‘You make me sick’
‘You are disgusting’
‘Your parents should have aborted you’
‘Sterilize yourself pig’
These are just a handful of comments made underneath a recent Instagram caption written by Lena Dunham. In it, Lena apologised for a comment she made in her podcast ‘Women of the Hour’ where she had expressed a wish to have an abortion.
To put it into context, she had been telling an anecdote about how she’d once visited a Planned Parenthood in Texas where she was asked by a girl to take part in a project about sharing abortion stories. Her response to the girl – ‘I haven’t had an abortion’ – made her realise that in spite of all her campaigning, she too stigmatised the procedure, because she wanted the girl to know she hadn’t made ‘that’ choice.
‘I wanted to make it really clear to her that as much as I was going out and fighting for other women's options, I myself had never had an abortion,’ she said.
‘And I realised then that even I was carrying within myself stigma around this issue. Even I, the woman who cares as much as anybody about a woman's right to choose, felt it was important that people know that I was unblemished in this department.’
She continued, ‘So many people I love – my mother, my best friends – have had to have abortions for all kinds of reasons. I feel so proud of them for their bravery, for their self-knowledge, and it was a really important moment for me then to realise that I had internalised some of what society had thrown at us and I had to put it in the garbage.
‘Now I can say “I still haven't had an abortion – but I wish I had.”’
Cue: huge backlash.
When I first read the headline, and without even knowing the context, I immediately thought, what a thoughtless and crass comment to have made. Anyone who has had any experience of abortion – personally or through the experience of others – will know it is not something to wish upon yourself, or anyone.
Next I thought, maybe she said it by mistake. Often when people are nervous – in conversation – they find themselves agreeing with what others have said, even if they don’t actually agree. I thought perhaps someone might have been discussing their wish to have an abortion, and Lena had agreed saying something like: ‘Me too, I wish I could have an abortion’ to make them feel better. But when I listened to the podcast, I discovered her comments were not in conversation, but made through a pre-recorded thought-out monologue. Which made her conclusion all the more surprising.
Was it the wrong thing to say? Absolutely. Does Lena deserve the torrent of abuse she’s subsequently received via social media? Categorically not. Firstly because that type of vitriol should be reserved solely for people who deserve it – people who are inhumane. Secondly because Lena created an entire podcast dedicated to the issue of abortion, which means it’s pretty obvious she doesn’t take it lightly. Thirdly, if you listen to what she actually said – as I bet 99% of her critics have not – you’ll hear from her tone, the context in which she meant it: ‘I haven’t had an abortion, but to show I have zero judgement about it,’ she was trying to say, ‘know this: I’m so ok with it, I have no problems wishing it on myself.’
The reaction to her comments highlight what a quick to judge, loved to be OUTRAGED society we live in. Even if you’re not the biggest fan of the Girls’ star/writer, anyone can see the very last thing Lena meant to do was wantonly cause offence. Mere moments before, she’d highlighted the ‘bravery’ of women who had gone through abortion, so it’s hardly likely she intended to contradict herself, is it?
I always wonder whether people making such vile comments actually feel angry at the person they’re aiming them at, or whether they’re just angry people in general. Of course, I understand that a woman who has had an abortion might have found Lena’s comments insensitive and wholly ignorant – which they undeniably were. But we all say things without thinking, and I don’t even believe Lena meant what she said. It was a lazy (albeit bizarre) way of tying up a monologue.
I hope for many things from 2017. Not tearing people apart for their small mistakes is one of them.