Feminists, Creeps, and Clarity

By Rev. Kate Braestrup

If you wanted a nice example of why so many Americans no longer trust the mainstream media, you couldnt do better than to read Jia Tolentinos Comment Limits of Power in the October 30 edition of the New Yorker.

Reacting to recent allegations of sexual abuse, assault and rape against Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein, Tolentino offers a list of men who used positions of power to sexually abuse and assault women: Bill Cosby, Roger Ailes, Bill OReilly and Donald Trump.

Thanks to the advent of mainstream feminism, these women have been supported, to an unprecedented degree, by much of the media and the public,she writes. At the same time, political backlash insures (sic) hard limits for this support.She goes on to point out that while Cosby, Ailes and OReilly lost their reputations and livelihoods, Donald Trump was elected President, and laments that the increasing narrative clarity about male power does not always translate to progress.

Bill Clinton Cropped
Remember this guy?

Why no progress? Well, lets consider that narrative clarity for a moment. Anyone happen to notice who is conspicuously absent on Tolentinos list of powerful and predatory males? Bill Clinton.

Whatever creepy things Trump did on the debate stage or said on the Hollywood Access tape, surely Hillary is an old hand at managing abusive men? In addition to her husband, shes been surrounded by the powerful and predatory throughout her long and, we are told, illustrious career. Not only did she consider the repulsive Weinstein a good friend (and generous donor) but Anthony Weiner, Eliot Spitzer and even Trump himself were pals to be hobnobbed with, not creeps to scorn. And last but definitely not least, she remained married to Bill even after he had been credibly accused of rape and numerous sexual assaults and abuses, a man who used his position as the Alpha Male of the Planet to extract sexual favors from a woman young enough to be his and Hillarys daughter.

In an essay written for Vanity Fair in 1998, journalist and feminist Marjorie Williams excoriated her fellow feminists who had explained and excused their boy Bill, and muddied the narrative clarity about male powerthey claimed to be committed to. Williams wrote

[Clinton] has been sued for sexual harassment over an episode that allegedly included dropping his trousers to waggle his erect penis at a woman who held a $6.35-an-hour clerical job in the state government over which he presided. Another woman has charged that when she asked him for a job he invited her into his private office, fondled her breasts, and placed her hand on his crotch.

A third woman conceded to friends that when she was a 21-year-old intern she began an affair with the man — much older, married, and the head of the organization whose lowliest employee she was. Actually, it was less an affair than a service contract, in which she allegedly dashed into his office, when summoned, to perform oral sex on him. After their liaison was revealed, he denied everything, leaving her to be portrayed as a tramp and a liar. Or, in his own words, “that woman.

Let us not even mention the former lover who was steered to a state job; or the man’s alleged habit of using law-enforcement officers to solicit sexual partners for him; or his routine use of staff, lawyers, and private investigators to tar the reputation of any woman who tries to call him to account for his actions.

Can you find the problems with his behavior? Take your time: these problems are apparently of an order so subtle as to escape the notice of many of the smartest women in America — the writers, lawyers, activists, office-holders, and academics who call themselves feminists.

Do we really need internalized misogynyto explain why a majority of white women in America (few if any of whom are likely to be unfamiliar with the problem of powerful men and sexual abuse) looked at the choices, shrugged, and pulled the lever for Trump? There are indeed significant constituencies in America who are not yet interested in holding men accountable for abusive behavior.One such constituency is, evidently, American feminists. Another is the Democratic Party. And yet another is the mainstream media, as exemplified by the New Yorker.

A genuine challenge to the hierarchy of power will have to come from those who have it,Tolentino sadly concludes.

I couldnt agree more.

Copyright 2017 © Kate Braestrup

 

27 comments

  1. OK, now you’ve lost me. I had hoped this would be a site where UUs could really discuss issues with an open mind, but this is just a partisan hit-piece. As a journalist, I interned at the Hot Springs, Ark., newspaper and went on to work for the Arkansas Democrat. Sadly, there’s no way to prove whether or not Clinton raped anyone. There’s no doubt that he had affairs, including the one with Monica Lewinsky. I wouldn’t be surprised if he grabbed some women, which would be sexual assault, but most of us would not have sought prosecution back then. In fact, most of us couldn’t count how many times men, especially when drinking, grabbed us inappropriately. But this happens with men of all political persuasions, and feminists have railed against it. When it comes time to vote, however, we have to choose which person will enact and enforce policies that we think will benefit women. I think it’s quite possible that women in the upper echelons, including Hillary and Meryl Streep, had no idea that Weinstein was raping women. They shouldn’t be blamed for his actions. The same goes for Bill Clinton. Not only is she not responsible for his misdeeds, but as a wife, it’s not surprising that she didn’t want to believe the worst about him. Yes, Hillary worked in a world of predatory men. So do a lot of women. Throughout my journalism career, there were men who hit on women they supervised, and some touched them inappropriately. We women manage this as well as we can, in hopes of having a better world some day.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve written a number of responses and deleted them all. Suzietampa’s comment says it better than I can.

