The XX Factor

Enough With Sexist Lena Dunham Click Bait

Leave her alone

Photo by Christopher Polk/Getty Images for NARAS

It seems that the next round of Dunham animosity might be speculation that she’s secretly bitchy, if this headline from Jezebel is any indication. 

Jezebel, I get the demands of click bait headline-writing. The name “Dunham” has more click potential than the name of the actor, Christopher Abbott. But there are ways to write the headline that don’t feed into the stereotype that female bosses are, due to the inner bitch that comes roaring out if you give women a scrap of power, nastier and more hard-headed than male bosses. There’s no indication from the Page Six story that Abbott has personal animosity toward Dunham. On the contrary, what’s described is a straightforward creative difference. The source says, “He didn’t like the direction things are going in, which seems a bit odd since the show put him on the map.” When the New York Post does at better job at avoiding sexist stereotypes than your publication, that’s a problem. 

Dunham clearly asks a lot of her actors. They have to put themselves in embarrassing situations multiple times each season, often while naked. Abbott’s character, Charlie, is particularly cringe-worthy, as he follows meekly behind his girlfriend Marnie, desperate for her love even though she is weak-minded and obsessed with status. I can see why it might get tiresome to play that role. And actors aren’t known to be the most humble lot. 

That said, imagine if January Jones quit Mad Men after Matthew Weiner made her wear a terrible fat suit and perform shameful gluttony scenes. I’m guessing the headlines wouldn’t reduce it to Weiner being hard to stand—even though he has a much more well-evidenced reputation for being dictatorial than Dunham. Or, no need to speculate at all. As the Atlantic Sexes Twitter feed pointed out, Katherine Heigl merely criticized Judd Apatow’s writing as “a little sexist”—no rage-quitting!—and the media was more negative toward her than it was toward Apatow or Seth Rogan.* That’s despite the fact that both actors responded to her criticisms by being a little childish.

This isn’t about Dunham and the endless, tedious debate over whether her work deserves all the praise it’s getting (a discussion that unfortunately is already wrapped up in the more troublesome discourse about whether or not any individual woman is an “attention whore”). Women only make up 26 percent of the behind-the-scenes creative talent on prime-time television. Condoning the extra hostility that women receive for showing the same persistence of vision that garners male creators praise just makes it harder for the next Lena Dunham—one whose show you might like better!—to make her way to the top. 

Correction, April 4, 2013: This post originally misspelled Katherine Heigl’s last name.