Lena Dunham uses Sundance to talk about sexual assault, women's rights

Jan 26, 2015 at 10:02 a.m. ET

With a lineup including Lena Dunham, Mindy Kaling and Kristen Wiig, you're sure to fall in love with everything that is said.

And these amazingly intelligent and hilarious women sure didn't disappoint at the Sundance Film Festival's Power of Story: Serious Ladies panel.

The always poignant and so incredibly well-spoken, I-can-only-one-day-hope-to-be-as-eloquent Dunham nailed it on a few current hot buttons and brought the house down. Several times.

Most of the conversation stemmed from the fact that Dunham and her cohort are always wrestling with the public not being able to separate them in real life from the characters they play on-screen.

She said, "People equate the words coming out of your character's mouth with a real-life philosophy that you don't possess." And she pointed out how ridiculous that is because it never seems to happen to the likes of other writers and actors (read: men) who do less than savory things on-screen, such as Woody Allen, as she brought up.

"I don't think that Larry David or Woody Allen or anyone else playing some version of themselves is walking around with a million people who think they know and understand them on a deep abiding level," Dunham said.

Then she really drove in the wedge, saying, "Woody Allen is proof that people don't think everything he says in his films is stuff that he does because all he was doing was making out with 17-year-olds for years, and we didn't say anything about it."

The crowd went wild, but she wasn't done. She said, "No one went that Woody Allen is making out with a 17-year-old in Manhattan and I guess he's a real perv… And then lo and behold…" Wiig then jumped in and very sarcastically added, "He fell in love." Insert huge eye roll.

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Wiig mentioned that if she were confused with the characters she's played, she'd probably end up in jail.

While Dunham's comments on Allen are [true] telling about the way the public holds Dunham and women in general on-screen to a different standard than men, it was her comments about not only inequality but sexual assault on American college campuses that really rings a loud bell.

Dunham has always been an outspoken supporter and advocate for women's rights and above all their right to choose what to do with their own bodies.

She said she doesn't think women are full citizens until they are fully and without judgment or question allowed to make all decisions about their own bodies. She also said reproductive rights in America is one of the most important political topics.

"The idea that women can't be complete and total citizens until they have control over the destiny of their own bodies. It's not just a political issue, it's not about class, race and it feeds into all these other forms of inequality and injustice that exist in our country." She also pointed out that women are "still fighting" for the right to terminate a pregnancy 42 years after Roe v. Wade.

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Dunham thinks the perfect place to start making some of these systemic changes in the way we think about women in our society is the place where we are already being educated. What a concept! It is also a place where there is a rampant problem that needs addressing in women's rights and freedoms, too.

"One of the reasons it is important to talk about campus assaults is that these women in positions of incredible privilege are still being forced every day to fight for their truth and that is indicative of that fact that sexual assault is an epidemic and so many people are voiceless," she said. She continued, "I think campuses are a great place to start because that's where we're being educated and that's where we're told we're going to be safe."

Applause, cheers. Doves should have been released, cannons should have been heard 'round the country and this should be the leading headline of every newspaper across our nation.

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But here's the truth: It won't be. The reality is this: Dunham has been very vocal about her own run-in with sexual assault while in college and has had to deal with her own national episode of victim-shaming, and as another writer points out in her article, "If an Emmy Award-winning actress can't even speak out about assault without being victim-blamed, what hope does the rest of the female population have?"

It's saddening and sickening that thoughts like that even exist in today's society.

But that's the truth, that's the world we live in.

But progress is being made. It might be moving at a glacial pace, but it's movement just the same.

It is sentiments and panels and comments like that of these women that help keep the conversation going. They put out into the public the feelings that some women don't have the power to disseminate. It is what these women are doing, creating strong central and lead female characters on television and in movies, standing up for, talking about and not shutting up about topics in comedy that the public finds taboo but really and truly need to be discussed.

Dunham once again brought it home, saying, "People are forgetting that humor is a tool for debate, that boycott, censorship, shut 'em down approach to humor shows a very basic lack of understanding of what humor can do for us culturally and what it has always done."

Hopefully, this panel discussion will resonate somewhere, get one more person thinking about these issues and maybe take their own stand against inequality and injustice toward women. Maybe it will start a conversation that has been long overdue or give the power back to one woman who has been made powerless. Here's to hoping these conversations continue everywhere.

I think you should set aside an hour or so in your day today to watch this discussion.