As feminists and women’s rights advocates come out to denounce Republican Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore, it’s worth noting that in the sexual scandal surrounding former President Bill Clinton, feminists weren’t as quick to condemn him.
Moore, currently in the running for Attorney General Jeff Session’s former Senate seat, stands accused of sexually touching a 14 year old and the attempted sexual assault of a 16-year-old girl, accusations he has staunchly denied.
While feminists and both sides of the aisle have rightly condemned his actions, it wasn’t that long ago that feminists and Democrats were bending over backwards to defend Clinton from his accusers because he was “their guy” and supported their ideas on abortion and childcare, according to a 1998 Vanity Fair essay.
“If the hypocrisy and the powers of denial are impressive, one must consider that these women have had a lot of practice. Feminists have all along muffled, disguised, excused, and denied the worst aspects of the president’s behavior with women—especially in their reactions to Paula Jones, whose sexual-harassment suit they have greeted with attitudes ranging from tepid boilerplate support to outright hostility,” then-writer Marjorie Williams wrote in her piece.
Author Susan Faludi dismissed the Monica Lewinsky claims, saying it seemed like she “put the moves on him.” Betty Friedan, the now deceased author of the book that launched second wave feminism, said the accusations sounded like a set-up from Clinton’s enemies and she “didn’t care” if they were true. Another writer, Anne Roiphe, fretted about how the Democratic Party would be damaged from the accusations, while the president of the Feminist Majority Foundation said the world needed to think about the “bigger picture.”
The National Organization for Women at first said it couldn’t comment “responsibly” on the charges leveled against Clinton, but after hearing a sworn testimony from a Clinton accuser, said the question is “whether the president is a ‘womanizer’ to whether he is a sexual predator.”
The same organization has issued a strong condemnation of Moore, saying they have always known he was a misogynist, but now he has crossed into “predatory behavior.”
Williams also warned of the potential damage on the feminists’ fight against sexual harassment, given the movement’s tendency to try and defend Clinton. While laws against sexual harassment would still exist, the “social sanctions” against sexual harassment would be slowly erased.
When the dust of Clinton’s presidency settles, the laws against sexual harassment will still be on the books. But the social sanctions against the behavior will be irretrievably damaged.
If you doubt this, look around. In the weeks that followed the Lewinsky scandal, those who had been most affronted by the awkward new social arrangements lately demanded of them shambled out of their caves to beat their chests. Conservative columnist John Leo, for example, crowed in U.S. News & World Report that the scandal was “probably the decade’s high-water mark of euphoria around the water cooler … a chance to break free from the office sex police.
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