One of the classic motifs of female empowerment movies is the woman victimized by a man or men who comes back strong, and either makes herself a success or wreaks vengeance on her former oppressor or both. Think of She-Devil, the Bridget Jones movies, The First Wives Club, Working Girl, The Heat, Double Jeopardy, 9 to 5, Enough, Norma Jean, Legally Blond, Woody Allen’s Celebrity, What’s Love Got to Do With It, Thelma and Louise, and Beauty Shop to name just a few movies over the past few decades that appropriate the female-victim-to-victory plot in one way or another.
The journey from victim to victory resonates strongly in books and movies because it describes the lives of so many women, especially of the Baby Boom generation, which really was the cutting edge of the various feminist movements. Successful movies tend to reflect the aspirations, fears and hopes of the public. Women and men both cheer for the wronged woman as she puts her life together and blossoms into a successful person, whether or not she gets her revenge, and whether or not we also like her initial spouse (who is sometimes a sympathetic roué). And with good reason: most women will know a woman who has been hurt by a man who cheated on or mistreated her, or will have experienced it herself.
In the 2016 political campaign version of this movie, Hillary Clinton plays the heroine. To try to blacken her reputation or bona fides as a champion for women’s rights by invoking sexual scandals that are now two decades old is a move bound to backfire. None but the dyed-in-the-polyester Hillary haters will believe that her actions or comments about Bill’s women were particularly vicious or anti-woman. Her few nasty comments about some of her husband’s accusers in fact seem quite restrained compared to what I have heard my cousins and women friends say about the men who were unfaithful to them. Men, of course, are much more vehement when cuckolded, but then again, their vocabulary tends to be saltier than a woman’s, at least outside of the contemporary spurt of “women behaving badly” films.
The mendacious smear that Hillary was as responsible if not more so for the alleged mistreatment or harassment of women by our former President (I write “alleged,” because virtually all of Bill’s peccadillos appear to have been consensual) is as big a lie as last week’s big lie that Hillary started the rumor that President Obama was not born in the United States and Donald Trump ended it.
There are many ways for women (and men) to get extremely angry at Trumpty-Dumpty and his campaign for dredging up the personal affairs of his opponent from last century:
Women (and men) will be angry at the hypocrisy of someone who was twice caught cheating on wives and has been accused of statutory rape now blaming a woman who was the victim of infidelity.
Women will be angry that he is trying to shift the blame for the affair from the perpetrator to the victim.
Women will be angry if and when they make the connection between Trump’s view of women and his excavating of the Clinton’s past: that Hillary is a less qualified candidate to be president because she couldn’t hang on to her man.
Women will be angry at the clownish pomposity of Trump congratulating himself on not bringing up Bill’s philandering at the debate, even as he was bringing it up.
Women will be angry that he and other Republicans don’t understand that by staying together and repairing their marriage that the Clinton’s affirmed the traditional value of marriage so important to most people, from ultra-conservatives to lefties.
Women will be angry when they contemplate his conflation of personal matters with professional ones, as in his tweet, “If Hillary Clinton can't satisfy her husband what makes her think she can satisfy America?” which is not only scurrilous but also shows only a pre-teen’s understanding of human nature and what can happen between people.
Women will get angry when they make the natural comparison of Bill Clinton’s actions and words and Trump’s. Remember that Clinton has never been caught saying anything disrespectful of women in general or any particular woman for being a woman—even of his accusers. Maybe it’s because he sincerely loves and respects women (perhaps a little too much in the past). The length of a list of Trump’s insults of women for being women is only matched by the list of his business failures and scandals and only topped by the list of his lies. Among other sick rationales, Trump has dumped on women for their looks, for their bathroom habits, for gaining weight, for their speech and for their silence, for breastfeeding, for imagined changes in professional behavior during menstruation, for their “manipulation” of men, for growing old and for their stamina.
Where’s the win here for Trump, except to pander to his core of support? It’s perhaps the single most stupid gambit ever played in a political race.
Hillary is handling it in exactly the right way. She won’t talk about the scandals and she won’t bring up Trump’s personal life. Hillary rightfully considers Trumpty-Dumpty’s many sexist comments about other women, such as Alicia Machado, Carly Fiorina, Ghazala Khan and his own daughter, to be fair and in bounds for a discussion. But her “I won’t go low” approach regarding the personal lives of her and her opponent is exactly the right approach.
Meanwhile the many well-respected Clinton surrogates, including President Obama, Michelle Obama, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Joe Biden, Jennifer Granholm and Amy Klobuchar will continue to point out how deceptive and truly disgusting it is for Trump to blame Hillary for any pain inflicted by her husband on his paramours or to try to discredit her dedication to improving the lives of women.
It’s a perfect strategy that needs one more thing. I would like to see Bill Clinton get real mad and talk into the camera as if it were Trumpty-Dumpty himself and say, “Condemn me for my past behavior all you want, but say nothing bad about my beautiful and talented wife who saw it in her humanity to forgive this sinner and take him back.”
Amen to that, sisters and brothers.