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Why Monica Lewinsky is NOT my feminist hero.

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Last week was apparently the 20th anniversary of the Lewinsky-Clinton scandal.  I’m not sure why we need to celebrate or commemorate such a fiasco but this morning I discovered this tweet by Eve Peyser, a staff writer at Vice.com

 

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There’s a lot in this one tweet.  For starters I don’t how it’s very feminist to make negative blanket statements about two entire generations of women.  To encompass all baby boomers and generation X women in one sweeping generalization like that is really condemning most women in the United States.

I’m not a fan of broad generalizations about any group, and I have a more nuanced view of the Lewinksy scandal so this was my response to that tweet.

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(I actually made a mistake when I wrote my tweet.  For years I always thought I was slightly younger than Lewinsky.  I only discovered when researching this article that Monica and I are actually the exact same age.)

For starters I didn’t learn about the Lewinsky-Clinton scandal from textbooks and news articles.  I lived through it.  I won’t delve into the minutia of the entire ordeal and I might get a couple of small details wrong but the basics go like this.  A young privileged woman (Monica Lewinsky) open and aggressively pursued a married man (President Bill Clinton) who had a long history of infidelity and womanizing.  The GOP leadership was already investigating Clinton for a past real estate deal when they stumbled upon evidence of the affair.  When Clinton denied it, Republican representatives filed for articles of impeachment on grounds that he’d lied under oath.  Every torrid sexual detail was exposed.  Several horrible people profited from tell all books and tabloid exclusives, but when the dust settled Clinton, although permanently tainted from the scandal, stayed in power.  In the upcoming years several of the men who lead the charge against Clinton, ended up in far more lurid sex scandals of their own.

Lewinsky received a disproportionate amount of negative press for her role in the affair.  She was called everything from a slut, whore, home-wrecker, and opportunist.  The press mocked her weight, clothing, and appearance.  Her personal life was dissected and analyzed and nearly everything written about her was negative.  Intimate sexual details between her and the president were printed for all of eternity in the special prosecutor’s report.  Her face graced the cover of newspapers and magazines for months.  Lewinsky tried to profit off of her notoriety by selling her own line of handbags, a venture which quickly failed and did nothing to improve her image.

After millions of tax dollars were spent on the investigation, the whole mess ended up backfiring for the GOP as the general public sentiment could be reduced to the simple question:

Was all of this necessary for a blow job?

Now back to the idea of Lewinsky being bullied and slut-shamed.  Regarding the charge of bullying.  Although the press was overly harsh toward her, most women I knew had mixed feelings.   Social media didn’t exist at the time and none of us could really have done anything but sit back and watch the train wreck.  I’m sure Lewinsky got mountains of hate mail but no one could tweet at her, make video rants about her, mock her online, share unflattering photos of her, or dox her personal information.  The general public wasn’t nearly as interactive in such affairs in the 1990s.   We just didn’t have the means to get involved.

As far as slut-shaming is concerned, that’s also a bit complicated.  There is a faction of third wave feminism that promotes the idea that anything sexual a woman does should be championed or celebrated.   For centuries female sexuality has been viewed as evil or something to be controlled.  There is nothing wrong of course with two adults in a consensual sexual relationship.  Things get blurry however when sexuality crosses over into unethical behavior.   A person can think whatever they want about the institution of marriage, but they don’t exist in a cultural vacuum where everyone shares the same belief system.  Knowingly having an affair with a married person is a high risk behavior.  When one enters into an adulterous relationship with someone they know is married they are suddenly involving other people without their consent.  Although they might get away with their affair, it could also have extreme negative consequences for both the spouse and children of the person they are sleeping with.  Infidelity is a selfish and unethical act that involves lies and betrayal.  Deception destroys trust in any relationship, and can cause untold damage to the faithful spouse.  Two atheists can tear each other apart in a marriage without the concept of religious sin or morality ever entering the picture.  Simply put an extramarital affair might be fun for the two people involved in it, but it might also wreck emotional havoc on an entire family.

