For a while now, I’ve been skeptical of your critical acclaim. Both your fans and mainstream media have taken it upon themselves to applaud you as a modern feminist icon. But, I never understood all the hype. However, feminism is all the rage right now, and amongst many famous women claiming they aren’t feminists, people might have seen you as a breath of fresh air. I wasn’t so easily impressed. But my opinion on your persona, your show, or their mutual acclaim is not the focus of this letter. Instead, I would like to focus on the disturbing excerpts of your memoir, Not That Kind Of Girl.
In your memoir, you detail numerous disturbing instances in which you engaged in inappropriate behavior with your little sister, Grace.
“One day, as I sat in our driveway in Long Island playing with blocks and buckets, my curiosity got the best of me. Grace was sitting up, babbling and smiling, and I leaned down between her legs and carefully spread open her vagina. She didn’t resist, and when I saw what was inside I shrieked. “My mother came running. “Mama, Mama! Grace has something in there!”
My mother didn’t bother asking why I had opened Grace’s vagina. This was within the spectrum of things that I did. She just got on her knees and looked for herself. It quickly became apparent that Grace had stuffed six or seven pebbles in there. My mother removed them patiently while Grace cackled, thrilled that her prank had been such a success.”
It is repulsive that after this incident, your mother apparently asked no questions or taught you boundaries. Your little sister’s body is not an object for your amusement. Yet you seemed to think it was, using it for your own twisted pleasure as you describe in the memoir.
I understand that children are curious about their bodies and the bodies of other children, and I don’t proclaim to be well-versed in early childhood development. I’ve seen and heard stories of children kissing each other, talking about their private parts, and asking questions about human anatomy. But some of the things you describe go way past curiosity and into the realm of manipulative and deceptive towards a child who was years your junior and unaware of the inappropriateness of your actions.
“As she grew, I took to bribing her for her time and affection: one dollar in quarters if I could do her makeup like a “motocycle chick.” Three pieces of candy if I could kiss her on the lips for five seconds. Whatever she wanted to watch on TV if she would just “relax on me.” Basically, anything a sexual predator might do to woo a small suburban girl I was trying. Maybe, I thought, she would be more willing to accept kisses if I wore the face mask my grandmother had for when she did her dialysis. (The answer was no.) What I really wanted, beyond affection, was to feel that she needed me, that she was helpless without her big sister leading her through the world. I took a perverse pleasure in delivering bad news to her — the death of our grandfather, a fire across the street — hoping that her fear would drive her into my arms, would make her trust me.”
What?! I was astounded by this passage. It seems so emotionally abusive and inappropriate that I’m shocked that you are surprised by people’s reactions. You bribed your sister to kiss you. You played with her private parts when she didn’t know any better. You use the words “sexual predator” and “perverse” to describe your own actions. And yet, apparently, your parents never caught on to your misconduct — or never cared to address the situation. Apparently, you don’t even see a situation to address.
And it seems as if you never learned your lesson:
“I shared a bed with my sister, Grace, until I was seventeen years old. She was afraid to sleep alone and would begin asking me around 5:00 P.M. every day whether she could sleep with me. I put on a big show of saying no, taking pleasure in watching her beg and sulk, but eventually I always relented. Her sticky, muscly little body thrashed beside me every night as I read Anne Sexton, watched reruns of SNL, sometimes even as I slipped my hand into my underwear to figure some stuff out.”
You masturbated with your little sister in the room? In fact, you masturbated with her lying right next to you? There is nothing okay about that. And perhaps this is the most disturbing aspect of the situation. You are going on a self-professed “rage spiral” because of how people are handling your book, when you yourself equated yourself to a sexual predator.
I understand that your sister may think you did nothing wrong. But that’s the problem with sexual assault, particularly when the victim is a child and abused by a relative. The victim is so young and impressionable that it becomes easy to associate this twisted manipulation and control with love. You should know what you did was wrong, and you should stop using feminism as a bizarre way to defend your actions.
Feminism is great, Lena. I feel like women and men, regardless of their political affiliation, should realize that equality between genders is beneficial for everyone. But, apparently you don’t feel the same. You want to be a feminist when it is convenient. You want to promote that “There is no ‘No’ that means ‘Yes,’” and that reproductive rights are important, and that woman deserve equal pay for equal work; but, you don’t want to take the heat that’s coming out of the kitchen. You don’t want the disgust, criticism, abandonment, and repercussions that result from being a perpetrator of sexual assault.
You see, Lena, if a 17-year-old boy had masturbated in front of his sister or brother, the world would be in uproar. There would be no “benefit of the doubt,” no gray area, and no questions as to how vile these actions are. His name would be dragged through the mud. He wouldn’t have a hit show anymore. Everyone would brand him as the filth that he is for masturbating in front of a sibling — a prepubescent one nonetheless. But you don’t see the problem. You are so jaded by your own self-righteousness that you think us, the people being critical of your actions, are the problem. No. It’s you. You engaged in sexual misconduct with your sister, and you chose to write about it. Now you’ll have to face the much deserved backlash.
You issued a cease and desist to Truth Revolt, simply because they criticized some of the passages that you chose to include in your book. It’s time to stop passing the buck, Lena. Own up to the fact that you did some screwed up things as a kid, some of which are being considered sexual assault. You were just “curious,” but a young boy who did the same things would be called a deviant and an abuser. Children can commit sexual assault; take a look inside a courtroom. Because you are a privileged woman and a feminist, you think you don’t deserve the accusations being thrown at you. But in fact, that’s exactly why you deserve these accusations.
Being a feminist and someone of privilege doesn’t give you a pass or make your actions any less offensive. If you want to get paid like the boys, you also have to pay the price like the boys. What you did was wrong.
Now it’s time to pay what you owe. (And hopefully learn a thing or two about feminism.)