Controversial actress and feminist diehard Lena Dunham forced herself to eat humble pie in public again, when (not for the first time) she retracted her previous support for a male friend caught up in the “Me Too” maelstrom. Her – presumably, now former – friend is Murray Miller, a script-writer for Girls, the award-winning TV series that launched Dunham’s dramatic career.
Girls ran from 2012-2017. The “Me Too” movement kicked off internationally in October 2017 after a number of famous actresses accused the American movie mogul, Harvey Weinstein, of sexual harassment and/ or sexual assault. Weinstein’s career was immediately wrecked, although he continues to contest various criminal allegations and civil lawsuits.
The voices most prominent in Me Too are typically from a Hollywood élite of unusually wealthy, successful and privileged women. As such, they are in an altogether different league to the average victim of sexual harassment of the type whom I used to advise, and sometimes represent.
In November last year, an actress named Aurora Perrineau aged 23 accused Miller of rape. She alleged that she was aged 17 when he had intercourse with her, after they had been in a bar together. The age of consent varies across American states from 16-18: in California, it is 18. The legal drinking age in California is 21.
Miller’s lawyers issued a combative rebuttal. They claimed that Perrineau had initially sought compensation from Miller, and only went to the police after he refused to pay out. They described her allegations as “outrageous”. Initially, Dunham and her co-showrunner Jenni Konner stood by Miller. They issued a joint statement to The Hollywood Reporter on 17 November 2017:
…. during every time of change there are also incidences of the culture, in its enthusiasm and zeal, taking down the wrong targets. We believe, having worked closely with him for more than half a decade, that this is the case with Murray Miller. ….We stand by Murray and this is all we’ll be saying about this issue.
The next day, Dunham and Konner issued a grovelling retraction:
I now understand that it was absolutely the wrong time to come forward with such a statement and I am so sorry….We regret this decision with every fiber of our being….Under patriarchy, “I believe you” is essential. Until we are all believed, none of us will be believed. We apologise to any women who have been disappointed.
In August this year, the LA County District Attorney’s Office said that “based on the evidence presented, which included victim, suspect, and witness statements, there are inconsistencies which cannot be overcome.” It also cited a three-year statute of limitations.
This week, Dunham welcomed Aurora’s mother to The Hollywood Reporter‘s “Women in Entertainment” event in Los Angeles, saying:
with Brittany and Aurora’s love, forgiveness and bravery, it’s become my greatest moment of evolution and education. I learned to listen. I learned the ways in which my own heart and mind had been colonized by patriarchy, and the ways my own ignorance operated even as a survivor of multiple sexual assaults.
Dunham blames patriarchy, of which she also claims to be the victim. She made a further recantation in The Hollywood Reporter:
I made a terrible mistake. When someone I knew, someone I had loved as a brother, was accused, I did something inexcusable: I publicly spoke up in his defense. There are few acts I could ever regret more in this life. […] It’s painful to realize that, while I thought I was self-aware, I had actually internalized the dominant male agenda that asks us to defend it no matter what….
She concluded: “I believe you, Aurora.”
This has a disturbingly McCarthyite ring to it. Like so many self-proclaimed feminists today, Dunham seemingly has no time for due process or the rule of law, which doubtless she regards as troublesome manifestations of patriarchy too. Her willingness to throw her male friend under a bus, for the sake of appeasing the sisterhood, i.e. her audience, looks like a self-interested PR move.
Leaving aside the question of whether the now fashionable term “patriarchy” is simply a slogan, Dunham’s position is untenable. It does not follow that all allegations of sexual assault must be believed, even assuming (which is debatable) that women are an oppressed species. There is no “dominant male agenda” that requires women to defend it, no matter what. And apologising for publicly speaking up in defence of a friend is cowardly.
Fortunately for Miller, the LA County District Attorney’s Office was rather more discriminating. Instead of blindly believing, it considered the evidence and found it wanting. And as the new Director of Public Prosecutions for England and Wales said recently: “There are many cases where the good decision is not to prosecute”.
Alarmingly, at a training day for CPS prosecutors which I attended in 2016, one of them also invoked the notion of patriarchy. One hopes the new DPP, Max Hill QC, will not tolerate such simplistic groupthink on his watch.