The Magazine

DEFINING FEMINISM DOWN

Mar 15, 1999, Vol. 4, No. 25 • By CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER
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LIKE THE CARELESS BUCHANANS of The Great Gatsby, Bill Clinton is known as the man who leaves friends wounded and bleeding in his wake. But of all the casualties littering his trail -- the jailed business partners, the disgraced aides, the character-assassinated former lovers -- the most serious by far is feminism: Feminist leaders, feminist groups, feminist ideology, and the Democratic party, once the party of women and women's rights, will never recover.


Consider:


(a) Before Monica Lewinsky, it was a major tenet of feminism and an increasingly accepted workplace ethic that even consensual sex involving a subordinate and the boss was suspect given the unequal power relationship and the potential for exploitation. That was then.


Now, the most powerful man in the world, but fatefully a Democrat, has an affair at work with a 21-year-old intern, an affair exploitative in the extreme. (Remember: The president's defense -- against charges of perjury -- was that in every single encounter he'd merely been serviced without any reciprocation.) And what happens? The man's feminist and Democratic allies attack those looking into the affair for violating the man's privacy.


New feminist principle: Even workplace sex is private. And the inquisitors who violate that privacy are guilty of "sexual McCarthyism."


(b) Before Paula Jones, it was a major tenet of feminism and an increasingly accepted workplace ethic that the degradation and objectification of women -- even giving away a nude calendar as a year-end bonus -- could contribute to a "hostile work environment" and constitute sexual harassment. That was then.


Well, if cheesecake on the wall can violate women, how about the boss summoning an employee, dropping his pants, and instructing her to kiss it? Pretty serious. Just the kind of behavior women's groups and the Democratic party crusade against. Why, when Clarence Thomas was accused of nothing much more than some off-color remarks -- no exposing, no touching, no groping, no servicing, nothing of the sort -- Barbara Boxer led a delegation of House Democratic women who stormed the Senate demanding his head. That was then.


This time around, feminists disdained the woman seeking redress (Paula Jones), and Democrats joined the White House in savaging her. It's just "he said, she said," you see. Who you gonna believe? The Oxford-Yale man or trailer trash?


(c) Before the Jones deposition, it was a major tenet of feminism and an accepted principle of civil procedure, that in a sexual harassment suit the past sexual habits of the accused predator should be open to legal inquiry. That was then.


When it turned out that Bill Clinton lied repeatedly under oath in the Paula Jones suit, the feminists were silent, and the Democratic party waged a vigorous campaign to minimize the offense, arguing -- and voting -- that lying about sex is not really perjury, that it is only to be expected and, besides, this is an area of privacy that the man should never have been made to testify about in the first place.


(d) Before Juanita Broad-drick, it was a major tenet of feminism that rape was a serious charge. A plausible charge of rape leveled against a public figure -- even a boxer like Mike Tyson -- would bring indignant demands for an accounting and for justice. The Rashomon dodge -- "who can ever really know" -- was considered the last refuge of scoundrels. That was then.


Now, Juanita Broaddrick, a woman of maturity and character and with no discernible ulterior motive, says that Bill Clinton raped her in 1978 -- and all is silence.


National Organization for Women president Patricia Ireland says that, yes, Juanita Broaddrick's story is troubling, but it only highlights how conservatives have been blocking needed changes in legislation on hate crimes and violence against women, and other some such in the Congress. This changing of the subject is hilariously akin to President Clinton responding to charges of massive campaign finance law violations by urging the passage of yet new laws.


But the bankruptcy of the feminist position was best illustrated by Susan Estrich, a leading Democratic figure, stridently defending the "let's move on" position by invoking her authority as herself "a rape victim." She used to invoke that authority to call for moving in on the victimizer.


The Democratic party is certainly a gloat-free zone today. You could see not only discomfort but actual shame in the face of Democrats, who having made careers of defending women's rights and protesting their abuse, must now dismiss a rape charge, not with a denial but with shoulder-shrugging agnosticism. Democratic leaders Dick Gephardt and Tom Daschle, evincing not the slightest curiosity as to whether their leader is a rapist, say that it is time for the country to "put this behind us" and "move on" to more important business.


Six years ago, the Senate deemed it quite the nation's business to look into charges against Sen. Bob Packwood -- ah, a Republican -- some of which were older than Juanita Broaddrick's (they went back to 1969) and none anywhere near as severe. Under pressure of outraged feminists and agitated Democrats, Packwood was forced to resign and Washington pronounced itself satisfied at his political decapitation.


This time around, the move-on Democrats throw up their hands with it's just "he said, she said." (Actually, it is "she said, his lawyer said." He's said nothing.) Do these people have no shame? Of course they don't. But more important, and the reason the feminist cause is irretrievably damaged, is that its erstwhile champions have no arguments. What do they say the next time a public man is charged with grossly exploitative (if consensual) workplace sex? With creating a hostile work environment? With lying under oath in a sexual harassment suit? Good God, with rape?


Let's move on?




Charles Krauthammer is a contributing editor to THE WEEKLY STANDARD.