Albion Monitor /News

Feminists Ponder Clinton as Misogynist

Analysis by Farhan Haq

(IPS) NEW YORK -- Women's groups in the United States have faced the especially troubling paradox of re-evaluating the nation's president, who has had a positive record on abortion, child care, and efforts to redress gender discrimination, but who is now involved in an alleged sex scandal.

Bill Clinton, in his narrow election victories in 1992 and 1996, relied on a strong gender gap in which he received some 60 percent of votes cast by white women, but never won a majority of the white male vote. Clinton recognized that debt in everything from his strong defense of abortion to his high-level appointments of Madeleine Albright as Secretary of State and Janet Reno as Attorney General.

Now, however, Clinton's critics point to the allegations by former White House intern Monica Lewinsky, 24, that the two had an affair in 1995 as proof that the president has repeatedly abused the trust of women who have worked for him. Clinton is also accused of sexual harassment by a woman, Paula Corbin Jones, who claims he made a sexual advances towards her while he was governor of Arkansas.

Clinton's attitude is significantly different from that of former Senator Packwood, who resigned after allegations that he had repeatedly fondled employees
If the allegations of an affair between Lewinsky and Clinton are true, "then he's a misogynist," argued Lewinsky's attorney, William Ginsburg. Another woman Clinton has admitted having an affair with, former Arkansas state employee Gennifer Flowers, put it even more bluntly: "He's thinking with his other head."

Feminist critics, however, have been wary of attacking the president on the basis of the sexual charges, many of which remain unproven. That has led one columnist, Barbara Ehrenreich, to lament in Time magazine that the period since the Monica Lewinsky story appeared has been "The Week Feminists Got Laryngitis."

In fact, several prominent feminists remain willing to defend Clinton on the basis of current information, since -- even if the allegations are true -- the Lewinsky affair appears consensual, while even Jones admitted that Clinton accepted her refusal of his proposition.

"Feminism means respecting the free will of women," summed up Gloria Steinem, founder of Ms. magazine. "No means no, and yes means yes." For Steinem, Clinton has understood that lesson, accepting Jones's "no" and conducting his affairs only with willing participants.

In Lewinsky's case, pointed out columnist Katha Pollitt in The Nation, "there is no evidence that Monica Lewinsky was bullied or coerced or intimidated into sex, and quite a bit of evidence that she was a willing, even eager, participant."

For many analysts, Clinton's attitude -- even if it implies unfaithfulness to his wife, Hillary -- is significantly different from that of former Oregon Senator Bob Packwood, who resigned in 1995 following allegations that he had repeatedly fondled or groped female employees.

Packwood, also strongly pro-abortion, "just didn't get it," according to a popular slogan of many women's groups at the time, because he did not respect women's rights enough to seek consent for sexual advances. Apparently, the U.S. Senate as a whole also "didn't get it" when it confirmed Clarence Thomas in 1990 to become a Supreme Court justice, even though he stood accused of sexual harassment of former employee Anita Hill.

For now, most women's groups appear willing to give Clinton time to explain his actions
For some feminists, however, the current scandal is not so different from the Packwood and Thomas disputes. "If sexual harassment is a crime -- and it was feminists who fought to make it one -- then it's just as much a crime when nice-guy Democrats do it to right-leaning women with the wrong kind of hair," argued Ehrenreich.

Many of Clinton's defenders are in fact using the same tactics to steer the president out of the current crisis as Thomas's supporters employed in attacking Anita Hill's credibility by portraying her, in the words of one senator, as "a little bit nutty and a little bit slutty."

Democratic Congressman Charles Rangel of New York, for example, last week told reporters that Lewinsky "has serious emotional problems. She's fantasizing. And I haven't heard that she played with a full deck in her other experiences."

Clinton has denied having any sexual relationship with Lewinsky, and the media has circulated accounts from the former intern's friends and associates portraying her as irrational and prone to lying and to conducting affairs with older men. But this rankles women's groups supportive of Clinton as a return to the days in which Anita Hill was portrayed as unstable.

After a week of charges and innuendo that the president was guilty of adultery and had lied about it under oath Clinton, nevertheless, has retained the support of women's groups, as well as of the public at large. Recent polls by the Gallup Organization and by Time-CNN show that nearly 70 percent of respondents approve of Clinton's performance as president -- the highest total he has garnered as President.

For now, most women's groups appear willing to give Clinton time to explain his actions and to face down the allegations, while the U.S. public seems to have lost interested in the intense media coverage.

In the future, the National Organization of Women suggested, politicians should adhere to a pledge to reject "the aphrodisiac of power." But other women's rights activists doubt that the behavior of men in power can be dealt with so easily.

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Albion Monitor February 11, 1998 (

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