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The Rake's Progress

11:00 PM, Feb 21, 1999 • By DANIELLE CRITTENDEN
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WELL, ONE THING WE'VE LEARNED is that, in her attitudes towards men, the average American woman is as coarsened and world-weary as a 1920s Bronx showgirl. This was the real surprise of the Bill Clinton scandal. The people you thought wouldn't be shocked by the president's behavior -- the Washington liberal elite, well-known philanderers, jaundiced columnists, Georgetown hostesses -- couldn't express enough outrage, while the people you though would be shocked -- feminists, soccer moms, little old ladies -- stuck by the guy like dance hall queens to their rich, boorish, stage-door Johnnies. "Whaddya expect of a man like him?" they told reporters, as they held forth from beauty salon chairs and diner stools across America. You could almost hear their gum snapping. "So he's a pig? So what else is new? But he's also kind of sweet -- underneath there's a heart of gold in Our Bill. Leave'im alone."


Of course the feminists were an especially peculiar case, even aside from their cynical, partisan reasons for supporting Our Bill -- he did, after all, present them with the diamond-clad gift of protection for partial-birth abortions. But seriously, was there any stranger sight than Gloria Steinem hurling herself at the man's feet on the op-ed page of the New York Times, insisting bosses should be entitled to one free grope?


If anything, this scandal underscored the incredible capriciousness of the feminist movement -- and frankly, of female opinion in general. Men continue to be puzzled by what, precisely, modern women want from them. Now they know: Women want whatever pleases them at any given moment, no matter how much it contradicts what they said five minutes ago. Did we say it was a serious crime to ask a female colleague out to dinner, or to make a lewd joke in her presence? Sorry, we only meant that to apply to Republican politicians and black conservative nominees to the Supreme Court; future Democratic presidents should feel free to use the White House the way the Rat Pack used their Las Vegas hotel suites. Did we say we thought our politicians should be honest, law-abiding, and of good character? Sorry, we only meant that when the economy was bad; so long as good times are rolling, well honey, let's samba.


Alas, by behaving this way, we not only let off men like Bill Clinton, we punish women's own efforts to be treated with respect, dignity, and equality by the law, let alone be treated with respect and dignity by men. Logic would decree that when the next Republican male is accused of similarly crude behavior, the same feminists who stood by Bill Clinton should feel compelled to stand by him -- or at least stay silent. But of course, they won't. They'll just use that old female prerogative to change their minds, and run the poor bloke out of town.


This is why Republicans make a mistake when they try to remodel themselves in ways they hope female voters will find more attractive -- trading in their suits and ties for casual shirts and chinos, speaking like New Men, oozing compassion and sympathy. They only end up coming off as the Nice Guy character who is always dumped for the Rake. Sadly, what this scandal tells us about American women is that what matters most is not whether you flatter them, but what you've done for them lately.




Danielle Crittenden is the author of What Our Mothers Didn't Tell Us: Why Happiness Eludes the Modern Woman, just published by Simon & Schuster.