The Feminist Media Reader #12 - Narcissism, Growing Up and Lena Dunham's 'Not That Kind Of Girl'

by - Friday, February 20, 2015

As 21st century beings, it's fair to say we've all been guilty of inflicting profoundness on our lives. Whether that's imagining a movie soundtrack playing over your first kiss, of quietly relishing in the dispair of a breakup because it's add to your 'story', heck, even stirring up controversy on a Facebook status that would otherwise have no impact on your life. It's how we add colour in between the black and white - drama gives us something to talk about, something to build friendships upon, something to blame when things don't quite work out as we like. 

Lena Dunham is a woman who isn't afraid to admit that she has been known to blur those lines, A self-confessed 'unreliable narrator', she knows the benefits of massaging the details, of adding that Valencia filter to a story where the lighting is a little off. She is the product of a generation of social media, of oversharing, of needing to work so much harder than before to stand out. She knows what it's like to have to create a persona, based on the notions of what we're all told we need to be successful. 

Lena Dunham is a female director for a start. Contradictory to what the success of the likes of Tina Fey and Amy Poehler would have you believe, this is no area where women dominate. Her weight means that she's far from what most would consider conventionally attractive, her tattoos are sprawling and visible and she likes to simulate sex on television in a way that is about as erotic as squatting on the side of the road to pee. While I tired a long time ago with the argument that all of this makes her somehow 'more' of a 'real' feminist than say, Beyonce (newsflash: it doesn't), there's no denying that with her television show Girls, she has empowered a generation, shown them that it's okay not to be okay, and that in fact, nobody really has their shit worked out yet, not even when you reach the age of becoming a so-called adult.

Having been told time and time again that her book was irksome, loaded with white privilege and self-indulgence, I surprised myself with how much I enjoyed 'Not That Kind Of Girl'. From the opening chapter, I was entranced at having been pulled so forcefully into somebody's else's world, free from the modesty and 'poor me' so normally associated with such memoirs. If anything, it was intoxicating to see someone welcome selfishness in such a way. To watch someone try, and so often fail, to negotiate the path to self-actualization, painfully aware of how fruitless it often seems.

Just like Girls before it it, 'Not That Kind Of Girl' plays with pretension in a really clever way. As we're exposed to the endless parallels between Dunham and her narcissistic, 'fictional' character of Hannah, we're left wondering, always on the brink of deciding whether this is a character you want to like, a character with whom you share more unhealthy traits with than you'd like to admit. 

In life, we're constantly told that being selfless is a trait worth envying. That it doesn't cost anything to be nice or empathetic. What this book does is bring about an interesting argument about self importance -  we're routinely taught to think of others, to be selfless and humble in our acts, but when you're the only person seeing the world through your eyes, why wouldn't your perception be a little skewed in favour of self preservation? In one's attempt to earn independence, to become an self-reliant adult, isn't it important to know when the right time is to say 'screw this, I'm doing something for me? I'm going to break that person's heart, eat that jar of nutella and make that career decision that everyone else thinks is crazy, simply because it feels right, right now?'

I don't have all of these answers. I just know that it was refreshing - for the few hours it took to read this book anyway - to feel like it was okay to dramatise one's own story, to admit to being less than perfect. After all, sometimes it's just far more interesting than the alternative.

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