Sexual entitlement, fragility, and objectification are problems in the entertainment industry. If you want evidence of that, look no further than feminist hero Lena Dunham.
At the 2016 Met Gala, Dunham treated NFL player Odell Beckham, Jr and actor Michael B. Jordan as objects for her sexual gratification and then became offended when they didn’t respond in turn, as a recent interview between her and Amy Schumer revealed. Beckham, a wide receiver for the Giants who is also well-known for his sense of style, was sitting next to Dunham but didn’t give her the attention she felt she warranted.
“[I]t was so amazing because it was like he looked at me and he determined I was not the shape of a woman by his standards,” Dunham griped five months after the event. “I was like, ‘This should be called the Metropolitan Museum of Getting Rejected by Athletes.’”
There’s a phrase feminists have created for this kind of thinking. It’s called “male sexual entitlement” (often written in capital letters to denote its supposed significance). The blog Rolls and Curves describes “MSE” as such: “Male Sexual Entitlement (or MSE) is the idea that men can be owed sex, and that women are objects designed for male sexual fulfillment.”
The fact that Dunham is still stewing over the lack of attention she received from Beckham and Jordan half a year later shows she harbors “(fe)male fragility” as well. That is when people become angry when they get rejected and blame or shame their object of desire for it.
While Dunham has issued an apology for her comments about Beckham, she hasn’t apologized for such objectifying comments as her description of how she “attempted to grind my [her] ass on Michael B. Jordan for an additional twenty minutes” at the Met after-party (her comments were cut from the online version of the interview). Instead she doubled down on Twitter, posting: I’ll try and dance myself onto @michaelb4jordan if I have the chance, even when I’m a married grandma. I’m a red blooded str8 woman!”
ps I’ll try and dance myself onto @michaelb4jordan if I have the chance, even when I’m a married grandma. I’m a red blooded str8 woman!
— Lena Dunham (@lenadunham) September 2, 2016
Not all of her Twitter followers were supportive. “think about how @michaelb4jordan would be vilified if he said the same thing about a woman,” one person tweeted. “she constantly sexualizes black men to seem really trendy and progressive,” another wrote. A third respondent was more succinct: “Delete. Your. Account.”
In one sense—a rational sense, one might say—Dunham’s attractions are a completely understandable application of sexual norms. Jordan and Beckham are both known for being handsome, stylish, and charismatic, qualities that most women find attractive in men, but it’s also true that men find certain qualities attractive in women. Yet Dunham, who made a point of wearing a tuxedo, seems to take it as a given that any man should find her attractive no matter what she looks like and no matter what she’s wearing. “You were dressed like a boy,” Schumer remarked, approvingly, of her outfit. If Beckham didn’t attend the ball in a stylish suit and bow tie, and if he didn’t have the chiseled body of a professional athlete but rather one of the “real” bodies Dunham and Schumer glorify in their works, one wonders whether Dunham would have been so interested in striking up a conversation.
In this case, most of the feminist blogs pointed out the objectionable nature of Dunham’s comments, helped possibly by the fact that her victims were both black men. After all, Dunham was trying to look inside Beckham’s head and ascribe sexual motivations to his actions, which perpetuates the over-sexualization of black men, especially athletes.
However L.V. Anderson, Slate’s feminist blogger, was more sympathetic to Dunham’s account; she even speculated on the sexuality of the men, adding: “Perhaps (as the eternal rumors have it) he’s gay.” Because that’s the only possible reason a man wouldn’t be interested in the sexually entitled Lena Dunham.
Luckily Anderson mentioned a few other non-sexual possibilities: maybe he was shy, maybe he doesn’t like small talk, and maybe he had something important to do on his phone. Let me add one more possibility: maybe—just maybe—he didn’t want to talk to someone as boring and conceited as Dunham.