We Love Ben Affleck’s Nanny Too, But Don’t Call Her A Feminist Icon

Until recently I had largely avoided —as much as someone who works in media could avoid — reading anything related to the whole Ben Affleck-Jennifer Garner-nanny debacle. The whole thing just seemed too clichéd and predictable and boring to get too worked up over. But then came the Instagrams and the flawlessly executed pap shots and the slut-shaming tabloid covers and the think pieces, and I found myself having Feelings — or at least opinions — dammit.

The tipping point came with Maureen O’Connor’s “celebration” of femme-fatale-in-question Christine Ouzounian for The Cut. The article (rightly!) praises Ouzounian’s refusal to let the tabloids shame her as she gallivants about town in her new convertible, deflecting their accusations and tsk-tskings with more audacious, brazen behavior that keeps them salivating for more.

But O’Connor goes on to compare Ouzounian with other “other women” of the past, and this is where the whole affair started to seem sad and pathetic and icky to me. And to suggest that Miss Ouzounian has “leveraged [her] erotic capital to gain power and fame” in the manner of such mistresses as Madame de Pompadour and Lola Montez is just, well, crazy.

Here’s a brief history refresher. Madame de Pompadour (real name: Jeanne Antoinette Poisson) was King Louis XV of France’s most powerful mistress, acting as his advisor and influencing his political decisions. She brought high art and rococo design and Enlightenment philosophy to Versailles and counted Voltaire as a BFF. Lola Montez was a notorious “Spanish” dancer — she was actually born in Ireland — whose conquests included the composer Franz Liszt and the author Alexander Dumas, before she went on to bed a king, Ludwig I of Bavaria. As Ludwig’s mistress, she had him institute liberal reforms and became a countess. Both women have been immortalized in painting, film and literature hundreds of times over. (It’s also important to note that in those days, if you were a woman and you wanted to have power and get ahead and actually enjoy life, your options were pretty limited — just a side note!)

OK, just how much NOT like these two icons is Ouzounian? Let’s start with the obvious. She (may or may not have — still unclear) had an affair with Ben Affleck. Ben Affleck. A (not great) actor. Not even a charming or beloved actor (like his friend Matt Damon, who is actually great), but Ben Affleck. Lola Montez seduced the greatest pianist of all time — and she and Pompadour slept with political leaders who gave them tremendous power and prestige and respected them. Ben Affleck is just so … basic.

Second, Ouzounian’s sights are depressingly low. Like Pompadour and Montez, Ouzounian does seem to possess an almost Machiavellian business acumen. After all, this is a lady who took hush money from a wealthy, privileged A-list celebrity who thought he could buy his way out of embarrassment and proceeded to do everything possible to keep the spotlight on their (still unclear) relationship — a man who, remember, promised he wouldn’t let her lose her job over their now infamous jaunt to Vegas. She gets all the huzzahs in the world for that. But what is her endgame? Is it just to humiliate her ex-employer? Is it to make some quick and easy cash? Or is it to get a deal with TMZ or “Dancing with the Stars”? (Ouzounian herself has reportedly said she wants be the next “Bachelorette,” which, fine. I’m sure she would be great.)

All of these options seem like, frankly, small potatoes compared with, I don’t know, deciding what nations we should go to war with. That’s not to say you should liaison with a married man if you have world domination somewhere in your plans. Actually, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to sleep with a man just because you like him. Yeah, you probably shouldn’t have an affair with a married man — or woman — but  I think a lot of us can understand wanting to, and understand acting on it, too. For instance, Monica Lewinsky seemed to genuinely WANT to sleep with Bill Clinton. But back then things were so much more simple, right?

I guess that’s the thing that kinda depresses me about “Nannygate.” Yeah, the slurs hurled at Ouzounian and the media’s totally sexist portrayal of the “affair” make me mad. But Ouzounian’s mechanizations also kinda get me down. She’s not using her “erotic capital” for power — she’s using it to get a reality-show deal and become a demi-celeb. It’s the lack of imagination and ambition that unnerves me. Let’s face it, despite Ouzounian’s shrewd moves and social media savvy, Madame de Pompadour would’ve eaten girls like her for breakfast.

Raquel Laneri writes about art, fashion and other things for such places as The Daily Beast, The New York Times and Forbes. Follow her on Twitter @RaquelLaneri.