The debate over the #MeToo movement continues. The ladies keep coming out of the confessional with "j'accuse," but some of the players are missing. They're the women who slept their way to starring in movies roles, and obtained powerful positions in politics and the media but didn't talk. We don't know who they are, nor are we likely to learn the details of success on the road to the top, because they play by the old rules of Hollywood and Washington, keeping their dalliances private.
They're a little like Mae West, the famous actress and comedienne of yesteryear. In one of her movies, a woman she met looked at the not-so-little rocks on her fingers and exclaimed, "Goodness, what beautiful diamonds." Mae replied, "Goodness had nothing to do with it, dearie."
Such women regard sexual relations as former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger practiced international statecraft: everything is dependent on "context."
But we're clearly in a moment of great contextual change. You might call it "moral combat," which R. Marie Griffith does in her new book, "Moral Combat." She describes, as the subtitle reads, "How Sex Divided American Christians and Fractured American Politics" since the last century. She dissects the sweeping cultural change that tweaked religious and secular morality in America, changing the vocabulary of public conversation. Many issues and circumstances contributed, and the vocabulary even altered media perceptions of what was permissible to print.
Sex and politics are clearly at the root of our divided culture. Nina Burleigh, a former White House reporter, described two decades ago how then-President Clinton leered at her "bike-wrecked, naked legs" aboard Air Force One, and she understood why women swooned over him. "I would be happy to give him (oral sex) just to thank him for keeping abortion legal," she said in an interview in the Washington Post. "I think American women should be lining up with their presidential kneepads on to show their gratitude for keeping the theocracy off our backs."
The political divide meshed with a sexual divide. Conservative and liberal values were seen through the prism of politics and policy. But what's liberal and conservative in politics and sex is not always as clear-cut as we think. The straightforward alignment sometimes zigs and zags, just as it has over sexual harassment.
The liberal support for Clinton — reflected in his views on abortion, for example — hasn't protected him since he retired. Those who have accused him of sexual harassment and assault have been largely vindicated. Nearly everyone thought the "Access Hollywood" tape would destroy Donald Trump, but he mitigated the damage by seating the Clinton accusers in the front row at the second presidential debate. Their very presence rebuked Bill Clinton's behavior and Hillary Clinton's enabling of that behavior.
Bearing the feminist standard, Clinton speaks proudly of her Methodist heritage (that many Methodists regard as little more than mockery of what she was taught in Sunday school). She trapped herself by declining to fire her "faith adviser" when he was accused of sexual harassment. She now concedes that if she "had to do it again" she would sack him. But life does not offer mulligans, and feminists are not pleased either.
The popular "Saturday Night Live" show skewers the offenders in the White House left and right. In one skit, Natalie Portman, as former first lady Jackie Kennedy, consoles Melania Trump, who's humiliated by tales of her husband's rutting with a porn star, by recalling how she similarly suffered over rumors of Jack's affair with Marilyn Monroe. Trump unhappily observes that "Gentleman Prefer Blondes" wasn't X-rated.
Sex in the pages of Griffith's "Moral Combat" finds the moral polarities in our history as an equal-opportunity vulnerability, humanized by both traditionalists and secularists. The sins expose unexpected shifts in attitudes depending on context in social history and the changing times. There's enough arrogance to go around. Both liberals and conservatives claim the more virtuous attitude, saving the vitriol for the "other," sinner and saint, chauvinist and feminist.
"Moral Combat" went to press before the most recent controversies swamped everybody's attention. Critic Kaitie Roiphe was tarred and feathered for daring to raise certain questions about #MeToo excesses in an article in Harper's Magazine online. She makes it clear that she shares some #MeToo goals, but thousands of Twitteroids called her "a garbage person," "a ghoul" and "human scum," all based on what they thought might be in the article they never read. She asks CBS News: "What was my crime? ... Departing slightly from the officially-accepted feminist position?" She likens her critics to George Orwell's "thought police" in his novel "1984."
"If we want a true reckoning," she says, "it means listening to authentically conflicting points of view, from both women AND men." She's right, of course, but it's not going to happen until something profound changes in our politics. Ranting, raving, bashing and bloviating is too much fun.