Do we need Lenny, Lena Dunham's newsletter, when feminism itself has been Dunhamised | Eleanor Robertson

Lena Dunham’s Lenny newsletter is billed as ‘Goop meets Grantland’. Great – it’ll fit right in with the rest of the sassy, individualistic feminist speciality media

As a teenaged feminist in the 2000s trying to educate myself using the internet, my favourite material to read wasn’t written with me in mind. After churning through virtually all the mainstream feminist blogs and websites (there weren’t many in 2006), I learned that the most interesting and radical writing was generally done by people that the white, liberal feminist establishment considered crazy.

It’s not that separatist black womanists, the small and besieged contingent of trans activist bloggers, or the female feral communist contingent were always right about everything, although they were (and are) right about a lot of things. Or that there weren’t thoughtful and challenging feminist writers from white, privileged or academic backgrounds.

Rather, it was that the tone and political viewpoint of professional or gatekeeper-approved feminist media at the time was simplistic, anodyne and self-centred.

Times have changed a lot since then, and mainstream feminism is not as hostile to the ideas of intersectionality or structural analysis as it once was. But still, I found myself groaning internally when I discovered that Lena Dunham is launching a feminist lifestyle newsletter for young women.

We are now drowning in an ocean of feminist-inflected, professionally produced entertainment made to appeal to the sensibilities of young women. On one level, this is good: engaging with pop culture shouldn’t have to involve being exposed to a constant barrage of sexism.

For both men and women, engaging with women as narrators and protagonists rather than clumsy male fantasy objects means acknowledging that female perspectives are both different and valuable.

The increasing diversity of voices in feminist media is also worth applauding.
Dunham says her newsletter, Lenny, will be for

an army of like-minded intellectually curious women and the people who love them, who want to bring change but also want to know, like, where to buy the best tube top for summer that isn’t going to cost your entire paycheck.

It will be self-funded at first, but eventually be profitable through advertising and affiliate linking. Goop meets Grantland, she says.

But taking a broader view, who needs that?

Do young, intellectually curious women really require another friendly, middlebrow publication that centres their existing concerns and interests? Fun content of this kind is already everywhere. Dunham mentions that Lenny will involve “radical politics,” but given there’s little available evidence to suggest that she herself has engaged with ideas that are particularly challenging, I’m not sure where those ideas will come from.

Mainstream individualist feminism has itself been absorbed into the cultural status quo: this is the state of affairs that allowed Dunham’s particular endeavours to become so popular.

Characterising another product in this vein as new or exciting suggests that Dunham has drunk her own Kool-Aid, and believes that her ideas, and those she finds interesting, are what is missing from the offerings currently available. The truth is they’re not, they’re everywhere; the “Dunhamisation” of popular culture is progressing at a rapid clip.

Combined with the increasing homogenisation of internet culture and the dominance of a few powerful online content aggregators, it’s more important than ever to seek out and amplify points of view that speak harsh truths. It’s time to put down the curated feminist content and go exploring in the wilderness.


Eleanor Robertson

The GuardianTramp

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