    I continue to be a bit puzzled but mostly angry that so many people blamed Hillary Clinton for her husband’s bad behavior, rather than counting her as one of his victims. I also continue to be dismayed that her decision to work it out and save her marriage, after his betrayal, is considered a less moral action than divorce. To me, that is misogyny, not internalized.

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  3. I don’t blame Hillary for Bill. I do blame feminists (including Hillary) for the astonishing and persistent double-standard—the very one that undermines feminist’s credibility and makes it more difficult for voters (esp. women) to take feminists or feminism seriously. And it made it very difficult for ordinary Americans to understand why Trump’s behavior was supposed to be evidence of horrifying misogyny, requiring millions to don pink hats and shriek outside the White House, while Bill’s was…

    …well, “boys will be boys.”

    This isn’t just a political question (though the long-term effect of feminist hypocrisy on our politics has not proven to be a good one) , it is a moral and ethical question. It is about the ability of ordinary people (you and me) and our liberal theologies to hold ourselves to some sort of standard.

    “Sadly, there’s no way to prove whether or not Clinton raped anyone.”

    Given that Bill Clinton was accused—fairly credibly—of doing so more than once, are we now admitting that women lie about rape and sexual assault?

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  4. I don’t think Trump’s misogyny is more horrifying than Bill’s. Trump is horrifying for additional reasons. And of course women sometimes lie about rape and sexual assault. It’s rare, but it happens. The statistics put it at 2-10% of claims being demonstrably false.

    I find your characterization of the women’s march to be pretty condescending. It was a about much more than the current POTUS’s misogynistic behavior. A lot of us didn’t wear hats at all, and where I was standing I didn’t hear any shrieking. I have also never, not once, have heard anyone say about Bill, that “boys will be boys.” It makes me wonder if you were even at a march.

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  5. I guess what I’m wondering is, what exactly you want from Hillary, and from feminists? What would satisfy you as not being an “astonishing double standard”? I’ve read a number of articles from women in Hollywood who explain how it would have been career suicide to speak out against Harvey Weinstein back then. People who report harassment in business workplaces often experience retaliation. The same is true for students at universities and in academia at large–I don’t think any institution is immune from this problem. Feminists speak out when they feel they can, but often, they can’t. And often the choice is between creep #1 and creep #2, or between the creep you know and the unknown creep you haven’t yet met who might be worse. It’s easy to get on a high horse with 20/20 hindsight.

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  6. I have an observation I’ll throw in here. Bill Clinton has not been convicted of rape. Neither has Harvey Weinstein, the late Roger Ailes, Bill O’Reilly, Donald Trump, or Bill Cosby; nor have any of them — at least so far — been convicted of other sexual crimes. The closest any of them has come — so far — is Bill Clinton’s conviction on charges of civil contempt of court for misleading testimony about Monica Lewinsky. So I think he’s at least as eligible as any of the others to be labeled.

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  7. “And often the choice is between creep #1 and creep #2, or between the creep you know and the unknown creep you haven’t yet met who might be worse.” Right—that was last year’s presidential election in a nutshell.

    But my original point was that the piece in the New Yorker gloomily decried the failures of various institutions to call out predatory men, then left out the example(s) that leap instantly to the mind of any ordinary reader. What my conservative or even independent friends find so frustrating about the mainstream media isn’t just that it is biased, but that the bias is so laughably obvious that the reporting feels not only disingenuous but like an insult to one’s intelligence.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. ““And often the choice is between creep #1 and creep #2, or between the creep you know and the unknown creep you haven’t yet met who might be worse.” Right—that was last year’s presidential election in a nutshell.”

      The problem with that characterization of last year’s election is that Bill Clinton (Creep #1) wasn’t running. One of Bill Clinton’s victims was running. Unless you are equating Hillary and Bill, and/or blaming Hillary for what Bill did, which you say you aren’t doing. I’m confused.

      You also seem to be implying that “ordinary people” and “ordinary readers” aren’t feminists. None of the millions of women who marched were ordinary people or ordinary readers?

