President Clinton, still in the running for consideration as the most
skilled practitioner of our era of the darker political arts, managed
to survive the impeachment effort and gave (perhaps -- at least he'll
take credit for it) his party modest gains and new hope going into the
Y2K crisis. In the process of living yet another day or week, however,
he has left not only enemies but also putative allies slain by the
roadside. One of the more fascinating casualties has been the
destruction of organized feminism, or at least of that brand of
feminism embodied in establishment-approved outfits like the National
Organization for Women.
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When the dust settles, Mr. Clinton's enduring legacy may be that he
helped to plant in the culture the notion that sex outside of marriage
is no big deal -- and maybe it's not even sex -- so long as there's no
evidence that the woman derived any enjoyment from the act. So long as
the woman involved is in the passive, subservient position of merely
"servicing" the male and the male does nothing to stimulate her or give
her pleasure, Mr. Clinton and his lawyers were prepared to argue, it
might not even be a sexual act.
And the forces of organized, official feminism, after flirting
with the idea of expressing outrage at the shamelessly exploitative
exploits of perhaps the most open cad to occupy public office, went
along, like the frail, submissive, dependent little women of Victorian
stereotype. They tried to put on a brave front. "We will not be
silenced by disingenuous grandstanding on this important issue at this
moment for immediate political gain" wrote Kathy Rodgers of the NOW
Legal Defense and Education Fund back in October, "while behind this
smokescreen opponents of women's rights are actively cutting back out
right to choice, and refusing to deal with child care, pay equity,
violence against women and campaign finance reform."
In the first couple of days after it became obvious that there was
credible evidence that the First Philanderer might have also been a
rapist, the silence was still deafening. Where were the reminders, as
we heard endlessly during the Clarence Thomas-Anita Hill imbroglio,
that women don't lie about such matters or make these things up, and
that it's hardly surprising it would take a long time to come forward
given the culture's tendency to disbelieve or even to blame the woman?
Where were the marches on the Senate organized by female Congresswomen?
Where is Barbara Boxer?
What message does the silence deliver?
The first message is that we poor helpless women are virtually
powerless to deal with the malignant right-wing forces that seek to
outlaw abortion and consign us to domestic slavery without our big,
brave protector in the White House. Never mind the gains made during
decades of consciousness-raising, writing, organizing, fund-raising and
lobbying. The entire enterprise is at risk unless the big lovable lug
stays in the White House. Not that the lug has given them much more
than a couple of vetoes. He's just so lovable and -- well, studly.
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The second message is that the agenda -- some of it arguably related
to the concerns of real women and some of it, like campaign reform, with
no gender specificity at all -- has become infinitely more important
than the secondary issue of how real, live women are treated by real,
live men. The Eternal Adolescent is a classic user of people and of
women especially. At the moment that he speaks words of mutual respect
he might actually believe them. But his actions belie those words
The word "hypocrite" hardly begins to cover the quasi-official
feminist left. As representatives of the genuine concerns of actual
women, especially those who are victims of sexually predatory males,
these organizations have lost whatever shreds of credibility they might
once have possessed. They have become so transfixed by the
inside-the-Beltway mentality, by the notion that the only gains worth
having are those that involve government bureaus and government
activities, by the constant pursuit of power and access that
characterizes the Imperial City as to have lost touch almost completely.
But which organizations will the "mainstream" media turn to when
next they decide they want spokespeople to represent the "women's" point
of view? Any bets?