Lena Dunham responds to anti-Semitism controversy: Jew jokes were an "essential" part of family life

The "Girls" star shares how her personal history informs her work, from including Jewish humor to feminism

By Jenny Kutner
April 21, 2015 9:50PM (UTC)
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Lena Dunham (AP/Chris Pizzello)

Lena Dunham has done what she can to ensure that her identification as a feminist is well-documented. Perhaps less well-documented, though, is that Dunham also identifies as Jewish -- a fact that recently got the "Girls" star into trouble when she penned a satirical New Yorker essay about dating Jewish men, which stirred up allegations of anti-Semitism.

In a new interview with Variety, Dunham responds to the controversy by sharing a personal history infused with Jewish humor, as well as the social views that have come to define her public persona and her work:

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"People may not know I grew up in a tight-knit Jewish family where Jew jokes were part of the essential fiber of our communication," says Dunham, the eldest daughter of two artists. "My grandfather, may he rest in peace, used to tell some Jew jokes I will not share in these pages." [...]

Unlike most actresses in their 20s, she has no problem using a f-word to describe herself. "The first time I identified as a feminist was probably before having a mammary, because feminism is such a big part of who my mother is," Dunham says. She’s noticed that feminism has become a dirty label among some millennial women. "I feel like young women aren’t comfortable with that word because they haven’t been properly educated about what it means," she says. "They’ve been sent the message that feminism is somehow unsexy, shrew-like women who feel like men should be stripped of power. What they don’t understand is that feminism is just a way to talk about equality."

Dunham also describes her efforts to make more room for women in the entertainment industry, which she criticizes for its "abysmal" (and noted) gender disparity. "When there’s an industry devoid of women, there’s a tendency for women to feel like they have to protect their spot, like there’s not enough room in town for both of us," Dunham says. "We need to break that down and support each other, because as my dad always says, 'A rising tide lifts all boats.'"

Read more from Dunham's interview at Variety.


Jenny Kutner

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Anti-semitism Feminism Girls Hbo Hollywood Sexism Lena Dunham New Yorker Sexism