A Trophy Wife Speaks

Heather Thomas, a screenwriter, novelist, and Democratic fundraiser still best known as an ’80s pinup, has some fascinating ideas about gender.

“If you’re a wealthy second wife,” Thomas says, “you’re like a poster child for schadenfreude… But as a feminist, I don’t think we should attack other women. I’ve never met a bimbo trophy wife. I think women label other women because we’ve been socialized to compete with one another—but when we stop attacking each other, we’ll realize how powerful we are.”

This strikes me as roughly right. I remember an incident in high school: a group of earnest feminists had a falling out over a Halloween theme in which one faction dressed as “trampy” teens, and another felt that this ironic gesture was objectively anti-woman. I recall being sympathetic to the latter faction, and highly amused by the former. Thomas is invoking the importance of empathy, which can’t be understated.

It’s a subject she cares passionately about, and her argument about contemporary political activism is peppered with references to Leonard Shlain’s theories about the different ways men and women process information, which lead her to believe that YouTube and other elements of digital multimedia are reestablishing a feminizing influence over the Internet after an early period of text-heavy conservatism.

This sounds fascinating — I’d love to learn more. I imagine many text-heavy women I know would object. And yet I think there’s something to this notion of women being better at drawing connections across disciplines and across media, a facility that is the source of creative innovation.

For Thomas, it can’t come fast enough. “It’s not even patriarachial anymore,” she says of the current political situation. “It’s just fascism.” To combat those forces, she says, the “ladies’ groups” others so readily mock are “the only people who have the time, the money, and the will,” and she plans to continue her fundraising efforts in the months leading up to this fall’s presidential election.

Granted, I think “fascism” is an unsound characterization of the present political arrangement in the U.S. But Thomas is clearly right that a small coterie of rich women have had outsized influence in our politics — influence that the kind of people who generally rail against inequality and the corruption of our politics by big money would consider very salutary indeed.

This interview, by the way, was really, really old. I’m catching up, yo!