My Tweet to Lena Dunham, Re: Feminism, Ableism


It was Black Friday 2013, and I was depressed. I’m one of those SAD / holiday depression people. When in that mode, I use twitter to vent–nothing terrible, but negative. (It’s a bad habit.)

Lena Dunham had tweeted: “As a girl with serious thighs you dream of looking like Venus or Serena. But they’re powerful athletes & I’m a short immobile writer…”

I replied: “Way to solve Feminism’s ableism problem, bro.”
Immediately she retweeted, adding “Is this English?” Dan Savage (@fakedansavage) came to her rescue with: “It’s old English—no, wait. It’s scold English. People learn it at college the way they used to learn Latin or Greek.” People retweeted and favorited.

A miniature pile-on ensued, where I apologized (3x), and Lena Dunham kind of said it was okay. At the end, comedian Norm McDonald (@normmacdonald) joined in to certify “ableism” as an actual word.

So here’s what I meant: She’s not immobile! (I know she didn’t mean literally immobile.) People who are actually immobile would “dream of” someone freely out and about in a different light. Mainstream feminism prioritizes a certain set of issues (like beauty standards) to the deemphasis of others, e. g. mental illness and physical disability.

Then, I mislabeled her as a “bro”–the ultimate feminist insult. (I apologized.)

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<span class="dsq-postid" data-dsqidentifier="3573">10 comments</span>

  • Bro, you are subtle. : )

    So it’s a feminist issue when someone uses “disabled” as an insult–even towards themselves–is an insult to disabled people and must be avoided but, of course, calling someone “bro” is something you need to apologize to the person you directed it at, rather than the population of people you’re using as an insult.

    But, of course, this doesn’t apply to bitch.

    Always fun falling down the rabbit hole.

  • “of course, calling someone “bro” is something you need to apologize to the person you directed it at,”

    Right. That’s how society “valorizes” masculinity over femininity.

  • I don’t like “bro” when it’s used on anyone because it’s gendered and condescending.

    I agree with @Gingko that it’s like the counter-point to what Jessica Valenti wrote in Full Frontal Feminism: “The worst thing you can call a girl is a girl. The worst thing you can call a guy is a girl. Being a woman is the ultimate insult.”

  • “Being a woman is the ultimate insult.”

    And here we see Valenti’s misogyny. Being called weak is the ultimate insult. For Valenti, woman = weak.

    “Pussy” and “bitch” target and denounce weakness and hypoagency, and those who take offense at them think those things should be praised and valued rather than reproached. The elevate victimhood to righteousness and howl if their attainment of it is impugned.

  • Of course no one uses “bro” more than feminists. “Dude” too, and “dudebro” if they’re feeling energetic. Don’t ask what language that is, though, because that is mean.

  • @Gingko

    “Girl” is associated with weakness, but it’s also associated with value. Consider all the FULLY ADULT WOMEN who insist on being referred to as “girl” unironically.

    In one context girl is an insult, in another context it references a desirable trait in women–helplessness, cuteness, childishness. But only people with value can play on that value to get people to pay attention to their vulnerabilities; people without value must earn it, therefore “girl” means “incapable of earning your own value” when applied to them.

    There doesn’t seem to be a context in which “bro” is positive. Maybe neutral.

  • Every time I hear a woman say that “the worst thing you can call a man is a girl.” I want to compliment them on their rugged good looks and manly physique.

  • “In one context girl is an insult, in another context it references a desirable trait in women–helplessness, cuteness, childishness. ”

    Yep. Social neoteny. And you are right that access is gender-specific.

  • You brought up a good, if forcefully delivered, point about the casual ableism in Lena Dunham’s post. Able bodies like those of the Williams sisters have historically been considered “better than” the bodies of disabled women, whose sexuality and femininity is viewed as compromised or lesser as well. Feminism has historically distanced itself from disabled bodies and been ableist in nature. There is a lot of intersectional feminist literature that addresses this. It’s Lena Dunham’s fault she doesn’t know what ableism means and won’t examine the casual way her self deprecating words comparing herself to a someone with limited mobility disrespects certain bodies. But then her show has kind of shown she doesn’t really get intersectional feminism at all.

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