Amidst this campaign’s bickering about which candidate is women’s friend or foe, the Obama camp targets young women in an eye-catching web ad intended as feminist but, in fact, profoundly insulting. Its main effect is to show that, while the Republicans have serious “woman problems” of their own making, the Democrats often peddle a pseudo-feminist paternalism that reeks of condescension.
The one-minute Obama for America spot features Lena Dunham, 26-year-old creator and star of the HBO show Girls, addressing a college-age female audience. “Your first time shouldn’t be with just anybody. You want to do it with a great guy,” Dunham says. “Someone who really cares about and understands women. It should be with a guy who cares whether you get health insurance, and specifically whether you get birth control.” At the end of the video, Dunham reminisces in hushed giddy tones, “My first-time voting was amazing… Before, I was a girl; now, I was a woman.” Then, with a coy suggestive grin, she discloses that she voted for (who else?) Barack Obama.
How to count the ways in which this is wrong? To start with, there’s the innuendo-laced voting-as-sex (or sex-as-voting) metaphor, in which a woman’s exercise of her basic right of citizenship is analogized both to choosing her first lover and to giving her virginity to the man she chooses as leader. It plays like a parody of the sexist clichés that reduce women’s lives to their sexual functions—and women’s politics to eroticized worship for the ultimate alpha male.