      I still haven’t read the piece in the New Yorker but I will grant you that it’s biased in exactly the way you say. If what you want from me(?), Hillary(?), feminists(?) is for us to denounce an article in the New Yorker, okay, fine, here you go: The New Yorker sucks! It’s biased, crappy, journalism! I’ve never subscribed and don’t read the rag! (The last part is true. I’ve never subscribed, and I don’t read it, which of course makes a mockery of the first two sentences–how would I know whether it sucks or not?)

      But frankly, I think that most of us have better things to do with our time.

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      1. Well, Hillary did, at one point, say that she’d be putting Bill in charge of the Economy. When it seemed convenient, they presented as a package deal.

        But apart from that, and really more importantly, Hillary publicly counted her time as First Lady in her political resume, and the HIllary fans I know would do the same. That’s fine, but then she owns it. She can’t have the good stuff Bill did without also taking on the bad stuff. And, as WIlliams discusses in the piece I linked to, the bad stuff isn’t just the affair, but all the ugly, dishonest tactics deployed by both Clintons to conceal it, including duping their friends and earnest supporters into lying for him. I’m willing to see her as Bill’s victim, but being a victim isn’t (or shouldn’t be) a vote-getter. “I’m ready to be the leader of the free world” doesn’t quite match up with “I was repeatedly fooled and bamboozled by a serial adulterer/sex addict/sexual predator.”

        Flip it around: would we be eager to vote for a man whose first political “office” and claim to fame was serving as loyal, ever-forgiving “First Man” to a president who repeatedly, recklessly cuckolded him?

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      2. I disagree with so much of this that even thinking about a point-by-point rebuttal makes me tired. (If you’re interested in one, let me know, but otherwise I’ll refrain). But as you said, disagreement isn’t a catastrophe. My main thoughts are two. 1. Unlike you (apparently, based on what you wrote in another comment), I’m not a particularly moralistic person, especially where sex is concerned. American politics seems to me to be virtually obsessed with sex and infidelity. I’m not interested in going any further down that road, so if that’s what you want from me (or from other feminists), I think you will continue to be disappointed. 2. Related to #1 and your question about flipping it around voting for a cuckolded man, no, I wouldn’t be thrilled about voting for such a person, but depending on his policies, I wouldn’t hesitate to vote for him over Donald Trump. I think the national obsession with sexual morality (and again, a cuckolded man is the *victim*) is largely a distraction from more important issues. Bill Clinton was an ass and a creep, but he gave us good Supreme Court justices, a strong economy, the Dayton accords, and a peace dividend. His VP, Al Gore, is a thought leader and activist on climate change. My objections to Trump are not primarily about his misogyny or his creepiness. They are about his (lack of) intelligence and experience, his incompetence, the crooks and yahoos he surrounds himself with, and his bad policies, domestic and foreign. None of this matters if he provokes North Korea into a nuclear confrontation. And none of this matters if we (the US) don’t start showing some world leadership on climate change. If you’re going to slam me now and call me a hypocrite with an astonishing double standard for holding my nose and voting for Bill Clinton anyway, in spite of his misdeeds and creepiness, I’ll live with that.

        Liked by 1 person

  8. Naturally, I continued to ponder this problem all evening! whilst sitting through a local production of Bertold Brecht’s “The Resistable Rise of Arturo Uli.” The play is loosely based on Hitler’s rise to power, and naturally (?) the audience was invited to make comparisons with the Orange Monster presently lurking in the White House and menacing all we hold dear.

    Brecht over-emphasizes the role of fear in the assumption and maintainence of tyranny. The tyrant doesn’t just frighten people into submission; he gives them stuff. He makes them feel good about themselves, superior even, and he inveigles them into compromising a little more and then a little more until they find they are complicit with what they must now believe to be a necessary and temporary cruelty.

    As I wrote in “Render Unto Caesar,” this is what the Weinsteins and, yes, the Bill Clintons of this world are good at doing, though of course they aren’t HItler anymore than Trump is. They are powerful, grubby men who soil us with their generosity so that to expose them is to expose ourselves. It is definitely worth learning to recognize them, and perhaps even more worth learning to recognize that ambition, ego and greed can blind us as easily as fear.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. “It is definitely worth learning to recognize them, and perhaps even more worth learning to recognize that ambition, ego and greed can blind us as easily as fear.” Sure. Totally agree. It doesn’t answer the question, though, of what it is you want from Hillary, or from feminists.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Dear TOMAH-tos (as I am mentally, affectionately calling anyone who engages on this site!) thank you for writing so well and thoughtfully. I believe very strongly that one of the biggest problems we have in our UU churches as in our culture as a whole is the notion that disagreement—even strong, passionate disagreement—is somehow a crisis.

