“The whole thing was so shocking,” Dunham, 30, tells PEOPLE. “I know that hearing those words was painful for everybody.”
“I think women, and people of color, and Muslims who have been searched at the airport, and transpeople who have been denied their rights, all know what it feels like to have their body taken from them,” she says. “Those comments aren’t just about women — they were about everyone whose body is treated like the property of other people.”
While Trump has a history of body shaming and making misogynistic comments about women, the leaked recording from a conversation Trump had with Access Hollywood‘s Billy Bush struck a nerve with the public and many Republicans who had previously endorsed Trump.
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Dunham believes it was the graphic nature of his comments that caused the outrage.
“To hear someone in a position of power, in the race for the highest office in the land, to say something that is so distinctly violent, and so distinctly abusive — I think it creates a lot of fear and a lot of sort of pain in the public consciousness that we’re going to be dealing with for a long time,” she says.
And for Dunham and the estimated one out of every six women who have experienced sexual assault, Trump’s words brought back painful memories.
“It’s scary, and it’s triggering, and it brings up experiences that we’ve all had, because I guarantee you — so many of the women who heard him say that flashed back to experiences of their own of unwanted physical contact, and that is what is so destructive about that,” she says.
“I think hearing something that’s out and out abusive, and describing unwanted physical contact — and what he described qualifies as an assault, what he described is violent — and I think that men suddenly started to understand that he wasn’t just funny, he wasn’t just saying what no one else would say,” she says.
“I have a lot of men in my life, and a lot of men who have probably said and done things that they’ve regretted, and that’s not what their locker room talk is like.”
Dunham also spoke about how Billy Bush chimed in. “Billy Bush — whatever his deal is — it made me sad to listen to this person who felt like he had to play along with this old rich guy saying disgusting things just to be part of a club. It made me sad about American masculinity,” she says.
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One positive, Dunham says, is how women like Kelly Oxford took to social media to say that Trump’s comments were not okay.
“What I’m really proud of is how many women have taken to the Internet and loudly used their voices to say, listen, I’ve got a problem with Donald Trump and his policies, but this — this is not okay,” Dunham says. “It’s one thing to have a tax policy I don’t agree with. But this is violent, this is destructive, this is not a person who should be a person who should be in power.”