,” Ms. Dunham’s story could very well be actionable as libel or as the intentional (or at least negligent) infliction of emotional distress. There is a significant factual question about whether she really accused him of rape, but there is no doubt that she accused him of disreputable behavior.
The more significant question is whether she truly accused the real Barry. In a characteristically sharp legal analysis, Eugene Volokh explains that one need not identify a person fully by name to libel him; there can be a case if enough descriptive information is provided that it is reasonably clear whom the writer was referring to. Here, while the defining attribute Dunham seems to have emphasized -- campus conservative -- points to the real Barry, several other features (mustache, deep voice, his job on campus) do not. Add to this the publisher’s explanation of a caveat on the book’s copyright page: it alerts readers that some names and identifying details have been changed – although, as Powerline’s John Hinderaker notes, this qualifier is undercut by Dunham’s writing: With respect to some characters, she takes pains to tell the reader she is using a pseudonym, but she pointedly did not do this with “Barry” despite relating the “rape” story twice.
Patently, Ms. Dunham and Random House are sufficiently worried about legal liability that they’ve issued a disclaimer. They now acknowledge that “the name ‘Barry’ referenced in the book is a pseudonym,” and -- though “We’re sorry” is not uttered -- they do say they “regret ... the confusion” that prompted the real Barry to retain counsel to explore a potential lawsuit.
But the larger point here is not whether the real Barry has a legally sufficient claim. It is the continuing subordination of reality to myth. This progressive strategy has gone mainstream, as I discussed in a recent column about two African-American suspects killed when they resisted arrest, and as we’ve recently seen in the collapse of Rolling Stone’s fictitious reporting of a vicious gang rape at the University of Virginia.
We are thus told that there remains “institutional racism” in our society to which “white privilege” has blinded the ruling class even as white police purportedly target and kill black men … just as there is a “war on women” being waged by conservative that has led to, among other travesties, an “epidemic of rape” on campus. Facts do not matter: they are inflated, contorted, or omitted as needed to fit the narrative that advances the myth. It is the myth that dominates the reporting, the classroom lectures, and the political campaigns.
I have no idea whether Ms. Dunham’s “rape” story is a complete fabrication. But I have a hard time believing her decision to connect the “rape” to “Barry the campus conservative” was anything but intentional.