Lena, be a lady

Stephanie D. Edelman Freelance Writer
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“My first time voting was amazing,” Lena Dunham enthuses at the close of her suggestive “First Time” ad endorsing Obama. “It was this line in the sand: first I was a girl, now I was a woman.”

Well, maybe we would all be better off if Miss Dunham could be a lady. After all, a lady doesn’t publicly gush about losing her virginity, how “you wanna do it with a great guy,” with “someone who cares about and really understands women,” with “a guy with really beautiful …” (as to a beautiful what, Lena leaves up to our imagination), “someone who cares about whether you get health insurance, and specifically whether you get birth control,” or other tasteless schmaltz. And a lady certainly does not try to convince impressionable youth how “super un-cool” it is “not to be ready.”

The innuendo-as-political-endorsement gimmick was obviously cooked up to appeal to suggestible college girls with sex on the brain. But Miss Dunham’s monologue misses the mark for several reasons, and is likely to backfire with her target audience.

First of all, it’s not sexy — it’s incredibly condescending. Miss Dunham may mistake sex for sexiness, but from the viewers’ perspective, the ad is far more grating than it is glamorous. As a 22-year-old recent college graduate and soon-to-be second-time voter, I would note that 19-year-old girls savoring their newfound independence and embarking on their adult lives do not warm to being addressed as if they were in a mandatory middle school sex-ed class, the kind of thing we all hated to be subjected to when we were thirteen and have even less patience for now. And the touchy-feely platitudes chafe as much as Miss Dunham’s patronizing tone does.

Second, she assumes that young female voters select a candidate based largely upon his ability to provide us with birth control, as if this should be the deciding factor. Well, Miss Dunham, I resent that assumption. It’s demeaning.

For one thing, plenty of independent-minded young women do not rely upon men, much less the Leader of the Free World, for healthcare handouts. That would be downright unfeminist of us!

For another, many of us are actually discerning, intelligent, and informed enough to recognize that the presidency is not about passing out goodies to schoolgirls, that there are broader and more pressing political concerns at stake in this election. For instance, the Pill will do me little good in the event that Iran obtains a nuclear weapon. But, hey, at least if Tehran should blow us (or my friends in Israel) all to bits, we can take comfort in the fact that we voted for a guy who “cares about and really understands women.”

To this end, Miss Dunham also overlooks that various forms of birth control are readily and cheaply available at health centers on most university campuses, so we’re covered on that front for our college-age years, which, in her estimation, amount to the next “150 years.”

Finally, Miss Dunham is so tacky. Maybe the ad is not off-putting to the majority of college girls, but to those of us with a modicum of maturity, taste, and intelligence, Lena’s little sermon is both rife with offensive implications about women and sexual relations, and a vulgarization of the political process. It cheapens and trivializes the weighty deliberations that every voter should make before deciding upon the next occupant of the White House. (After all, is this a political ad or an after-school special?)

Frankly, Miss Dunham’s ad is embarrassing. And it raises the question: just who is Lena Dunham, anyway, to tell us how to lose our virginity or how to vote? Her claim to fame is that she writes and stars in the HBO series “Girls,” which Manhattan media blog Gawker accurately summed up as “a television program about the children of wealthy famous people and shitty music and Facebook and how hard it is to know who you are and Thought Catalog and sexually transmitted diseases and the exhaustion of ceaselessly dramatizing your own life while posing as someone who understands the fundamental emptiness and narcissism of that very self-dramatization.”

Well, in this context, Miss Dunham’s ad looks like merely another exercise in narcissism and self-dramatization. Why should any of us take her seriously? First-time voters can decide for themselves who they want to vote for, without taking cues from some coarse 26-year-old celebrity’s self-serving propaganda.

To paraphrase John F. Kennedy’s rib on his political opponent: “The girl’s got no class.” As Miss Dunham would surely remind me, now that she’s gone to the poll, pulled back that curtain, and voted for Barack Obama, she’s a big, all-grown-up woman.

But not a lady.

Stephanie D. Edelman is a recent graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University and a current intern at a think tank in Washington, D.C.