On Sunday, Madonna honored International Women's Day by tweeting and Instagramming to her millions of followers a sassy quote purported to be by a very powerful woman who everybody is pretty sure will soon announce a run for President (just as soon as she satisfactorily explains that whole email thing). I spotted a couple of problems with it. First, former First Lady Clinton doesn't spell her first name "Hilary." Second, Hillary never said those words: The quote in question is actually from a piece that I wrote, and for the past three years, it's spread around the internet like a fun and viral girl power missive from the lips of Hillary Clinton herself.
My words' journey to Hillary Clinton meme land began in May of 2012, when then-Secretary of State Clinton appeared before press in Bangladesh sporting red lipstick, black plastic-framed glasses, and no other evident makeup. In response, fedora industry pillar Matt Drudge featured the look prominently on his site, Fox News started talking about it, Twitter Got Really Stupid—you know, your standard modern day manic news cycle idiocy.
I wrote a piece about the incident that basically called all of her aesthetic naysayers idiots for focusing on her looks when her looks weren't the point. The following passage was included in the post:
You may not agree with a woman, but to criticize her appearance — as opposed to her ideas or actions — isn't doing anyone any favors, least of all you. Insulting a woman's looks when they have nothing to do with the issue at hand implies a lack of comprehension on your part, an inability to engage in high-level thinking. You may think she's ugly, but everyone else thinks you're an idiot.
Writing those words scratched a mental itch that I'd long wanted to relieve. There's nothing an idiot loves more than calling a woman ugly when he's lost an argument with he.; "She's ugly!" is the meth-addicted Florida cousin of "She's just jealous!"—another bullshit term that morons use when they have nothing intelligent to say in response to a woman's argument. I was happy with and proud of the piece. It seemed to resonate with people.
Almost immediately (according to Google, the same day that I wrote the piece), the internet decided that Hillary Clinton had said those lines. In the ensuing months, Tumblr, Instagram, and Pinterest jumped aboard. Even women's rights organizations, who you'd think would know enough to Google stuff—joined the chorus. And before you know it (and despite the efforts of several eagle-eyed internet fact-checkers and the fact that the piece I wrote is the second highest result when you search for the quote), I became Hillary Clinton's unwitting ghostwriter.
The first time I saw that a quote from a piece about Hillary Clinton that I wrote was misread as a direct quote from Hillary Clinton, I was putting off sleeping by scrolling through garbage on Tumblr. And there it was, superimposed over a flattering photo of Clinton. The post had garnered thousands of "likes." I was tickled and amused by what I was sure was a flattering one-off mistake. I sent the person who'd posted the image a note with a link to my piece. Mix-up solved, I thought. How naive I was.
In the ensuing months, friends and readers would tag me when they caught another instance of misattribution. But usually, by the time I saw it, thousands and thousands of people had liked and shared it, and my little self-righteous Hey #Actually I Wrote That would instantaneously get buried in a pile of Hell Yeahs who wanted Hillary Clinton to be the sort of person who went around calling people who judge other women idiots. Tumblr was an even more hopeless hive of wrongness. And don't even get me started on Pinterest, the wrong ideas capitol of the internet. (Quote this, Pinterest: You can't make crispy bacon bowls in the goddamn microwave. That is not how microwaves or bacon work.)
Tumblr Tweens are one thing, but when any celebrity with any level of reach spreads the fake Hillary Clinton quote, the idea of one day eradicating the misattribution becomes a more and more distant dream. When a popular female comedian with her own TV show tweeted out the quote superimposed over a photo of Hillary Clinton, one of her followers corrected her, and she was quick to note the error, which was chill of her. But not before thousands had retweeted it.
Before yesterday, the common mixup was genuinely flattering and funny at best, worth a shrug at worst. But something about Madonna misattributing the quote, misspelling Hillary's name, and tagging the whole thing with the title of her new album felt like a bridge too far.
Maybe it's because Madonna has built her entire career on passing off other people's innovations as her own and making sure the original authors of things don't get as much credit for their work as she does. Maybe it's because Madonna's social media campaign to promote her new album has been among one of the most irritating in modern internet history. I don't have the platform to correct her myself and hope to be noticed, so, Madonna, consider this my correction: I am not 'Hilary Clinton.' And please stop using something I wrote to promote your goddamn album.
Image by Jim Cooke, photos via Getty.