As renowned American creative Lena Dunham stands up to Kayne West and his latest video, depicting grimy plastic versions of naked celebrities which use their images without their permission, therefore robbing them of their identity and safety, I have decided to check out her book, Not That Kind of Girl, to gain a clearer view of Dunham. I have not labeled this as a review on her intriguing and deeply personal collection of essays because I do not wish to review it. A review is more of an overview with a recommendation attached, whereas I intend to offer a pure opinion piece, with a focus on my own views on the book and its authors approach to handling a traditionally sensitive topics.
I have always been a fan of people who speak their minds; those who are not afraid to create art which offends society’s pernicious and captivates its confused. Therefore, whilst my exposure to Dunham prior to finding her book in a charity shop a few weeks ago has been limited, I have always considered her to be the kind of public person I would like.
That theory has been proved through my reading of this highly charged, delightfully honest book, which is structured as a series of chapters on such topics as love, sexuality and mental health. These topics are still, despite our comparatively liberal age, considered a taboo, and many who approach them do so through the guise of fiction or poetry, obscuring real meaning and experience behind invented characters and word play.
Dunham, however, is brave enough to face these issues, particularly sexuality, head on. Although the book uses pseudonyms to obscure the true identities of many of the principal participants it is primarily a guide based on the author’s own personal experiences, and this makes it invaluable in a world where young women are still often not allowed to express opinions or ask questions on their own sexuality and mental problems.
Another aspect of this Not That Kind of Girl which makes it especially interesting is Dunham’s own regular admissions that she is an unreliable narrator, and that many of her memories are obscured by the ravages of time and the affects of her later learning and understanding. This, to my mind, is a ground breaking acknowledgement, as many other auto-biographical works often paint themselves as being completely true by mentioning, in an off hand way, the recollection of others to support the writer’s memories. Dunham does the opposite here, and many tales and recollections are prefixed with a statement that the person or people involved do not remember the incident. This both highlights the fragility of memory and the issue of documenting experiences which are never entirely your own.
Despite handling delicate topics with great sensitivity, the book nevertheless attracted a great deal of controversy when it was first published. Having read the book I have come to the conclusion that controversy was drawn to the text because of what it is about, rather than what it actually said. As a young, outspoken woman with a lot of curiosity and even more people regularly telling me to shut up – my opinion was recently deemed unimportant because of my lack of a regular boyfriend – I feel this book is a vital outlet for people in a similar position, or those who simply wish to broaden the spectrum of their reading beyond the traditional narrative of female sexuality as entirely dependent on male attention.