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.