There are few things more embarrassing than being caught on a New York City sidewalk in an embroidered Hillary Clinton sweater.
But “Girls” star Lena Dunham, who’s been sporting the designer campaign knitwear as part of her “Hillary Tour,” has something else to be ashamed of: according to a report in The New York Times, Dunham, who’s been pushing the Clinton line across the country for months, has her own doubts about her feminist hero’s qualifications.
[A]t an Upper East Side dinner party a few months back, Ms. Dunham expressed more conflicted feelings. She told the guests, at the Park Avenue apartment of Richard Plepler, the chief executive of HBO, that she was disturbed by how, in the 1990s, the Clintons and their allies discredited women who said they had had sexual encounters with or been sexually assaulted by former President Bill Clinton.
That’s hard to believe coming from a woman with a Hillary logo-emblazoned dress, who recently encouraged a roomful of Iowa feminists to defend themselves from the suggestion that they’d chosen Clinton as their pet candidate simply because she shops for her pantsuits in the women’s department.
There, Dunham extolled Hillary’s virtues, her “tenacity,” and her “conviction” in a “feminist pitch” that was supposed to convince caucusing co-eds that Clinton—and not her former-president husband, whose coat-tails she rode to political success—was, indeed, responsible for breaking the federal glass ceiling, fending off “sexist attacks” along the way. To Dunham, at least in public, Hillary is nothing if not the Patron Saint of Patriarchy-Smashing.
The Target Audience Isn’t Convinced
Oddly enough, Dunham’s audience was as conflicted as she seemed to be at that HBO party. Among the students who turned out to hear Dunham’s stump speech, many were just there to see her. In the caucus later this month, they’re casting a ballot for Bernie Sanders.
‘I’m here for Lena, but I haven’t decided between Hillary and Bernie,’ said Heather Hughes, 33, of Cedar Rapids. ‘I don’t want to vote for someone for president of the United States because I love Lena Dunham.’
That’s bad news for Hillary, who has made women’s issues the cornerstone of her campaign. She, after all, has little else to stand on against Sanders. She’s a Wall Street-friendly politician who courted corporate donors to bankroll her and her husband’s post-presidency careers, jetting across the globe, earning hundreds of thousands for speaking events and appearances.
She’s also certainly no DC outsider, having served, even aside from her time as First Lady, in Washington for the last several decades. Of her top political donors, many are big banks and law firms, some are reportedly friends with career criminals, and few are unrecognizable Democratic mainstays.
Worst still, even fewer of her supporters are the true progressives propelling Sanders forward. To attract hardcore feminists, Hillary Clinton needs to be more than just a Democrat these days. She needs to be in tune with the collegiate crowd that’s demanding safe spaces with soft puppies and coloring books so they don’t have to hear conflicting viewpoints.
She has to be willing to embrace a fundamentally different economy that solves “income inequality” and, more importantly, forgives thousands in student loans these activists have accrued obtaining useless gender studies degrees. She has to embrace attacks on the “1 percent,” the ever-changing theology of Occupy Wall Street, the #BlackLivesMatter manifesto, the principles of Communism, a hatred of GamerGate, a lack of taste in haircuts, and a love of Tumblr. But Hillary Clinton can’t do so with any credibility.
Furious Pandering Has Worked No Wonders
She’s tried, bless her heart. She even took up “subversive knitting,” a wildly popular pastime among women with active LiveJournals, and sought the endorsement of Planned Parenthood. But try as she might, she hasn’t been able to muscle in on feminism’s inner circle.
Her Planned Parenthood foray, for example, ended in an explosion on the “reproductive health” advocate’s Facebook wall as outraged supporters wailed in protest, demanded their money back, and bemoaned Planned Parenthood’s political giving. It seems that legion upon legion of agitated pro-choicers were suddenly discovering that the women’s health-care provider was a translucent shell for a special interest group (Sanders, by the way, quickly used their unease to his advantage, branding PP an “insider organization”).
It seems Sanders—an ancient political insider from Vermont who reminds most people of that uncle who shows up to dinner every Thanksgiving having never washed his polyester pants since buying them sometime in the 1970s—is the feminist ideal.
Then there’s the matter of Clinton’s “commitment” to the victims of sexual assault. Protecting young women from the “hunting ground” of college campuses, where, apparently, young men are lurking around every corner, just waiting for an unsuspecting co-ed to attack and oppress, has become a rallying cry for modern feminism, even if the most famous occurrences of campus sexual assault—Rolling Stone’s famous “Jackie,” and Columbia’s “Mattress Girl”—have had their detailed stories of exploitation called into question. Hillary Clinton, it seems, is hardly the spokesperson for the downtrodden female victim.
Modern campus feminists may hardly remember the Clinton years, but the rumors of Hillary’s position as Chief Mistress Wrangler live on. According to a report in The New York Times, Hillary’s behavior toward her husband’s alleged sexual assault victims, is, to say the least, concerning. It’s even what inspired Dunham’s crisis of faith in her feminist hero.
After all, how can you confidently call yourself a feminist and openly support a woman who may or may not have threatened another woman her husband attacked in a hotel room on a campaign stop?
For Clinton, the problem is clear: feminism, which was once her rallying cry, has largely left her kind—Boomer women who paved the way through the upheaval of the 1960s—behind. Feminists, who no longer have to worry about real inequality in the workplace and at home, having been raised in a society where their mothers are just as successful as their fathers, where women’s issues are discussed openly on national television, and where wage gaps are apparent only over a lifetime, are focused more on their own comfort than their own futures.
Hillary Clinton may be a feminist hero, but she’s one on the Wall of Fame next to other dusty icons of the past.