So Lena Dunham is a sell-out. I'm not surprised, just disappointed.
Here I thought that the star and writer of HBO's "Girls" was a hip and fearless cultural icon and critic, challenging all of us — liberals and conservatives alike -- to rethink the standard feminist script about casual sex. But it turns out that Miss Dunham, hailed as the "voice of a generation," is just another mouthpiece for the most tired old strategy of keeping women in their places that I can think of — the reduction of young women to their reproductive organs. I think feminists used to call it "objectification," didn't they?
Miss Dunham's "First Time" ad, which went viral at the end of last week and caused a firestorm on the right, giddily compares voting for Barack Obama to losing your virginity. "My first time voting was amazing," Miss Dunham says in the ad for Mr. Obama. "It was this line in the sand: Before I was a girl; now I was a woman. I went to the polling station. I pulled back the curtain. I voted for Barack Obama."
Call me crazy, but when I think "first sexual experience," I don't think "big government" (even if both do have a tendency to promise more than they deliver). If Miss Dunham imagines her first vote was like good sex, then she has bigger problems than political naivete.
Not too long ago, I praised Miss Dunham's critically acclaimed HBO show "Girls" for its candid depiction of the hook-up culture. With its painfully awkward and unerotic sex scenes, the Emmy-nominated show revealed just how grim and degrading sex in the era of post-feminism has become, especially for women.
The show's message that casual sex leads to the objectification of women stood in direct contrast to the standard pop culture trope — found in shows like "Sex and the City," magazines like Cosmopolitan, and movies like "No Strings Attached" — that sex with no strings attached empowers girls.
"I felt like I was cruelly duped by much of the television I saw," Miss Dunham told the New York Times last spring on the eve of the debut of "Girls."
"I heard so many of my friends saying, 'Why can't I have sex and feel nothing?' It was amazing: that this was the new goal," she said in another interview with The Times.
Sex, in other words, is not a casual thing. To act like it is leads to the objectification of women.
That was Miss Dunham 1.0.
To Miss Dunham 2.0, women really are just sexual objects, after all. They make important decisions, like voting for president, by consulting what goes on between their legs rather than by what goes on between their ears. As she advises in the ad, "You want to do it with a guy who cares whether you get health insurance and specifically whether you get birth control."
Translation: The kind of guy you should have sex with (or vote for) is someone whose primary concern is not with who you are, what you want, or what you think, but with you not getting pregnant with his kid. To me, this guy sounds like a jerk. To Miss Dunham, this guy sounds like Barack Obama. This must be a joke right? "The video may be light, but the message is serious," Miss Dunham tweeted last week.
The contradictions of the ad — and, more generally, of the Obama campaign's appeal to women — were beautifully illustrated by another incident, which also made the news last week. CNN got in trouble for reporting on a scientific peer-reviewed study that tied women's voting decisions to their hormones.
The study, authored by researchers at the University of Texas in San Antonio, found that single women who are ovulating are more likely to vote for Mr. Obama than are married or committed women, who are likelier to support Mitt Romney.
These ovulating women, according to the study's lead author Kristen Durante, feel "sexier," which makes them more attuned to issues like birth control and abortion, leading them to be pro-Obama.
Though the study will be published in a leading academic journal, Psychological Science, the reaction to the CNN story was so overwhelmingly negative that CNN deleted the article from its website. Daily Kos indignantly called the study "pseudo-science." A female commenter fumed on CNN.com: "What an insulting question. As if my ability to make decisions depends on my cycle!" Another snarked: "Yes. We all know women are irrational creatures, slaves to their hormones, with no agency of their own."
Liberal pundits and readers were outraged by the study's implication that women are ruled by their sexual selves. But this is precisely the premise that Miss Dunham's ad, universally praised on the left, relies upon. It assumes that women are single-mindedly obsessed with having cheap sex (not to mention paranoid enough to think that the Mitt Romney-Paul Ryan ticket has a secret plan to outlaw it).
The ad's patronizing message is directed at young, unmarried women who consider themselves cosmopolitan, career-oriented feminists. These are intelligent women, women who should know better than to be manipulated by the Obama campaign's desperate attempt to buy their votes. The ad does not mention the economy, foreign relations, education, energy or other important policy issues. How blinkered and frivolous does the Obama campaign think women are?
John O'Sullivan, writing at National Review Online, describes the Obama campaign's appeal to women as "The Vagina Dialogues." It assumes women are "walking, talking, and voting vaginas with no other value or interests."
I would not date a guy who thought that about women, and I would not vote for a president who thought that. It's sexist, plain and simple.