Ever since Hillary Clinton announced another bid to run for president, there has been something I’ve wanted to address. While it could be about the email controversy or Benghazi or the Clintons’ foundation, it’s not. This week, the mainstream press and social media were all aflutter over an interview Hillary Clinton did, and I had that gnawing feeling again.
Thank you Lena Dunham.
For those of you who never watch HBO or follow what trends affect younger generations, you have to understand who Dunham is to get the gist of this piece. Dunham is the creator of “Girls,” a comedy-drama mostly focused on millennials living in New York. It’s more unabashedly raw than “Sex and the City” and Dunham, who also stars in the show, plays an angst-ridden writer.
Recently, Dunham sat down with Hillary Clinton for an interview clearly geared toward younger voters and Dunham giving Clinton a de facto endorsement. The ultimate takeaway – as the two were clearly smitten with each other – was that Hillary is a feminist and young women need to take note of this.
But I take umbrage with this characterization being so automatically attached to Clinton, who mostly blames her husband’s affair with Monica Lewinsky on herself and the young intern, according to multiple sources.
What an odd response for a feminist.
Monica Under the Microscope
Yes, Lewinsky did a TED Talk and received a standing ovation after a Forbes’ Under 30 Summit. But New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd, in her column “Burning the Beret,” was critical about Lewinsky’s 2014 Vanity Fair essay and photo spread. (I wonder what Dowd thinks of all the narratives of mistresses and affairs threaded through primetime television and cable series today.)
Dowd dissing Lewinsky and Clinton calling Lewinsky a “narcissistic loony” don’t really seem very supportive of other women and their journeys, which is what feminism is partially about, correct?
And their comments seems more than a tad bit unfair.
Why? Because many leaders and elected officials – who are imbued with the public’s trust – make mistakes. But Lewinsky is not one of them.
Bill Clinton was.
My observation is that the onus to uphold the public’s trust rested with the president. It did not rest with a young impressionable woman attracted to the most important leader in the free world. Even though the court of public opinion pulverized her morals and decisions, we should note that U.S. citizens never voted for Lewinsky on any ballot.
As we can tell from the possibility of the Clinton political brand occupying the Oval Office for what amounts to more than one-third of the average person’s life, it’s clear the former president and his defender-in-chief survived (even thrived) after the hubbub, so why not Lewinsky?
When the scandal volcanized, one of the guilty parties was a charismatic and political genius and the other party, little known.
Then Lewinsky (long before the gold-and-white versus blue-and-black social-media debate) made the color of a dress publicly relevant. She helped cement Matt Drudge’s career and catapulted Kenneth Starr and others into the center of a massive controversy that helped jumpstart online publishing.
Does Dunham Really Get It?
Dunham, who is 29, was a kid when the affair became a media maelstrom. But now we are to trust her implicitly that she can identify what feminism is, the many shapes it takes, and overlook how the downfalls of women have historically been linked to the ascents of men.
Many years after this scandal, I am vexed that Lewinsky still feels so exposed and infamous, and Clinton is the proclaimed feminist. This, because of an affair and scandal in which many seemingly supported and forgave – in the aftermath – Bill Clinton and not Lewinsky? This seems chauvinistic.
When affairs happen that involve prominent Americans, our social and cultural mores inevitably turn the parties into either victims or villains, with nothing in between. And we sentence certain participants to silence and ridicule until they seek to autopsy the Scarlett Letter or perhaps hire revisionists and Olivia-Pope-style cleaners.
Dunham seems to have missed all these implications.
She is still part of a generation in which women statistically receive less pay than men, actresses are supposed to stay forever young, and some women are still judged for how good they look and how well they cook, while also managing tough careers.
Women are the primary healthcare advocates for themselves and their families. Some are left to raise children whose fathers are absent or care for elderly parents, without the luxury of wealth and multiple resources. Women nurture a massive world, and constantly are redefining themselves and their purpose, unfortunately and sometimes in circles of catty and highly competitive females.
Maybe Lewinsky is really the feminist here because she’s not willing to shoulder all the blame as she reclaims her life and learns how to love herself again.