Re: Steimem's op-ed piece in the Times
Fri, 10 Apr 1998 09:20:40 -0400
Forwarded from WISENET
Subject: Re: Steimem's op-ed piece in the Times
From: Women In Science and Engineering NETwork <WISENET@LISTSERV.UIC.EDU>
Date: 4/9/98 15:02
Muriel asked about Gloria Steinem's NYTimes article, and here it is. BTW,
on-line subscriptions to the Times are free -- you just have to register at
The New York Times
March 22, 1998, Sunday, Late Edition - Final
HEADLINE: Feminists and the Clinton Question
BYLINE: By Gloria Steinem; Gloria Steinem is a founder of the National
Women's Political Caucus and Ms. magazine.
If all the sexual allegations now swirling around the White House turn out to
be true, President Clinton may be a candidate for sex addiction therapy. But
feminists will still have been right to resist pressure by the right wing and
the media to call for his resignation or impeachment. The pressure came from
another case of the double standard.
For one thing, if the President had behaved with comparable insensitivity
toward environmentalists, and at the same time remained their most crucial
champion and bulwark against an anti-environmental Congress, would they be
expected to desert him? I don't think so. If President Clinton were as vital to
preserving freedom of speech as he is to preserving reproductive freedom, would
journalists be condemned as "inconsistent" for refusing to suggest he resign?
For another, there was and is a difference between the accusations against
Mr. Clinton and those against Bob Packwood and Clarence Thomas, between the
experiences reported by Kathleen Willey and Anita Hill. Commentators might stop
puzzling over the President's favorable poll ratings, especially among women, if
they understood the common-sense guideline to sexual behavior that came out of
the women's movement 30 years ago: no means no; yes means yes.
It's the basis of sexual harassment law. It also explains why the media's
obsession with sex qua sex is offensive to some, titillating to many and beside
the point to almost everybody. Like most feminists, most Americans become
concerned about sexual behavior when someone's will has been violated; that is,
when "no" hasn't been accepted as an answer.
Let's look at what seem to be the most damaging allegations, those made by
Kathleen Willey. Not only was she Mr. Clinton's political supporter, but she is
also old enough to be Monica Lewinsky's mother, a better media spokeswoman for
herself than Paula Jones, and a survivor of family tragedy, struggling to pay
her dead husband's debts.
If any of the other women had tried to sell their stories to a celebrity
tell-all book publisher, as Ms. Willey did, you might be even more skeptical
about their motives. But with her, you think, "Well, she needs the money."
For the sake of argument here, I'm also believing all the women, at least
until we know more. I noticed that CNN polls taken right after Ms. Willey's
interview on "60 Minutes" showed that more Americans believed her than President
Nonetheless, the President's approval ratings have remained high. Why? The
truth is that even if the allegations are true, the President is not guilty of
sexual harassment. He is accused of having made a gross, dumb and reckless pass
at a supporter during a low point in her life. She pushed him away, she said,
and it never happened again. In other words, President Clinton took "no" for an
In her original story, Paula Jones essentially said the same thing. She went
to then-Governor Clinton's hotel room, where she said he asked her to perform
oral sex and even dropped his trousers. She refused, and even she claims that he
said something like, "Well, I don't want to make you do anything you don't want
Her lawyers now allege that as a result of the incident Ms. Jones described,
she was slighted in her job as a state clerical employee and even suffered
long-lasting psychological damage. But there appears to be little evidence to
support those accusations. As with the allegations in Ms. Willey's case, Mr.
Clinton seems to have made a clumsy sexual pass, then accepted rejection.
This is very different from the cases of Clarence Thomas and Bob Packwood.
According to Anita Hill and a number of Mr. Packwood's former employees, the
offensive behavior was repeated for years, despite constant "no's." It also
occurred in the regular workplace of these women, where it could not be avoided.
The women who worked for Mr. Packwood described a man who groped and lunged
at them. Ms. Hill accused Clarence Thomas of regularly and graphically
describing sexual practices and pornography. In both cases, the women said they
had to go to work every day, never knowing what sexual humiliation would await
them -- just the kind of "hostile environment" that sexual harassment law was
intended to reduce.
As reported, Monica Lewinsky's case illustrates the rest of the equation:
"Yes means yes." Whatever it was, her relationship with President Clinton has
never been called unwelcome, coerced or other than something she sought. The
power imbalance between them increased the index of suspicion, but there is no
evidence to suggest that Ms. Lewinsky's will was violated; quite the contrary.
In fact, her subpoena in the Paula Jones case should have been quashed. Welcome
sexual behavior is about as relevant to sexual harassment as borrowing a car is
to stealing one.
The real violators of Ms. Lewinsky's will were Linda Tripp, who taped their
talks, the F.B.I. agents who questioned her without a lawyer and Kenneth Starr,
the independent prosecutor who seems intent on tailoring the former intern's
What if President Clinton lied under oath about some or all of the above?
According to polls, many Americans assume he did. There seems to be sympathy for
keeping private sexual behavior private. Perhaps we have a responsibility to
make it O.K. for politicians to tell the truth -- providing they are respectful
of "no means no; yes means yes" -- and still be able to enter high office,
including the Presidency.
Until then, we will disqualify energy and talent the country needs -- as we
are doing right now.