Rebecca Traister, who wrote Big Girls Don’t Cry, the single best book about the 2008 Democratic primary contest, has written about Monica Lewinsky’s essay in Vanity Fair, and has supersmart things to say about our tendency to cherchez les femmes instead of placing the blame for men’s poor behavior where it belongs–on the men. Instead of antagonists, she writes, Lewinsky and Hillary Clinton are doppelgangers:
In the fervid investigation and coverage of it, both women got hammered—as slutty and frigid, overweight and ugly, dumb and monstrous. They each became cartoons of dismissible femininity—the sexually defined naïf and the calculating, sexless aggressor, characters who illustrated the ways that sex—sex that’s had by men as well—always redounds negatively on women. These two women weren’t at odds; they were in it together.
. . . . .
The reason that, no matter what they do, neither woman can ever shake this old story is that it is never-ending; and it is important. It is the story of women in the United States: marginalized, sexualized, and pitted against each other since time began in an attempt to keep them at the fringes of a power structure and very far from the top of it.
Go read the whole thing. (Why isn’t this woman a staff writer at a legacy magazine like The New Republic, The Nation, or The New Yorker? I sure as $hit would rather read her than Adam “let me
sell tell you about my adorably precocious children” Gopnik, or some of the other very predictable writers at those publications.) Traister takes us down memory lane to remind us that it was feminists too who played a large part in piling on Lewinsky in particular, although Clinton suffered a backlash in 2008 when many feminists defected to back Barack Obama in the Dem primary–allegedly because of their disgust at the way Clinton dealt with news of her husband’s affair with Lewinsky.
Something kind of shocking to me is to be reminded of the fact that Lewinsky is 40 now, only five years younger than me. At the time she became national news, I remember thinking that part of the problem with the face of feminism fifteen years ago was that it didn’t include more women closer to Lewinsky’s age, and that it was mostly composed of women closer to Clinton’s age. Feminists my age were much more sensitive to the power dynamics at play, but most bourgeois feminists with some kind of public identity as feminists appeared to identify with Clinton, and not with Lewinsky. I remember thinking that Lewinsky wasn’t a victim of sexual predation, but that she was surely a victim of media, political, and public prurience since the exposure of the affair, and that she was far less protected or equipped to deal with it than the Clinton family.