When I was in high school, somebody once told me, “Men who speak out are brave, women who speak out are bitches.” Each time I am told to be a good sport or “not ruin things” by getting upset over reproductive issues, rape jokes, fat shaming and the like, I can’t help my increasingly feeling like that adage is accurate. Not that I’m brave by any means — seriously, I have called innumerable friends over to kill spiders or, um, check for ghosts — but I do think it takes a certain amount of resolve to have a dissenting opinion from the people around you and to take issue when somebody directly, purposefully hurts you with their words. Men, too, are sometimes told to be “good sports,” but when they refuse to be, they’re not nearly as often criticized for not being able to take a joke or not finding something obnoxious to be hil-arious.
The whole ordeal between Lena Dunham and Howard Stern bothered me for two reasons:
- He was a complete and utter asshole about a woman’s body for no particular reason, calling her a “fat little girl,” among other gross and obnoxious comments.
- She forgave him instantaneously because he said he “totally” loved her and she loved “his particular brand of free speech.”
His apology, by the way, started like this in preparation for her to arrive on the show:
“I have an opportunity to say, ‘Hey, Lena. I watched your show and I hated it at first, but I stuck with it and now I love it. That’s the story. And, yeah, I was disturbed by you naked, and now I like when you’re naked. I don’t know, I had a change of heart.”
And once she was on the show, he said:
“I was thinking out loud. That’s what I do, I just kind of ramble on. “Not only am I addicted, but I totally get you. I’m in love with you and your character…So I came in and said to Robin, on the air, ‘I changed my mind. I love the show. And I love Lena and I love what she’s doing with it.’”
I am all for forgiveness, but what the hell? He didn’t say anything that remotely redeemed his fat-shaming, ridiculous words; instead he essentially said, “J/K I think you are like, the coolest even though your body made me disgusted but now you rule and I love you!”
With the exceptions of women-driven websites such as The Gloss, most media outlets covered both sides after his initial comments, but did not particularly lean towards one or the other; typically, the reaction was just, “Oh shit! Celebrity fight!” rather than, “Something is seriously wrong with Howard Stern’s mindset.”
And then, once Dunham had given him huggle wuggles on-air, they began portraying the situation as Stern making a slight misstep and Dunham being a “good sport” about his “cracks” regarding her weight. Aw, she’s such a sweet heart and a “darn good sport” because she came on his show and, rather than telling him that his behavior and comments towards her were unacceptable and that he should reconsider calling women “little girls” and insulting their bodies, she just let him sheepishly apologize and everything was all better.
It’s not that I don’t think people deserve forgiveness for saying idiotic things; believe me, I say idiotic shit all the time and apologize for it because I know I was wrong. My issue is that Stern, like most people who apologize only at the will of media coverage, didn’t seem to understand why those comments were wrong. But “being a good sport” is more important for many young women who want to be taken seriously rather than seen as some sort of bitch who gets upset over “cracks” about their bodies.