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What Lena Dunham Doesn't Get About Diversity


Being accepting, not dismissive, of voices outside your comfort zone, is true diversity. Seeing one side as the "enemy" undermines the notion of tolerance.

Lena Dunham, best-selling author and creator/star of the HBO show "Girls," recently appeared on a Grantland podcast with Bill Simmons, in which she, among other topics of discussion, took aim at "right-wing websites" and "conservative white men."

This followed an intriguing back-and-forth on a Gawker open forum between a writer and the left-leaning media organization's founder Nick Denton. And it brings up an important point about so-called diversity and openness - and how "inclusion" often involves excluding others.

I find Dunham to be tremendously talented, and she uses her ever-growing platform to push liberal causes she believes in. This is great. But Dunham also speaks often about tolerance, acceptance and inclusivity, and this is what she said in the podcast:

"I don't care what conservative white men think about me. But I do care if anything I write is painful for survivors of sexual abuse, if anything I write is painful for other feminists. The difference between not caring what your enemy party thinks of you, and caring about how you affect people whose values line up with yours is very vast."

This alienating mentality is illuminating - when you think of an entire subset of people as the "enemy," when you stereotype an entire group of people as those you "don't care" about, how can that be tolerant and inclusive? She later talks about refusing to "pander" to these "conservative white men" - seeing individuals as people who are not all enemies doesn't mean you're pandering.

In a public posting of an internal email, Gawker writer Jason Parham talked about the need to become more diverse in 2015, pointing to "hiring more Latina voices, queer voices, black voices, and marginalized voices," but also writing, "It is vital that we continue — with a dogged relentlessness — to engage the interest around progressive voices."

In a public response, Gawker founder and CEO Nick Denton agreed with many points, but also urged his staff to go further in the push for diversity. He wrote that Gawker Media must be "embracing age groups beyond our core demo, people with divergent political views, and above all those of different socio-economic class."

Denton talks of welcoming a "wide array of people with whom a conversation is possible: national greatness conservatives, Burkean Tories and business pragmatists, for instance; Christians and other spiritual people; economic liberals, libertarians and techno-utopians; and black and other social conservatives.

You speak of duty. It is the duty of any serious political person, anyone interested in collective action, to search for common ground; that is the very essence of all politics. And it is the duty of a writer, especially on an open platform, to be interesting."

Being accepting, not dismissive, of voices outside your comfort zone, is true diversity. Seeing one side as the "enemy" undermines the notion of tolerance.

The irony between Denton's call for diversity of thought and Dunham's hypocritical closed-mindedness is that Gawker has been one of the most critical outlets of Dunham, long before she started drawing the ire of some on the right. Their reviews of the first season of "Girls" were dripping with contempt, refusing to even call her by her name, instead simply as "Laurie Simmons' daughter."

And it isn't just Gawker on the left. The New Republic's review of her latest book was a brutal takedown, written by James Wolcott, who previously wrote the book "Attack Poodles and Other Media Mutants," attacking the right-wing media.

But as Lena Dunham says, these are people's opinions she, conceivably, cares about. Those she doesn't would include conservatives like John Podhoretz, who wrote a positive review of "Girls" in the Weekly Standard, and Ross Douthat, who penned the New York Times column "I Love Lena" (although the piece was critical of Lena, the person, it praised her work and talent).

This is what you miss when your version of tolerance involves intolerance toward many; when inclusiveness excludes.

Are there conservative trolls who say awful things about Dunham? Of course. But what Denton gets, and what Dunham doesn't, is that diversity involves respect for those who think differently.

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