Lena Dunham's memoir release and the subsequent scandal makes this the perfect time to address the next thing on the list: Normal Childhood exploration.
I was recently reminded by a well meaning individual that all kids go through a phase of being curious about their bodies. While they meant it to mean I had misinterpreted this simply life fact and using it to support my case of childhood sexual abuse was using air to hold up my case; they are not wrong. Kids do go through their normal stages of development being curious of their bodies and their peers/family members. When we think of babies or even toddlers stumbling about their homes, dropping to the floor and putting their face into the carpet because the are curious about the texture and how the view of everything from the floor is different, so it follows that they would look at themselves and what must seem like odd and fascinating features to them and be filled with the same curiosity. Kid's health says "By preschool, most kids have developed a strong sense of being a boy or girl, and continue to explore their bodies even more purposefully. It's not a good idea to scold them when they touch themselves — this will only prompt a sense of guilt and shame.Parents may, however, want to explain that even though it feels good, touching should be done in private — preschoolers are old enough to understand that some things are not meant to be public. They're also old enough to understand that no one — not even family members or other people they trust — should ever touch them in a way that feels uncomfortable. Your preschooler will continue to learn important sexual attitudes from you — from how you react to people of the opposite sex to how you feel about nudity. Parents may, however, want to explain that even though it feels good, touching should be done in private — preschoolers are old enough to understand that some things are not meant to be public. They're also old enough to understand that no one — not even family members or other people they trust — should ever touch them in a way that feels uncomfortable. Your preschooler will continue to learn important sexual attitudes from you — from how you react to people of the opposite sex to how you feel about nudity.
Parents may, however, want to explain that even though it feels good, touching should be done in private — preschoolers are old enough to understand that some things are not meant to be public. They're also old enough to understand that no one — not even family members or other people they trust — should ever touch them in a way that feels uncomfortable. Your preschooler will continue to learn important sexual attitudes from you — from how you react to people of the opposite sex to how you feel about nudity."
Due to the belief that organizations like CPS are anti family, anti Christian Home School I have often heard this idea that parents are afraid of being victims of the system because their child engaged in normative sexual development behavior, and it being seen as a sign of them molesting the child. In fact the well meaning individual went on to tell me that they knew of examples of where this horrifying tale became reality and that parents where falsely accused. It comes with this presumption and fear about the system and there is always some incident that seems to confirm the fear, even if the actual incidents of false accusation are a very small percentage. I am also fairly certain, but I will have to do a little more research into the process, that CPS would not base a whole case of childhood sexual abuse based on normative incidents of sexual development.
So if that being the case, aside from a belief perspective why the fear? Is it that hard to differentiate between normal and abnormal sexual behavior in children? Yes and no "(...) when a child engages in sexual behaviors, it can be difficult to decide when the behavior is natural and healthy, and when it may reflect a problem or disturbance. The normative behaviors of childhood and adolescence are of concern when they are extensive or suggest preoccupation, or involve others in ways that are not consensual. Sexual behaviors in children present a special concern when they appear as prominent features in a child’s life, or when sexual play or behaviors are not welcomed by other children involved in the play. This is the point at which sexually harmful and aggressive behaviors most closely and clearly hinges." http://www.mnadopt.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/Recognizing-Healthy-Unhealthy-Sexual-Development-in-Children.pdf When a child's sexual behavior seems to spill out all over their life, that is when to put up the red flag. Also in my personal opinion certain types of self exploration paired with other factors can also be indications of abuse, and a good time for parents, teachers to tune into what is going on in the child's world. I believe that is what organizations like CPS begin to take into account when their is concerns about child sexual abuse. In working with parts of the educational system I have observed that things like sexual play, or self exploration will be usually noted and general observation of whether or not in other factors seem to present will be made. If there is nothing else it stays in the child's file as a simple behavior note. As a survivor when you are looking over your history and trying to piece together what happened those are the things to keep in mind. You can begin to discern between what was normal and what really caused by abuse. And while you will be told by abusers and their defenders that "it was all normal" you can stay strong in what you know, re-visit the facts and look at all the puzzle pieces that come together forming the truth.
