Actress, memoirist, and newsletter publisher Lena Dunham is one of Hillary Clinton’s most prominent campaign surrogates. Their relationship has worked out well so far: Clinton benefits from the attention of Dunham’s Millennial fans, while Dunham, who made her name in comedy, gets to align herself (and her brand) with the one of the world’s most powerful politicians. According to Amy Chozick of The New York Times, however, Dunham initially expressed some misgivings about her future alignment with the Clinton clan, apparently before she began showing up at Hillary Clinton’s campaign rallies:
“The way [Hillary Clinton] has been treated is just more evidence of the fact that our country has so much hatred toward successful women,” Ms. Dunham, the creator and star of the HBO series “Girls,” said at a Clinton campaign event in Manchester, N.H.
But at 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.
In other words, Dunham wasn’t unfamiliar, by the time she began campaigning for Clinton, with the candidate’s now-infamous behavior toward women like Sandra Allen James, Juanita Broaddrick, Carolyn Moffet, and Paula Jones, among others. Each of those women has claimed Clinton’s husband either sexually assaulted them (James, Broaddrick, Moffet) or harassed them (Jones). In response, as Carl Bernstein of The Washington Post documented in his 2008 biography of the former First Lady, Hillary Clinton prosecuted a campaign to dig up dirt on anyone who accused Bill Clinton of sexual misconduct, in hopes of discrediting them and preserving her and her husband’s growing political power. “[Hillary Clinton] never doubted that if the women, and the enemies who used them, succeeded or became too visible and credible, the whole edifice could come down, including their marriage,” Bernstein wrote.
A core plank of feminist politics concerns the fact that women’s claims of abuse, particularly when they involve sexual assault, are routinely dismissed as lies or exaggerations by all kinds of political, legal, and social institutions. One of the most recent and prominent demonstrations of this toxic dynamic involved Dunham herself: In late 2014, conservative media outlets repeatedly accused her of lying about being raped while she was an undergraduate at Oberlin College, an incident she depicted in her memoir, Not That Kind of Girl. At the the time, Dunham wrote about the traumatizing experience of having “my character and credibility questioned at every turn.” It’s odd, then, that Dunham would stump for a candidate whose past behavior so directly mirrors those of her conservative antagonists.
Whether Dunham will have a change of heart about the Clinton family’s pattern of intimidation remains an open question. Judging from her social media presence, however, Dunham still seems dedicated to the Clinton cause:
Indeed, a spokeswoman for Dunham told the Times that her client remains “fully supportive of Hillary Clinton and her track record for protecting women” and dismissed the paper’s retelling of her Clinton comments as a “total mischaracterization.”