    I am so thrilled to finally have someone actually engage in an argument without “shrieking” (okay, I concede, that did sound pretty darned condescending, KL! My bad.). It’s wonderful. It’s educational. It’s mind-and-heart expanding. Bless you.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. What do I want from feminists… well, let’s be clear (as the former Prez would say) I am, at least on paper, a pretty moralistic sort of person. (I’m cozier face-to-face).

    So I want from feminists what I hope I consistently demand from myself: a conscientious and relentless devotion to reality as it is, humility and moral courage (and yes, those are in paradoxical relationship, as is just about everything that really matters) and of course, a good faith effort to avoid the usual sins which are manifold but ultimately boil down to selfishness.

    I don’t want anything from Hillary. She’s done more than enough already.

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    1. I genuinely don’t understand this answer. The last sentence comes across to me as a snarky conversation stopper. If I wanted to read snarky conversation stoppers, moralistic but vague pronouncements about selfishness, or anti-Hillary opinions, I have other sources for those things. It also appears that I have gotten more emotionally invested in making comments on this blog than is healthy for me, so I’m taking a break.

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  11. Anyway, what I hoped to get across was not that the New Yorker is a horrible rag, but that the conservatives’ complaints about the biases of the supposedly unbiased mainstream media are not without foundation. Yes, yes, I know, Fox News. But we all know that Fox takes a conservative slant. The New Yorker, New York Times, NBC, CNN, NPR et al do not openly declare themselves (nor are they often-enough described and understood by progressives) as slanted sources.

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      1. Weirdly enough, I often end up hearing Fox News radio broadcasts– you know, those “top of the hour” updates— as I drive around Maine, and I have to say, they are pretty fair and balanced. If you want an interesting side-by-side, check out Juan William’s book “Muzzled:” he is a liberal black pundit who had an eye-opening experience of how (among other things) NPR and Fox News treat people.

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  12. I’ll offer this example of an article about Bill Clinton, and Juanita Broaddrick, from Vox: https://www.vox.com/2016/1/6/10722580/bill-clinton-juanita-broaddrick

    My opinion is that Broaddrick is the most credible of Bill Clinton’s accusers. Others, such as Kathleen Willey, retracted/repudiated their charges under oath. (I’m not sure what feminists are supposed to do with those charges, either, if they are retracted under oath).

    I don’t, however, believe that Hillary threatened Broaddrick. I think, if anything, Hillary was trying to be nice to her, but was in over her head. She was probably in denial about Bill and perhaps suspicious of Broaddrick, while Broaddrick was suffering from PTSD from Bill’s assault, and was fearful of any encounter that reminded her of it. I see both of them as victims.

    It’s not clear to me what Hillary should have done in that situation, either. I don’t believe she knew Bill assaulted Broaddrick. It defies logic and common sense that he would have come home and told her, “Guess what? I sexually assaulted a woman I barely know at a hotel while I was away on a business trip!” No, he would have hidden it from his wife. Maybe she suspected he was cheating on her, but she was willing to overlook that because they had a young child and were very much in the public eye. Who knows? I don’t know what I myself would have done in that situation. I haven’t walked in Hillary’s shoes, and I don’t think it’s an “astonishing double standard” that I therefore refrain from judgement of her.

    Where we might have some common ground, is that I think as a society we need a better road map moving forward for handling and holding accountable abusive powerful individuals (both men and women). These kinds of activities have been going on as long as there have been humans, and leaving it to individual women to check their power has not worked and has resulted in more suffering.

    “A genuine challenge to the hierarchy of power will have to come from those who have it.” You said you agree with this statement, as do I. I think if Hillary had won the election, she might have actually been able to carry out this vision, based on the searing lessons of hard experience. Unlike before, when she was Bill’s victim, she would have had more power this time to change things. And unlike the current POTUS, I think she has exhibited a substantial capacity for growth, change, and learning from her mistakes.

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  13. OMG! Guys! I was listening to NPR tonight, on my way to a Godchild-sitting gig, and Noelle King was interviewing three female journalists (Blair, Schwartz, Schmeek) about the Weinstein Effect. She asked on of them to list the major turning points in the history of America’s attempt to deal with sexual harassment/abuse by powerful men. Guess what episodes got listed?

    Anita Hill/Clarence Thomas
    Bill Cosby
    Donald Trump

    And throughout the broadcast, that’s what they kept referring to: “Oh, I remember where I was when I heard about Anita HIll!”

