Hillary’s Gutsy, Meghan’s Archetypes and the Rise of Irrelevant Feminism

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ptop me if you’ve heard this one before. Hillary Rodham Clinton and her daughter, Chelsea Clinton, sit on a bench in the park on the grounds of the Palais Royal.

The former secretary of state and US presidential candidate turns to his daughter and asks: “Do you know what happens if you drink too much tea in Paris?”

Chelsea, an International Relations DPhil who is also a children’s author and global health advocate, seems confused.

“You’re-a-peein’,” her mother – once the most powerful woman in politics – tells her with a mocking tone.

Except the real punchline is that this is a scene from their new Apple TV Plus series called Courageous. The joke, if you think about it, is that this is what one of the most talented and successful people in American life has been reduced to doing for work.

Across the eight-episode series, which debuted Friday, the Clintons tour the world speaking to different kinds of “brave” women, some of whom are so much braver than others that it makes a mockery of the #girlboss era’s watchword . In the first episode, for example, the “brave” women are stand-up comics, including Wanda Sykes and Amy Schumer, who talk about performing in front of hostile audiences, among other things. In the second episode, they are women who escaped the violent lives of political extremism or lost their own children to hate crimes. The point is to explain all the different, inspiring ways women can be bold. The audience for this show, I fear, is what little remains of Pantsuit Nation, the zeitgeist Facebook group of HRC supporters that formed during the 2016 election.

Courageous very reminiscent of the Duchess of Sussex’s new Spotify podcast Archetypes – another show where a powerful woman talks to other powerful women about the brands they’ve overcome on the way to becoming so powerful. So far, three episodes have been released: Serena Williams on “ambition,” Mariah Carey on “diva,” and Mindy Kaling on “singleton.”

Hillary Clinton joins the fire department

(Apple TV Plus)

Don’t get me wrong: they are not terrible shows. It’s kind of fascinating to watch Hillary and Chelsea Clinton figure out what they can do with the resources they have – fame and good intentions. It’s more or less the same journey that Meghan – whose soft speaking voice I found deeply soothing – is on following her exit from royal life.

But neither are they the energizing calls to action they aspire to be. The guests—however accomplished—can’t distract from the fact that the Clintons and Meghan aren’t particularly suited to their new line of work. They don’t have the journalistic instincts to challenge their guests or Oprah’s uncanny ability to extract tears and secrets. The sad takeaway at the end of each episode is that show business, like the rest of the world, doesn’t know what to do with these women — women who have been tagged as “unlikeable” despite having few obvious errors.



Feminism may be the common theme of the shows, but that’s not what the broadcasts are about

And a fixation with “unlikeability” is ultimately the common weakness of these series. Instead of grappling meaningfully with misogyny and inequality in its most destructive forms, they give us conversations about naming. Meghan wants to stop being labeled as unlikable, not just because it’s sexist – which it is! – but because she is actually very likable, if only you would get to know her like her friends do. In her conversation with Williams, Meghan alludes to the text conversations they’ve already had about the issues they chat about on air. Archetypes is not just a chance to get to know Williams more, but to be her. Which is to say be the person who gets to hear Meghan’s innermost, most sympathetic thoughts.

Because it’s as impossible to ignore the transparent reputational rehab at work here as it is to believe that celebrities questioning feminist buzzwords can change the real-life experience of the average person. The appeal of these shows is not the content. It is a look behind the curtain at the women who ask the questions and (selectively) make personal revelations. When Meghan hosted Williams, it was the previously unknown story of a fire that broke out in her son Archie’s nursery that led the next day’s news coverage. The most compelling part of Courageous is Chelsea’s frequent discussion of her childhood, which was marked by a pervasive sense of hatred unique to the White House jungle gym. Feminism may be the common theme of the shows, but that’s not what the broadcasts are about.

Mindy Kaling and Meghan Record ‘Archetypes’

(Mindy Kaling (Instagram))

Some people are born to host – mostly Oprah. But others have lived too much of their extraordinary lives in the public eye to fade into the role. Every question these women ask about womanhood feels as exciting as the answers they get. Some people, no matter how far they are willing to go to host the interview—like, for example, to Paris, with their daughter, to interview clowns—don’t know how to stop being the talk show guest.

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