As America’s very public reckoning with sexual harassment and assault continues, the conversation around “believe women” and #MeToo, inevitably, also becomes more complicated and fractured—in particular when it comes to society’s decisions about which allegations are taken seriously, and which should be subject to deeper scrutiny.
Last Friday, Lena Dunham and Jenni Konner, co-showrunners for the series Girls, issued a statement defending Murray Miller, a friend and writer on the show, against allegations that he had sexually assaulted the actress Aurora Perrineau when she was 17. (Miller has denied the allegations.) “During every time of change there are also incidences of the culture, in its enthusiasm and zeal, taking down the wrong targets. We believe … that this is the case with Murray Miller,” they wrote in a statement. “While our first instinct is to listen to every woman’s story, our insider knowledge of Murray’s situation makes us confident that sadly this accusation is one of the 3 percent of assault cases that are misreported every year.” After a wave of criticism that her statement was in direct opposition to the feminist beliefs she espouses, Dunham issued another statement apologizing for her remarks; it acknowledged that, regardless of her closeness to the situation, she had used her considerable influence to unduly put “our thumb on the scale.”
Intentionally or not, Dunham’s initial call to scrutinize Perrineau, a biracial actress, but not Miller, fed into an implicit message that believability, sympathy, and public rage are reserved only for certain women. And those women are rarely women of color. Dunham’s actions caused the writer Zinzi Clemmons to resign from Lenny Letter, the feminist newsletter founded by Dunham. “It is time for women of color—black women in particular—to divest from Lena Dunham,” Clemmons wrote in a note about why she was leaving the publication, chronicling her issues with Dunham. “She cannot have our words if she cannot respect us.”