Feminists' double standard
IT TAKES A SPECIAL KIND of cynicism to profess -- as have most feminists -- not to see rank hypocrisy in the women's movement's ongoing silence regarding the latest White House "bimbo eruption." Compare the feminist reaction to the Monica Lewinsky episode with that of the congresswomen who marched across Capitol Hill seven years ago to protest the confirmation of Clarence Thomas: efforts to deny the inescapable double standard bespeak extraordinary audacity.
After all, President Clinton's purported misconduct amounts to a textbook case of "sexual harassment." Moreover, even activists who justify their silence by depicting the Lewinsky case as a still-unproved relationship between "consenting adults" -- a 50-year-old president of the United States and his 22-year-old intern! -- cannot employ the same argument to explain away their lack of interest in the alleged "groping" of White House aide Kathleen Willey.
By her own account, Willey was subjected to what the literature of harassment law calls "unwelcome sexual advances." Yet here, too, the feminist lobby has manifested both heightened concern regarding the presumption of innocence and a new sense of caution over rushing to judgment.
Taken cumulatively, the charges leveled at the president during his five years in office militate in favor of viewing the Clinton White House as a "hostile work environment" (to borrow a phrase from the sexual-harassment lexicon). Still, the feminists' silence remains deafening.
The inconsistency revealed in this episode may well haunt the women's movement for some time to come. Not surprisingly, therefore, the contradiction has been noted -- though not emphasized -- in the national media.
But a related development -- one likely to do the feminist cause even greater harm -- has scarcely been accorded any press attention.
Even folks who believe the Lewinsky-related allegations -- who don't doubt that Clinton perjured himself in the course of responding to questions about his relationship with the ex-intern -- recoil at the notion of using this case to undermine his presidency. Yet many in this camp were -- and remain -- hostile to the president. Why do folks all across the ideological spectrum find this case discomfiting? Why the revulsion?
Genuine empathy, a fundamental sense of fairness and a repugnance at erasing the entire notion of privacy from all spheres of American life -- even as regards the occupant of the Oval Office.
Prior to this episode, few knew that in certain circumstances anyone and everyone can be compelled to give sworn testimony about their sex lives; few realized that this is possible even when the questioning focuses on ties to a collateral figure in a civil case. (Monica Lewinsky isn't a party to the Paula Jones lawsuit, thus, Lewinsky's collateral role. Meanwhile, Clinton -- the defendant -- isn't even charged with a crime, thus, the civil nature of the case.)
Notwithstanding political orientation, Americans don't like efforts to tamper with their privacy. Some, therefore, have begun to ask how the nation came to find itself in this predicament.
The answer, of course, is uncomplicated. And even folks who pride themselves on keeping up with public affairs can be forgiven their unfamiliarity with developments in this realm.
The last decade has seen the emergence of an altogether new, potentially insidious area of the law: sexual-harassment doctrine. And the uncharted waters of sexual harassment -- along with the general absence of procedural protections in the civil sphere -- combine to invite sexual fishing expeditions of the very sort to which the president has just been subjected.
In other words, this entire controversy stems from the sexual-harassment infrastructure created by a handful of lawsuits -- some of them quite dubious.
Even if Clinton escapes this crisis relatively unscathed, a popular backlash against the features of harassment law inimical to privacy seems inevitable. And, in fact, preventing a repetition of this blatantly un-American episode requires nothing less than a wholesale redefinition of sexual harassment. No longer can the High Court's 1986 Meritor decision, which established the "hostile work environment" principle, be viewed -- in the context of Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act -- as having laid the groundwork for contemporary sexual-harassment doctrine.
As things stand, the guilt or innocence of the accused is utterly irrelevant during the pre-trial phase of a harassment case. Mere allegations -- which can be disclosed -- enable plaintiffs to file suit. Only if the case actually goes to trial is the accuser required to substantiate the charges.
Clearly, there's something wrong here. Even Patricia Ireland, president of NOW (the National Organization for Women), who emphasizes the consensuality issue and underscores the alleged anti-Clinton orientation of many Lewinsky backers, seems worried about the perception that feminists never actually cared about gender politics per se, only about right-left politics.
In the end, argues Tom Korologos -- a Washington lobbyist and longtime GOP stalwart -- "It's no longer going to be a crime to look at a woman in the office." Korologos claims he can finally "revert to my old bigoted form."
Humor aside, the veteran lobbyist is right: Things are likely to change. And the
harassment fanatics in the women's movement will have brought the changes on
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