Last week, I got into a distinctly unfeminist conflict on the Internet and I still feel kind of sick about it. I didn’t originally intentionally antagonize a Democratic presidential candidate; it happened almost without me noticing. And at first, I thought it was just a funny story, but it quickly escalated into an ugly mess.
And also, I’m slightly worried that the presidential candidate in question — Marianne Williamson — may now be using her “love energy” to hasten my death. (Which is exactly the sort of sentiment that may have gotten me into trouble in the first place).
Was this dust-up my fault? Absolutely. Do I like her now? No. Do I think she’s running for president to grow her brand? Yes. But did this thing turn into an ugly antifeminist debacle that I’m not proud of? Absolutely. And the way it was framed in various media outlets as a sort of internet “cat fight” makes me cringe. Two women arguing is not de facto gender-based behavior.
So here’s what happened:
The whole thing started with a phone call with my mother, Erica Jong, who is a well-known feminist writer. (If you’re unfamiliar: Google her). We were talking on the phone, as we often do. It was one of those long early fall Sundays and the late afternoon light was passing through the buildings and changing the patterns of the city. It’s important to understand that my mom (and I say this with all the love in the world) is a very distracted person. You never know if she’s actually listening to you or thinking about something else, and I have a feeling that I myself have also become a bit like this in my middle age. It is an extremely annoying character trait. “You know,” she said, in the course of talking about something else, “Marianne Williamson wrote to me about more love.”
This gave me pause because I had recently written two pieces about Marianne Williamson — one in The Independent and one in The Bulwark, both of which had been critical of the anti-science pro-love candidate, and I wondered if that was why she might have written to my mother. Because otherwise it didn’t make much sense. Why would a presidential candidate, albeit a very unusual one with a tendency to do unexpected things, write to my mother about “more love,” whatever that means. “What?” I said. “Do you even know each other?”
“She seems to think we’ve met.”
“Have you ever met her?”
“I can’t remember. She thinks so.”
Then we moved on. But the more I thought about it, the more it raised questions. So I went over to my mom’s house, ostensibly for lunch but really, I was there to look at her DMs. She made me eggs, and her badly behaved poodles jumped on me. What I was struck by first was how long these DMs were. Williamson was running for president and she had time to write multiple DMs to my mother, and the second thing I was struck by was just how meandering they were.
“I need to take a screenshot.”
I could tell my mom was uncomfortable with it.
“She’s bad for the Democratic party.” I protested.
Mom looked uncomfortable.
“She’s also bad for the Jews, mom. Bad for the Jews!” My Jewish Baby Boomer mom was not immune to the idea that something could be bad for the Jews as a whole.
Then there were a few minutes where I realized that my mom didn’t know how to take screenshots of her phone. I tried to help her, but she also couldn’t figure out how to get it to work. Finally, I just took photos of her phone.
From the screenshots:
Sorry to see you’d call me “weird,” Erica. I understand your daughter is young and doesn’t know any better.
I am 41.
I am not old, by any stretch of the imagination, but I am not young. Not even a little bit young. And Marianne may have been patronizing me by implying that I was too young to know what I’m doing (because all adult women are, to some people), but I had another, more disturbing take. I wondered if Marianne was dismissing me because of my famous mom. I wondered if in a way she didn’t want to hold me responsible for my own actions. I wondered if she didn’t mean that I was young but rather that I was unfixable, somehow. Willamson talks about peace and inclusion, but she has lived in Hollywood for a long time, and like many people who have, she is a creature of celebrity. She performed Liz Taylor’s wedding to Larry Fortensky. What if she was dismissing me not because of my age but my notoriety and my mother’s notoriety?
I also can’t imagine anyone writing to a male journalist’s mother to complain about his work. No one would.
And I was disturbed by how quickly a Twitter thread about it got picked up everywhere from The Hill to New York Magazine to Mediate and framed as two women being catty, when I argue all the time with powerful men on the internet and it barely registers. Why? Women fighting makes good copy. And I’m still torn about that. Williamson is a woman candidate who’s made it this far, and I don’t want to knock down another woman who’s running for an office that has never been held by a woman.
I sometimes write columns about people that are a little snarky (like “doctor” Gorka or Ivanka), but I try to be thoughtful and my criticisms are always meant to “punch up” and are not directed at people who wield less power than I do.
I still don’t feel great about what happened. If I could do it again, I probably wouldn’t have relayed the story on Twitter, knowing how it got framed. I guess I could say I’m still young and don’t know any better.
But Williamson’s wrong about that one: I do.
Molly Jong-Fast is a contributor to The Daily Beast, The Bulwark and Playboy.