'If Jennifer Lawrence feels this pressure, imagine what it's like for women who don't necessarily have that power and profile,' Dunham says
Amy Schumer may have meant the statement as a clever punchline in her Saturday Night Live monologue, but it really is “an exciting time for women in Hollywood.” After all, one of the most resounding testimonials about gender inequality in the industry came from Jennifer Lawrence — and she’s not the only star speaking up about the issue.
In Lena Dunham’s newsletter Lenny, the Hunger Games actress penned an honest, illuminating essay about how she no longer cares about being seen as “adorable” when expressing her opinions. It was a piece that came “fully formed,” Dunham says, pointing out that the issue doesn’t just affect women in Hollywood; it affects women in every industry at any level of pay.
Dunham spoke with EW after the letter was published and made waves, spurring support from her colleagues. And with Lenny itself taking off since its launch in September — the Girls mastermind interviewed Hillary Clinton for the first issue — Dunham also took some time to reflect on Lenny‘s success while emphasizing the need for more stars to join Lawrence in advocating for equality.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Jennifer Lawrence’s essay in Lenny got people talking very quickly. Did you anticipate the massive response to her letter before you published it?
LENA DUNHAM: Obviously, she’s a newsmaker, and she’s a force to be reckoned with, and whatever she does, whether it’s a film or press or flipping the bird, is massively impactful. But, I think what has been so thrilling is the way that people have taken this message and are really connecting to the inherent humanity in what she’s saying… I think people are responding to the content, they’re responding to who she is, but they’re also responding to the strength of the piece. I mean, there’s a lot of pull quotes from that piece. She masters the art of the pull quote on her first published essay.
Before she submitted the essay, did you talk to her about the tone she would be using? How much did you work with her on it?
This essay came fully birthed. I let Jen know that we were doing Lenny, and I basically just said, you know, if you ever have a feminist gripe that you want to share, we are a place where we want women to be able to do that safely. Very shortly thereafter, this piece arrived entirely, fully formed, and it was clearly something that she had been ready to write and that she was ready to express. And we’re very glad she did!
So she just emailed it to you just the way it is?
We do basic copy editing because everyone forgets a period or a comma every now and then, but she truly had the clearest sense of what she wanted to say. It just popped right out of her skull that way. And you know, obviously the message is amazing, but it’s just, she has a great tone as a writer. I think that honesty and that humor she’s just able to convey when she’s talking about an incredibly challenging, a pretty emotional topic, made it.
The issue has become a hot topic recently, and not just because of the letter. What are your thoughts on how the conversation has changed? Why has attention to it increased?
Well, I think what Jen did that’s so great in the letter is that she talked about learning that she was making less, but she also talked about the desire to be likable and how that interferes with our ability as women to advocate for ourselves, especially in situations that involve money. I loved that she took that approach to examine the industry but also to examine the societal factor, the fact that we raise our girls [in a way] that causes them to ask for less than they are worth…
What I really connected to when I read the piece was the idea of likability. It’s something I hear about all the time, whether it’s critique of my characters or critique of a director, and I think the fact that Jen was able to articulate that we spend so much time on our delivery that we forget about our message is so profound. “I’m sick of trying to find the adorable way to say something” is such a relatable statement. It’s so painful when I look back and think about all the moments that I minced words because of the fact that I didn’t want to be perceived as a bitch, a diva, or an a–hole.
And then you end up saying “sorry” and acting cute.
Oh my God, you end up saying sorry so much. You end up acting like you know less than you do and you end up hiding your intelligence…
After publishing this letter, where will Lenny go next? Will you continue to feature more essays like this one?
I think our biggest hope, I mean, we will have essays covering all the topics that we think are essential to women right now. We want to be a useful place for women to go to think about feminism, to promote equality and to, you know, learn about tube tops! We’re so excited that people have responded as hungrily as they have, and our desire is to keep putting out content that inspires our readers.
Aside from keeping the conversation going, what should be done next?
Hollywood is obviously a microcosm, but it’s also a macrocosm, and the conversation in Hollywood filters out. I think we have a responsibility as people who are on the public stage to have conversations about these issues. There were a couple of reactions that were, like, this girl makes more money than anyone can ever dream of, but [Jennifer] acknowledges that; it doesn’t mean it isn’t fully understanding the way in which women are unable to represent themselves…
If Jennifer Lawrence has dealt with it, just imagine what the negotiating process is like for a female actor who doesn’t have her level of leverage. And then let’s apply that to women around the country who are in even starker situations when it comes to the wage gap in their non-Hollywood jobs. It’s an issue in every single level of women in the workforce… If Jennifer Lawrence feels this pressure, imagine what it’s like for women who don’t necessarily have that power and profile. I’m just so glad that that was the dialogue that she was able to begin.