Now we come to Lena Dunham and her now infamous memoir passages discussing sexual behaviors during childhood. In light of knowing that sex exploration is normal, why is Lena's account troubling? They way she describes what occurred shows a level of preoccupation about sex that seems to have existed in childhood and persisted in adulthood. It is possible that she chose to write about normal sexual development incidents in a provocative manner to incite drama and get excess amounts of press coverage. But personally I think it is more than that, taking into account what she describes, what we know about her parents, her upbringing, it all comes together as a portrait of someone who was abused. Books like the courage to heal will back me up when I say that the possible types of sexual exposure Dunham experienced was childhood sexual abuse. Her mothers lack of concern when she found Dunham and her sister engaged in sexual play shows that she was not necessarily a parent who was in tune with her children. I don't think she was simply unconcerned because she found the behavior to be normal. In fact her reaction mimics a pattern of disconnection by one parent when the other is being inappropriate or creating an inappropriate environment. This could be because their is spousal abuse in play, or they are coping with the situation through disconnection and denial.
Dunhams age at the time of the incidents means that she was not yet in a developmental stage where she would have come into her own sexually. Her actions seem to indicate premature sexual behavior due to external influences. Age 7 is not old enough to be thinking about masturbating next to someone without other influences in play. The Courage to Heal says " Sometimes children who are sexually abused molest other children. When children mimic and repeat what was done to them, this is called abuse-reactive behavior. Sometimes these victims are too young to understand that what they're doing is wrong and can harm the other child. Most children who act out sexually with children feel an enormous guilt and shame."
I don't think Lena wants to cause shock and awe in the sense that we might assume. I think there is that inner child in her that is still trying to sort out what happened in her environment, I think she is trying to find ownership over her sexuality and find ownership instead of shame about her interactions with her sister. If she comes off as sexually independent and edgy then she doesn't have to feel the shame. Much of this probably occurring on an unconscious level. I think that is why she included those things in her memoir, she is still acting out and that the little girl in her still trying to make sense of what she was exposed to. Again from an unconscious place she might be trying to pass it off as provocative, or normal to make herself feel better. Do I think her memoir was appropriate? No, and I do not think she should be defended as someone who is just sexually empowered, I think the opposite is true. Dunham has acted out in a very public manner, trying to express herself even if on an unconscious level. She is trying to get someone to hear her, to acknowledge her experience. Perhaps she is trying to acknowledge it to herself. She also might be projecting it outward because it is too much to hold on to internally. There is a lot of discussion going on about boundaries, consent and raising children who are healthy in their sexual development. I think this is a great opportunity to engage on those subjects. However as a survivor I feel that childhood sexual abuse is not yet an important enough part of the general discussion. I think what she is expressing is an uncomfortable subject for our culture. We don't like to deal with sexual abuse, especially not graphically. That's why Dunhams memoir has for the most part formed three groups of thought, that she is either a sexual revolutionary (a feminist), she is a predator, or was simply not taught good boundaries. It would make our culture happier to couch her behavior in terms of bad boundaries, by doing that it excuses us from having to take a deeper look. It's almost like comparing it to a child growing up without ever learning to clean up after themselves. The truth is her behavior during childhood was likely more complicated than a lack of boundaries, or being a predator. And in no way is it simply about Dunham writing about childhood sexual development in a feminist fashion. In fact their was nothing feminist about her choice to write about her experience in the manner she did nor in her descriptions. While Dunahm may be unconsciously acting out, she is still engaging in unhealthy, dare I say inappropriate behavior. I am concerned about her lack of understanding about consent and am somewhat horrified for her sister. I do not yet know if her sister gave her permission to write about their childhood interactions, but even if she did Dunham's descriptions are in my opinion disrespectful and do not paint a portrait of child's play or consent, but of objectification. It was not thoughtful or reflective, her dialogue was highly sexual and erotic in tone. I had looked up to Dunham as an empowered feminist of my generation, I was excited that fashion magazines chose to put her on the cover, a normal curvy woman. Now I feel sadness, and concern. I hope, even though I disagree with her behavior, is that as a culture we are able to open a broader discussion up about childhood sexual abuse. I hope we don't just shuffle aside Dunham's blatant way of engaging in a difficult subject ( even if poorly done) for what makes us comfortable.