Lena Dunham Brought the Sexual Revolution to “Scandal”

·News Editor

Lena Dunham has done almost as much for women in the past few years as Gloria Steinem. Bold statement, I know. On Girls, she’s made millennials more than just leeches sucking pennies from their parents that pundits make the entire generation out to be. She’s #freedthenipple so many times that she should be the face of the revolution, brings sex to television in an honest and refreshing way, and loves her body and herself, which makes her characters relatable but healthily aspirational. On Thursday night, when Dunham guest starred on Scandaleven though she was transported into Shondaland, a less realistic world that portrays humans in all their messed up glory—she didn’t leave her iconic Dunhamness behind.

Dunham—in a bad mousy-haired wig—played Sue, a woman who wrote about the numerous sexual escapades she’s had with a string of power player partners. After losing her job, she sends the manuscript to publishers. Even though the character kept the names anonymous, the “salacious illuminati” that she’s bedded find out about the impending manuscript, which, if published, would ruin their reputations, careers, and families. And that’s where Olivia Pope, played by Kerry Washington, steps in.

But Pope, who puts career before feminism and often plays the devil’s advocate, doesn’t push Sue up as the next Bell Hooks. Instead, the bonafide crisis manager tells her to kill the tell-all, because revealing details of consensual sexual acts would violate an unspoken contract of trust. But Sue doesn’t see it that way and tells Pope off for being weak.

“You make Rumsfeld look like a nanny, that’s how badass you are. You and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. That’s it. That’s all we got,” Sue said. “Instead of celebrating the fact that I totally own my body and use it however I want, with whomever I want, as many times as I want, in as many kinky ways as I want, you’re shaking your finger at me, you’re calling me names because I had the audacity to have too much great sex. As if picking up a stranger in a bar for a dirty screw is a crime…I’m not ashamed. This is my life, my body.” The tell-off was the perfect mix of a classic Shonda Rhimes character soap box soliloquy with Dunham’s personal politics.

Body-shaming, Dunham’s pièce de résistance, even made its way into the elaborate script. Abby, the show’s White House press secretary, tells her boyfriend, who has an entire chapter in Sue’s book, that she has to resign because of him. “There are anonymous blogs that say I’m too skinny. They have a running joke that I’m on a hunger strike until I can be liberated by the Democrats,” she said. While Abby’s good at her job, comments are made about her repeating outfits (even though she’s on a government salary), makeup, and hair color. And everything that’s written about her also mentions her significant other, as if in order for her work to be publicized, it needs to be validated by the fact that there’s a man that wants her. Her dating life gives her an identity, a definition.

A little bit of Dunham was exactly what Scandal needed. Pope might be highly-respected in D.C. circles, but her accomplishments have been overshadowed by her love life, more specifically not being able to choose between the sexy President and the sexy serial killer/spy/Naval commander. Even though Sue has a tragic ending—meaning, sadly, no repeat appearance—her impact will surpass her screen time. Pope learned a valuable lesson from Sue: Don’t let men define you. Also, have sex because it’s fun and might make you get over your PTSD.

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