The Gross Reason These Photos of Hillary Clinton and Her Aide Are Going Viral

April 12th 2016

Lucy Tiven

You know that uncomfortable moment when someone asks if there's something more going on between you and your BFF? It's pretty sexist. On Tuesday, Gawker observed that this week, Politico's most trafficked story was a photo series of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her long-time aide Huma Abedin, titled “How close are Huma Abedin and Hillary Clinton?”

The photo series includes images of Clinton and Abedin solemnly "talking shop" on the campaign trail as well as lighthearted, candid shots. Most damningly, there is *gasp* smiling and laughing going on in some of the images. The photos' implication is easy enough to suss out — might these ladies be secret lovers?!

The back story.

Though Politico can take the credit for the 2013 slideshow — and its arguably absurd title — it is not to blame for the recent spike in web traffic. On April 5, the Drudge Report linked to a Daily Mail article on Abedin, her relationship with Clinton, and the impact of Abedin's political career on her marriage.

Drudge titled the link "FIRST TIME HUMA EVER SAW HER FACE 'SHE WAS SO BEAUTIFUL,'" which is a reference to a quote from Abedin's appearance on the "Call Your Girlfriend" podcast, a feminist podcast co-hosted by long distance besties Ann Friedman and Aminatou Sow. In the full context of the interview, it is quite clear that Abedin was not describing sexual or romantic interest in Clinton, but meeting her as a star-struck intern at a Little Rock campaign rally:

"That she walked by and she shook my hand and our eyes connected and I just remember having this moment where I thought wow, this is amazing. And I just . . . it just inspired me. You know, I still remember the look on her face. And it’s funny, and she would probably be so annoyed that I say this, but I remember thinking 'Oh my God, she’s so beautiful and she’s so little!'"

After the slideshow raised some eyebrows, a Politico spokesman told Slate that the spike in popularity was due to a post on a Yahoo site, and it was "meant only to demonstrate how integral Abedin has been to Clinton's various endeavors."

"The spokesperson emphasized that it had been posted in 2013 during one of Anthony Weiner's stupid appearances in national news and not in response to recent rumors," Slate reporter Ben Mathis-Lilley wrote. "(Weiner is Abedin's husband. The characterization of Weiner's place in American news as 'stupid' is mine, not the spokesperson's.)"

Here's why it's sexist.

Nonetheless, the attention surrounding Abedin's relationship with Clinton highlights a rather ugly form of sexism. It is misogynistic and not uncommon for women to face assumptions that their friendships and close professional relationships with other women must also be sexual. The suspicion around female homosocial relationships dates back to the Salem witch trails, when women who spent too much time with other women were literally accused of witchcraft, Feministing reported.

The myth pervades to this day. Could Taylor Swift be dating Karlie Kloss? What about Oprah Winfrey and Gayle King?

Winfrey slammed the rumors about an alleged romance with friend Gayle King on Barbara Walters, and explained that they weren't true, and she did not believe there was anything shameful about being in a homosexual relationship in the first place. “I’m not a lesbian. I’m not even kind of a lesbian,” Winfrey said. “And the reason why it irritates me is because it means that somebody must think I’m lying. That’s number one. Number two: why would you want to hide it? That is not the way I run my life.”

These rumors aren't just offensive to those involved — as Feministing pointed out, they also are rooted in the patriarchal logic "that women are of no use to anyone unless they are meeting sexual needs."

Clinton and Abedin's closeness is not particularly strange — not because of the unsubstantiated rumors about Clinton's clandestine lesbianism that have circulated for quite some time — but because they have worked closely in politics for two decades.

They also have more than their careers in common. "Clinton and Abedin have navigated these tumultuous years despite their respective marriages to Bill Clinton and Anthony Weiner, two male politicians who repeatedly cheated on their wives," reporter J.K. Trotter pointed out on Gawker. A friendship between two high profile women without tinges of eroticism may not seem as newsworthy as a torrid affair, but maybe it should be.

[H/T Gawker]