I also don’t think Lewinsky is the best example for the #MeToo movement.  Clinton never threatened Lewinsky’s job.  There’s no evidence that he did anything of the sort.  He never told her he’d destroy her career, harm her family or ruin her reputation if she didn’t go along with his advances.  She has never testified to as much, and there’s nothing in the Starr report that would indicate it.  Lewinsky was much younger than Clinton, but he didn’t exactly coerce or force her.  If anything she was a starstruck girl who got a rush and sense of self-importance by having sexual relations with a very powerful man.  She openly bragged about their affair, about flashing her thong underwear during meeting with him.  She also boasted about “bringing her presidential knee pads to the White House” before she even met him.  Lewinsky probably did have emotional scars from a previous relationship she’d had with another older married man.  She probably had a warped view of relationships with older men because of her past.  Clinton had a long history of inappropriate behavior with women.  It was unprofessional and foolish to get involved sexually with a young subordinate.  As the POTUS he had more important things to worry about.  He used poor judgment, lied to his wife, lied to the American people and ruined his own legacy in the process.  He had far more life experience and more at stake, and should have used restraint.  He wasn’t the first president to have an extramarital affair, and Lewinsky if far from the first woman to have sex with one.

What also compelled me to reject the label of “feminist hero” toward Lewinsky are Lewinsky’s own words and actions since the scandal ended.  At first she tried to ride her notoriety with a line of handbags.  That wasn’t exactly a bold step forward for feminism or women’s rights.  It was a crass attempt to cash in on the media attention.  That venture failed quickly and she faded into relative obscurity.  When she returned to tell her story many years later she was contrite.  She took ownership of her mistakes and failings.  She started a platform to raise awareness of the dangers of public humiliation in the media.

The irony is of course is that although she was humiliated by a vicious press, Lewinsky’s actions also caused great humiliation to Bill’s wife Hillary and their teenage daughter Chelsea.  Hillary was far from unscathed from this whole mess.  Although Hillary has been long-suffering through Bill’s many dalliances she chose to stay in the marriage and forgive her husband.  She has also bore the burden of his actions and poor choices.  Bill’s past with women was constantly brought up during her failed presidential attempt.   Her moral center was questioned even though she’d done nothing wrong but try to defend her husband.   As much as Lewinsky might feel she has to endure a permanent scarlet A on her chest for her youthful mistakes, Hillary also wears the badge of enabler, doormat, or frigid shrew.

Lewinsky didn’t improve the plight of women, and she didn’t do anything heroic through her extended ordeal.  She did have enough personal strength and insight to take responsibility for her actions many years later.  She’s also tried to improve the lives of others through her anti-bullying campaign.  If anything she’s a survivor who tried to use her personal pain for good, but to call her a hero is a bridge too far.

If millennial women are searching for an actual feminist hero of the #MeToo movement the choice should be obvious.  Just a few years before the Lewinsky-Clinton scandal a young attorney testified that she was repeatedly sexually harassed by her boss Clarence Thomas.  She spoke up because he had just been nominated to a position on the supreme court.  Anita Hill sat alone in front of the all male senate judiciary committee and the world to describe her ordeal in brutal detail.  During her brave testimony she was viciously picked apart by the press and Thomas’s supporters.  She also endured an avalanche of scrutiny of every detail of her life, background and personal relationships.  She went through as much grief as Lewinsky if not more.  In the end Clarence got his seat on the court and Anita Hill never changed her story.  At time of her testimony 60 percent of Americans believed Thomas over Hill, yet after her testimony, the number of women filing harassment claims with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission doubled.  Anita Hill is a feminist hero in every way possible, in fact she’s a feminist superstar.

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Street Harassment: Why “Cat Calls” Suck Big Hairy Balls

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Hairy balls (Photo credit: @Doug88888)

I purposefully gave this article a ridiculously provocative title.  I don’t mean any offense, as some people really enjoy doing a lot of things with testicles.   I just wanted to use heated sexual language directed at men to make a point. Gentlemen, imagine hearing a phrase like that yelled at you all day long.

Some men resent women because they think we have it so much easier when it comes to dating.  In some ways we do.  For instance it’s a lot easier for the average women to get no strings attached sex. Of course, a few men have a lot of luck hooking up with multiple partners, but for the most part, women usually have no problem having casual sexual encounters.  The downside is that women are often the victims of forced sexual advances, sexual harassment, rape and sexual violence. For most of us, unwanted sexual attention comes at us all day long.  This is exactly why cat calling sucks big hairy balls.

