Hillary Clinton

Lena Dunham: Fictional Character? In Her Ode to Hillary Clinton, Another Biographical Mistake

There's more truth in Dunham's fiction.



Did Lena Dunham forget how old she was in 1992? Consider this seemingly mistaken passage from the debut edition of Dunham's newsletter, Lenny, which highlights her interview with Hillary Clinton:

There is no better way for us to start Lenny off than by interviewing Hillary Rodham Clinton. It's no secret we have been "in the bag" for HRC for quite some time. It started in 1992, when Lena wrote her third-grade term paper on Hillary's controversial "tea and cookies" comments. That's when Clinton told a reporter, during her husband's presidential campaign, about why she kept her job as a lawyer while he ran for office: "I suppose I could have stayed home and baked cookies and had teas, but what I decided to do was to fulfill my profession which I entered before my husband was in public life." Even nine-year-old Lena was scandalized by the twisted gender politics and Stepford expectations placed on a First Lady with a career and vision of her own.

(Emphasis mine.) I'm impressed that third-grade Dunham was already writing term papers. (Third-grade Robby Soave was barely passing Handwriting class, an accursed subject for a young left-hander.) But Dunham couldn't have been in the third grade in 1992, and she certainly wasn't 9-years-old. Dunham was born on May 13, 1986. She was six at the time when Clinton made her famous "tea and cookies" comments.

It's of course possible that 6-year-old Dunham heard the comments and 9-year-old Dunham wrote about them for her third-grade term paper, several years later. But this biographical detail, as presented in the above passage from the newsletter, must be erroneous.

I presume the mistaken date is an editing error—Dunham is co-writing the newsletter with her creative partner, Jenni Konner. Perhaps the term-paper anecdote (which Time highlighted as the beginning of Dunham's "political awareness") was relayed incorrectly. I reached out to Lenny for comment, but have not heard back.

Is this a meaningful discrepancy? Of course not. The point is that Dunham was overtly political and obsessed with Clinton at a very young age—and it holds true, whether she penned her ode to the then-president's wife in 1992, 1995, or some other year.

But Dunham is notoriously careless with the facts of her own life. Conservative news sites like Breitbart and National Review drew criticism for investigating a rape allegation in her autobiography, Not That Kind of Girl, but their skepticism proved to be justified. As Gawker's J.K. Trotter revealed in his investigation of Dunham's rape, the person she identified as the perpetrator—an Oberlin College Republican activist named Barry—was actually a composite character who differed significantly in an earlier draft of the book. In fact, there was a conservative activist named Barry at Oberlin at the time, but he never met Dunham; she was forced to apologize for impugning him—it was an unfortunate coincidence, she claimed. The person who Trotter believes was actually responsible for the rape was not a Republican activist, as Dunham claimed in her autobiography.

Dunham is in the fairly unique position of playing a fictionalized version of herself on the HBO series, Girls, which she created and co-writes. I imagine it must be difficult balancing those very different roles, switching from actress to fiction writer to biographer multiple times per day. Dunham is at her creative best when she's honest about the fact that her stories are inspired by real-life, not works of nonfiction. As I wrote in my review of the fourth season of Girls:

Millennial auteur Lena Dunham often brings far more nuance to her HBO show, Girls, than she manages to demonstrate in her own hyper-partisan public persona….

Girls refuses to let its characters off the hook for their delusions and immaturity, suggesting that Dunham is more self-aware about her generation's foibles than her critics think.

The great irony of Lena Dunham is that there's more truth—and more to like—in her fiction than there is in her hyper-partisan, Clinton-worshipping reality. I wish she would distinguish the two a little more carefully.

Read Nick Gillespie's take on Dunham's Clinton interview here.