    Really? You don’t remember the double-spread in the New York Times in which Monica Lewinsky’s testimony was laid out for all the world to see? You don’t remember the speech where Bill said (with Hillary standing, grim-faced, behind him) ” I did not have sex with that woman?” It was, after all, a fairly major national crisis…

    Why, we ask ourselves, did they leave Bill Clinton out? What made Bill different from Clarence Thomas (other than that his alleged crimes were actually far worse?). If George W. Bush had behaved exactly as Bill Clinton did, do you doubt for a second that NPR would bring it up in the present context?

    We twist ourselves into prezels to make excuses for the people who share our ideology. We judge those we think are “like us” by their best moments and those we consider our foes by their worst moments. That’s one thing when ordinary people do it. It’s another thing entirely when the press—whose job it is to present us with a broader and more knowlegable perspective that any one of us can have—does it too. And it’s downright embarassing when it’s so friggin’ obvious.

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  14. Perhaps they left that episode out because it wasn’t a turning point in America’s attempt to deal with sexual harassment. Rather, it was more of the same; a continuation of a long and sorry story. A powerful man abuses his position, and takes advantage of a vulnerable young woman by having a sexual relationship with her. He is repeatedly denounced and pursued by a mob of self-righteous serial adulterers (Henry Hyde, Newt Gingrich, et al.). He ultimately gets away with it anyway.

    The young woman meanwhile has intimate personal details of this relationship published in newspapers around the world, on TV, and online. She has compared the political firestorm and media coverage to being “publicly stoned”. And in a recent Op-Ed, she detailed how the Fox News coverage made her feel: Roger Ailes’s Dream Was My Nightmare.

    Conservative media has gone on about how she should blame Bill Clinton and only Bill Clinton for her problems, not Fox News. But according to Lewinsky, “Just days after the story broke, Fox asked its viewers to vote on this pressing question: Is Monica Lewinsky an “average girl” or a “young tramp looking for thrills”?” Bill Clinton didn’t ask Fox News viewers to give a prurient vote on her character. Bill Clinton didn’t cover it 24/7 on national TV.

    Did any women feel empowered to come forward with their stories after what happened to her? Was there an outpouring of sympathy and support for her?

    That wasn’t a turning point. That was just business as usual, from all sides, left, right, and center.

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  15. “Perhaps they left that episode out because it wasn’t a turning point in America’s attempt to deal with sexual harassment. Rather, it was more of the same; a continuation of a long and sorry story.” Okay, but then what makes Bill Cosby or, for that matter, Donald Trump a turning point? After all, Trump is—as we all know a little too well—not the first serial sex abuser elected to the White House?

    And Bill Clinton had it in his power to defend Monica Lewinski, and didn’t. He could have come out early, said “yes, I had an inappropriate relationship with this young woman” (whom Hillary called a “deranged stalker”) “and she deserves better than to have her life dissected over my misbehavior.” He (and Hillary) let her get stomped.

    Also—Bill knew when he came into office that the “Bimbo Eruptions” in his past had planted a giant target on his back that conservatives in DC were going to aim for. And yet he still didn’t (perhaps couldn’t) restrain himself. That’s who he was. That’s who he had always been. And everyone intimate with him had to know it.

    Hillary didn’t just stay with him—she enabled him. Personally—giving her credit for being intelligent and ambitious—I think she did so because Bill was her ticket to power, not to mention money ( she and Bill became enormously rich while she was a “public servant” ) Again, to paint her as an unknowing, innocent victim (and unknowing, innocent beneficiary of Bill’s skills as a provider) is fine, but then she isn’t a strong, intelligent, capable person ready to handle the leadership of the free world.

    It’s an interesting case study in the shifting ways we describe women—the fundamental problem of feminism, really. On the one hand, we want equality. On the other, we insist that women are peculiarly vulnerable to the depredations of men, and in need of protection from them.

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  16. “Did any women feel empowered to come forward with their stories after what happened to her? Was there an outpouring of sympathy and support for her?”

    Exactly Marjorie Williams’ point! all the people you might have expected to pour out sympathy —all the feminists—joined in the stomping. (Paula Jones, by the way, was dismissed as “trailer trash” a nice little lesson in what to expect from middle class feminists when they’re defending their guy). It was absolutely a turning point insofar as the Lewinsky Scandal provided a very stark contrast to the Clarence Thomas/Anita Hill episode. When the man who abused you is a conservative, you’re a heroine and exemplar, but when the man who abused you is a liberal, especially one who contributes to the sacred cause of keeping abortion legal..

    Clarence Thomas, by the way, strongly, vehemently and consistently denied that he had done anything like what Anita Hill accused him of, and there was a lot of evidence to support his case. (Hence his being confirmed to SCOTUS). Liberals would have defended him had he been a liberal, (and cried racism while we were at it).

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