From left: Lena Dunham, Chelsea Clinton and America Ferrera share the stage at NeueHouse in Hollywood while speaking in support of Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. Photo by Danielle Berrin
It was a marvelous sight: Beneath a giant screen bearing a big “H” sat Chelsea Clinton, the daughter of a former president and a presidential hopeful; America Ferrera, a first-generation Latino-American actress; and Lena Dunham, the young, half-Jewish writer and creator of the HBO series “Girls.” They had gathered onstage at the Hollywood venue NeueHouse on the night of March 20 to proclaim their support for Hillary Clinton. (Full disclosure: I was invited because I’ve donated to Clinton’s campaign.)
During one of the nastiest election cycles in recent memory, in which xenophobic pandering has reached a new low, the evening offered an astonishing image of American politics in the 21st century: three powerful, accomplished (and quite young) women campaigning for their dream of crowning the nation’s first female commander in chief.
But the dream quickly gave way to a bitter reality.
“There’s this narrative about young women not being inspired by Hillary,” Ferrera, best known as the star of sitcom “Ugly Betty,” said. “And that’s just not the case.”
“When I first made it clear [on social media] that I was obviously voting for and campaigning for Hillary Clinton is when the vitriol started,” Dunham began. “And I want to say that I have received more hostility [from fellow Democrats] for voting for a qualified female candidate than I have ever received from anyone in the American right wing.”
The hip venue and casual, laid-back atmosphere belied the gravity of the evening’s message: that Clinton is targeted by a culture “so deep into the psychology of villainizing successful women,” as Dunham put it, her qualifications are often either dismissed or delegitimized — along with the credibility of her supporters.
As if to underscore the young-and-hip factor, Dunham wore a jean jacket with sewn-on patches and knee-high socks, while Ferrera looked more polished in a white blazer. The duo of actress-activists sought to prove that some young women are, in fact, electrified by Clinton and offered a litany of reasons for why they support her. Between them, a pregnant Chelsea Clinton, dressed in a simple black pantsuit, sat quietly while the stars delivered theater-worthy monologues to drum up more support.
Both women cited specific Clinton policy positions to illustrate how she aligns with their values. Ferrera talked about growing up as the daughter of an immigrant, single mother who raised six children on her own with very few resources, revealing that she depended on free meals at school. “I’m an American Latina who has experienced firsthand so many of the inequities that children and families from communities of color face in this country — the kinds of inequities Hillary has spent her entire career trying to change and understand,” Ferrera said in support of immigration reform.
Dunham had her list, too, but used her soapbox to speak more personally about the sexism she’s encountered for publicly supporting Clinton. “I’m kind of done with being polite about this,” she said. “The fact that other members of the Democratic Party have spoken to me like I was an ill-informed child for voting for someone who represents everything that I think this country should be, is outrageous.
“I’m sorry,” she continued, “but to be told by people who supposedly share your values and your goals that the choices you’re making come from a limited understanding of feminism and a limited understanding of your own needs is wrong.”
Dunham said she reached her “tipping point” last week when she received an anonymous comment on social media from someone alleging that Bernie Sanders “has done more for feminism than Hillary Clinton.”
“I. Lost. My. Freaking. Mind,” Dunham said to laughter and applause. A group of Sanders supporters known as the “BernieBros” have earned a reputation in the media as a “sexist mob” for posting misogynistic messages so offensive that even the Sanders campaign has tried to subdue them.
“The idea that you’re going to tell me that the woman who stepped into the White House when I was 6 years old and made me think it was possible to live the life I wanted, and say the things I believed in, has somehow not done enough for women in her career, is so offensive to the core of my being that I should probably stop talking right now because I’m going to turn into a shaking, ogre monster,” Dunham said.
Lest anyone accuse these women of voting for Clinton for any reason other than her values and her record, Dunham and Ferrera spoke plainly about the role feminism plays in their choice.
“I think it’s pretty awesome that Hillary Clinton is a woman,” Ferrera said. “However, if you could show me a purple-faced, three-eyed, sexless Martian with a better record on defending women’s rights and fighting for the most vulnerable children and families, and working across party lines to actually get things done, then I would be out there campaigning for that Martian.”
“When I’m told I am voting for [Clinton] only because she’s female and I’m female, I’m like, ‘If that was case, I’d be out campaigning for Carly Fiorina,’ ” Dunham said to laughter. “I’m sitting here before you as a voter who is fully informed. It doesn’t mean we’re using our whatever … vaginas … to vote for president. Which is the most insane concept.”
Their message inspired the crowd, a mix millenials and Gen Xers, but also underscored Clinton’s weakness among young voters who feel galvanized by Sanders’ message of economic equality. Again and again, the actresses used terms such as “hard won,” “unglamorous,” “unsexy” and “slow going” to describe Clinton’s work, while Sanders calls for revolution. In a thinly veiled reference to her mother’s Democratic opponent, Chelsea Clinton insisted that this is not a “single-issue” country and Americans can’t afford to have a single-issue president.
Due to give birth to her second child this summer, Chelsea Clinton said becoming a mother has deepened her appreciation for politics. For her, there is a simple litmus test for candidates that has nothing to do with gender, race, strength or even experience: “Am I being well represented?” she asked. “Are my values being represented?”
There are troubling realities to confront with every candidate. Being a woman shouldn’t be one of them.