President Clinton, still in the running for consideration as the mostskilled practitioner of our era of the darker political arts, managedto survive the impeachment effort and gave (perhaps -- at least he'lltake credit for it) his party modest gains and new hope going into theY2K crisis. In the process of living yet another day or week, however,he has left not only enemies but also putative allies slain by theroadside. One of the more fascinating casualties has been thedestruction of organized feminism, or at least of that brand offeminism embodied in establishment-approved outfits like the NationalOrganization for Women.
When the dust settles, Mr. Clinton's enduring legacy may be that hehelped to plant in the culture the notion that sex outside of marriageis no big deal -- and maybe it's not even sex -- so long as there's noevidence that the woman derived any enjoyment from the act. So long asthe woman involved is in the passive, subservient position of merely"servicing" the male and the male does nothing to stimulate her or giveher pleasure, Mr. Clinton and his lawyers were prepared to argue, itmight not even be a sexual act.
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And the forces of organized, official feminism, after flirtingbrieflywith the idea of expressing outrage at the shamelessly exploitativeexploits of perhaps the most open cad to occupy public office, wentalong, like the frail, submissive, dependent little women of Victorianstereotype. They tried to put on a brave front. "We will not besilenced by disingenuous grandstanding on this important issue at thismoment for immediate political gain" wrote Kathy Rodgers of the NOWLegal Defense and Education Fund back in October, "while behind thissmokescreen opponents of women's rights are actively cutting back outright 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 wascredible evidence that the First Philanderer might have also been arapist, the silence was still deafening. Where were the reminders, aswe heard endlessly during the Clarence Thomas-Anita Hill imbroglio,that women don't lie about such matters or make these things up, andthat it's hardly surprising it would take a long time to come forwardgiven 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 virtuallypowerless to deal with the malignant right-wing forces that seek tooutlaw abortion and consign us to domestic slavery without our big,brave protector in the White House. Never mind the gains made duringdecades of consciousness-raising, writing, organizing, fund-raising andlobbying. The entire enterprise is at risk unless the big lovable lugstays in the White House. Not that the lug has given them much morethan 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 relatedto the concerns of real women and some of it, like campaign reform, with
no gender specificity at all -- has become infinitely more importantthan the secondary issue of how real, live women are treated by real,live men. The Eternal Adolescent is a classic user of people and ofwomen especially. At the moment that he speaks words of mutual respecthe might actually believe them. But his actions belie those wordsrepeatedly.
The word "hypocrite" hardly begins to cover the quasi-officialfeminist left. As representatives of the genuine concerns of actualwomen, especially those who are victims of sexually predatory males,these organizations have lost whatever shreds of credibility they mightonce have possessed. They have become so transfixed by theinside-the-Beltway mentality, by the notion that the only gains worthhaving are those that involve government bureaus and governmentactivities, by the constant pursuit of power and access thatcharacterizes the Imperial City as to have lost touch almost completely.
But which organizations will the "mainstream" media turn to whennext they decide they want spokespeople to represent the "women's" pointof view? Any bets?