I do about ten panels a year. I give about 25 to 30 interviews. I can't think of one in recent memory that didn't include some version of THIS question: "What is your experience of sexism in television and film?" Depending on my mood, I'll say, "It is better than it used to be"; "Insidious and still prevalent"; "Hidden, subtle, but a part of almost every interaction I have." Or I'll say, "We are proud to have a show run by women and one deeply feminist man, and our work culture is different." But this morning I woke with a new answer to the question. And it sickens me to have it.
Last night, after wrap on location, Lena and I and a few co-workers went into town to eat. We ran into a small portion of the crew of another TV show that shoots nearby and introduced ourselves. Within five minutes, a producer/director of that show had cornered Lena. Though the rest of us were are all in vaguely separate conversations, we were able to hear what was said.
Or shown in this case: an iPhone photo of a mutual friend with a cock next to her face, ostensibly a still from his TV show but shown at a completely inappropriate time. It saddens me to say this isn't the part of the story that even upset me. This is fairly common behavior with strangers and Lena. In my most generous moments, I can see their nervousness, their familiarity with her frank sexual work, and their desire to make a connection. Our Girls writer Sarah Heyward said to the director, "Of course, that's the only kind of picture you can show Lena Dunham."
From here things really started to devolve. The director asked Lena to have dinner alone the following night with an actress on the show he works on. Not because he thought they should meet, but because he wanted Lena to persuade the actress to "show her tits, or at least some vag" on TV. Surely Lena could make a compelling argument. After all, he continued, "You would show anything. Even your asshole."
This is something a man felt compelled to say to a Golden Globe–winning actor, showrunner, and best-selling author who just happens to be female. So it's easy to speculate what might be said to women working with him, under him, dependent on his approval. Despite Lena's obvious discomfort, he then went on to critique and crudely evaluate the bodies of all the women on his show.
Who knows, maybe this was an anomaly. But it happened. And it was witnessed.
And even some of the most loving and sensitive men in our tribe who heard the whole thing suggested afterward that the director seemed very drunk. Oh, phew, that explains everything.
When women get drunk, they are asking for it. When men get drunk, they don't mean it.
Together with Lena and Judd we run one of the filthiest writers' rooms. You could argue we run one of the filthiest shows. Let me tell you why this is different. Why this isn't about taking a joke. The writers' room is a space where creative people need to feel safe taking chances. Even if they are offensive. Even if they are repulsive. This man approached a woman at a social gathering and asked her to help convince an actor to show her tits. It's another planet.
I woke up this morning and I didn't want to wait for a panel to tell the story or a journalist to ask me the question. I was sick of protecting people from their own behavior, and I refuse to do it anymore.
It's not enough to be mad. It's not enough to know it's wrong. When we share, we unlock other women's stories, and suddenly secrets don't seem so necessary. The only thing standing between men and outdated, hideous behavior is their ability to get away with it. Even as an adult mother of two, it took a shocking moment while I was just trying to get a lobster roll to call bullshit. Why don't we all say it? Fear is what keeps us bound to situations that scare and antagonize us. Our voices are our superpower.
Jenni Konner never got that lobster roll.