This is our truth, tell us yours
Be aware this post discusses child abuse, I am not linking to the claims by Dunham, be aware if you go looking they can be very triggering and are quite graphic.
Last night was a difficult night for me. People were justifiably angry having heard Lena Dunham dismiss her childhood actions as normal, or in a jocular light. It meant they were sharing graphic descriptions of those actions, and I am sure I was not the only person triggered by them. However as I was helped to understand exactly what was upsetting me I was also able to reach a place where I knew, as well as I know anything, that a child cannot be blamed for its actions.
The anger, as I saw it, came from the attitude of the adult. Dunham had not written as someone who understood, with an adults eye, just what impact her actions may have had. I was reminded, as I often am when people discuss the issue of the culpability of children of the case of ( tw on this link for violence and CSA) Mary Bell. For those unfamiliar with the story Mary Bell murdered two toddlers when she was 11. The tabloids of the day described her as a devil child, and her story became synonymous with the idea children can do evil.
Except, in those less prurient days, when the news cycle did not have to whip up hysteria to fill its 24 hour programming there were details the general public was not aware of. Mary was abused by her mother from early childhood. Her mother was a sex worker who used to lock Mary in the wardrobe while she saw clients. She also allowed men to abuse Mary for money. It is the story of Mary bell that is still taught to social workers, largely responsible for the attitude that sex working mothers will exploit their children. Mary also had learning difficulties (possible fetal alcohol syndrome) and was in every way a victim.
It is common to assume that in the past we were less enlightened, less aware of how a life like Mary’s might have affected her. However the facts show something very different. When Mary left secure accommodation she was given a new identity, which was protected, and when she fell pregnant she was supported, and proved herself to be a good and loving parent.
8 Jesus returned to the Mount of Olives, 2 but early the next morning he was back again at the Temple. A crowd soon gathered, and he sat down and taught them. 3 As he was speaking, the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in the act of adultery. They put her in front of the crowd.
4 “Teacher,” they said to Jesus, “this woman was caught in the act of adultery. 5 The law of Moses says to stone her. What do you say?”
6 They were trying to trap him into saying something they could use against him, but Jesus stooped down and wrote in the dust with his finger. 7 They kept demanding an answer, so he stood up again and said, “All right, but let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone!” 8 Then he stooped down again and wrote in the dust.
9 When the accusers heard this, they slipped away one by one, beginning with the oldest, until only Jesus was left in the middle of the crowd with the woman. 10 Then Jesus stood up again and said to the woman, “Where are your accusers? Didn’t even one of them condemn you?”
11 “No, Lord,” she said.
And Jesus said, “Neither do I. Go and sin no more.”
Read that last line. “Go and sin no more” Mary Bell sinned, whether you are secular or religious, she took a life, at an age where it was judged she had an understanding of what life, death, and murder meant. However the society of the time decided she should be given the opportunity to go and sin no more. It seems to me this was a far more human, and humane society. The connection with the revelations from Dunhams autobiography? What she may or may not have done as a child matters to her, her siblings, those around her. WHat matters to society as a whole is whether she has an understanding of what she did, of whether she can “sin no more.” This does not, to me, to be the case.