Matt Forney
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Does Jia Tolentino of Jezebel and The Hairpin Support Sexually Abusing Children?

Jia Tolentino is a feminist and freelance writer who serves as features editor at Gawker Media’s Jezebel and formerly worked as a contributing editor to The Hairpin. On October 6, she published a review of Lena Dunham’s memoir Not That Kind of Girl in which she celebrated Dunham’s recollections of sexually abusing her sister Grace. When confronted with her abhorrent views, Tolentino doubled down and reiterated her support for Dunham’s disgusting behavior. Tolentino’s defense of child rape makes her morally unfit to be employed by any reputable news publication.jia-tolentino-2Jia Tolentino Describes Child Molestation as “Welcome”

To her credit, Jia Tolentino was one of the few reviewers to even acknowledge the segments in Not That Kind of Girl where Dunham admits to molesting her little sister. Unfortunately, she saw nothing alarming about either Dunham’s behavior or her complete lack of remorse for what she did to her sister Grace. Here is the quote from Tolentino’s review:

This physical frankness extends to her relationships in a way that feels welcome, somehow old-fashioned, and childish in a Freudian way. She remembers peering into her toddler sister’s vagina, going to the closet to sniff her dead grandmother’s pajamas after being reprimanded for huffing at her comb…


For context, here is the excerpt from Not That Kind of Girl that Tolentino is commenting on:

One day, as I sat in our driveway in Long Island playing with blocks and buckets, my curiosity got the best of me. Grace was sitting up, babbling and smiling, and I leaned down between her legs and carefully spread open her vagina. She didn’t resist and when I saw what was inside I shrieked.

My mother came running. “Mama, Mama! Grace has something in there!”

My mother didn’t bother asking why I had opened Grace’s vagina. This was within the spectrum of things I did. She just got on her knees and looked for herself. It quickly became apparent that Grace had stuffed six or seven pebbles in there. My mother removed them patiently while Grace cackled, thrilled that her prank had been a success.

There is no way to spin Tolentino’s remarks as anything other than a defense of child molestation. It’s especially striking that she had no comment on the pattern of sexual abuse that Dunham discusses at length in other portions of the book. For example:

As [Grace] grew, I took to bribing her for her time and affection: one dollar in quarters if I could do her makeup like a “motorcycle chick.” Three pieces of candy if I could kiss her on the lips for five seconds. Whatever she wanted to watch on TV if she would just “relax on me.” Basically, anything a sexual predator might do to woo a small suburban girl I was trying…

Dunham’s sexual abuse of her sister continued well into her teen years, as shown in another excerpt from her memoir:

I shared a bed with my sister, Grace, until I was seventeen years old. She was afraid to sleep alone and would begin asking me around 5:00 P.M. every day whether she could sleep with me. I put on a big show of saying no, taking pleasure in watching her beg and sulk, but eventually I always relented. Her sticky, muscly little body thrashed beside me every night as I read Anne Sexton, watched reruns of SNL, sometimes even as I slipped my hand into my underwear to figure some stuff out…

Finally, it’s clear that Dunham has zero remorse for her behavior, as evidenced by this picture of her sister Grace dolled up as a “Hell’s Angel [sic] sex property” that she posted to her Instagram account a year ago:


It’s clear that Lena Dunham’s behavior is indefensible. Unfortunately, Tolentino and her peers in the media have participated in a campaign to excuse and cover up Dunham’s history of incestuous sexual abuse.


Jia Tolentino Reiterates Her Support for Lena Dunham’s Abuse

When confronted by one of her critics on Twitter, Jia Tolentino responded with an insultingly tone-deaf Jezebel post in which she doubled down on her defense of Lena Dunham:

Oh yeah, that’s some weird shit. You ever do some weird shit when you were a kid? Me too.There’s a lot of stuff that happens between the ages of five and 10 that I think we forget, or forget to talk about—the super-strange games, the odd fixations, the incredibly specific fears—and early bodily exploration, inappropriate in any context outside the honest innocence of childhood, is kept secret most of all.

That, anyway, is why I had described the frank, confessional physicality of Dunham’s writing as “welcome.” I think life would be better if we brought these anecdotes to light more often. Childhood bodily play is peculiar and near-universal and complicated, with a thousand valid valences on the long spectrum from normative to predatory. To me, these stories are mostly early and wonderful examples of the body as a zone of curiosity free from the burden of adulthood and sex, but of course, in a few cases, they are darker: reminders that children don’t have a lot of agency, or remembrances of unplumbed abuse.


This is appalling for one simple reason: Tolentino is attempting to whitewash Dunham’s abuse as simple childhood follies. Tolentino does not acknowledge that Dunham continued abusing her sister Grace well into her teenage years, from bribing her with candy in exchange for kisses to masturbating in the same bed with her. Tolentino also conveniently ignores Dunham’s lack of remorse for any of this, as evidenced by her constant bragging.

Additionally, in her response piece, Tolentino claims that the real issue surrounding Lena Dunham is “granting people the ability to tell their own sexual narrative.” The problem to this is that Dunham admitted in her own book to being a sexual predator, as shown in the quotes I excerpted above. That is her “sexual narrative.”

The only explanation for Tolentino’s tortured defense of Dunham is that she approves of incestuous child molestation, or at least is sufficiently morally warped to not recognize that it’s wrong. Given the heinousness of sexually abusing children—amplified in this case by the fact that it was a woman doing it to her own sister—Jia Tolentino has proven herself to be an abhorrent individual. Any magazine or website interested in publishing her writing would be advised to think twice.

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