Now because men and women do have different realities when it comes to street harassment, I don’t know an easy way to put this.  If you are male and are reading this please picture the LEAST sexually attractive person you could imagine coming on to you. If this real or imaginary human were to overtly make some type of advance, your skin would crawl.  The thought of having sex with this individual makes you want to vomit.  It would be so disgusting, you would never want to have sex again.  Really burn that face into your psyche. Now imagine if nearly every time you stepped out of your apartment or home, there they were…ready to make some graphic or illicit sexual remark directed at you.  They might follow you down the street, prevent you from walking, lean in close, physical touch or intimidate you.

That is what many women deal with, every day, all day long, all year round in nearly every conceivable situation.  Has it hit home yet?  Maybe? OK I’ll try to tell it from a woman’s perspective now.

When I’m walking down the street, I’m usually thinking of the next place I have to go, I’m not thinking I about any number of men:

  • Who I know nothing about
  • Who might be drunk, or flying high on drugs
  • Who might be much younger or older than me
  • Who could get violent at any moment or try to assault me
  • Who chances are I have no physical attraction to whatsoever

Believe it or not lovers of cat calls, street harassment is quite intimidating.  In fact, there have been several cases of rape, and even murder have begun with seemingly innocuous cat calling.  So no, I’m not overjoyed when some stranger treats me like a sexual object when I didn’t want the attention.

In my short 40 years on this planet, I’ve had to deal with the following scenarios of street harassment.

I have had men assume I was a prostitute – They would pull their cars over, open their doors and ask “how much?” – this happened several times when I was going to work at a coffee shop in college at 5AM.  I was always wearing khaki pants, a t-shirt or long-sleeved shirt, tennis shoes and carrying a bag.  I usually also had a hat on, so I have no idea why this read as prostitute.

I been groped by strangers – I wish this wasn’t true but it’s happened at clubs, bars or on the subway. The physical touching wasn’t ambiguous. Men would grab my ass when I was a cocktail waitress – every time it happened a security guard threw them out of the club.

I been followed, threatened and stalked – You name the threat I’ve heard it.  From “I’m gonna cut your head off” or “I’m going to smash your brains in” and the usual “I want to fuck you so hard”

I have had total stranger grab me, or block my path – When this happens I totally blow up at the man, which usually leads to one of the “I’m going to smash your brains in” type of comments.  But honestly why should any stranger physically touch or grab someone they don’t know? No one has a right to touch another person or prevent them from walking down the street.

I had men expose themselves and masturbate towards me – This has happened more than once and both times on the subway in Chicago.  I learned after my first experience to completely ignore the man. The second time it happened I refuse to acknowledge anything was going on, and luckily this strategy worked and he got bored and stopped.  Again before this might sound HOT to any men reading picture the someone you who actually sexually repulses you doing this to you!  Not so fun now is it.

It happens every day, all times of the year, all day long, regardless of what I’m wearing, or how I look. Even mild interactions tend to wear me down.  Here is a typical one.

It was 5:30 a.m.  I was walking down the street dressed in a conservative skirt suit while hauling a rolling suitcase behind me.   A sanitation worker blocked my path on the sidewalk and physically prevented me from moving.  He said simply, “Hey baby.”

I don’t look up, and politely walked around him with my suitcase.  As I walked past him he shouts, “Bitch.”

Was I supposed to make myself late to work, and just start talking to guy who chose to say “Hey baby.”  Should I have smiled back only to invite even more attention?  Why can’t I just ignore it?    This type of attention is grating, annoying and seriously starts to make women angry at the men who do it.  We don’t view as complimentary.  It’s harassment plain and simple and sadly no joke.

If none of this has swayed your opinion and you are man who still thinks street harassment is welcome, picture your daughter, niece or a friend’s defenseless young child walking down the street…now imagine grown men making sexually lewd comments to her.  The first time I was sexually harassed and intimidated I was about five years old.  So it really does start when girls are extremely young.  Would you want your daughter, sister or mother to go through it?  Of course you wouldn’t.  So the next time you think of making a kissing noise at a random woman, or shouting at her about her ass, or blocking a female on the street, stop yourself.   Your tactic not only won’t work, but you are probably making that woman’s day that much worse.  If a woman thinks you are cute, she will probably find a reason to talk to you, but when you scream “Hey baby you look so good I want to fuck you”, you’ve just lost any chance that it will happen.

Sexual Harassment – Nothing to Brag About

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sexharass (Photo credit: iVoryTowerz)

The first time it happened I was shopping with my mother in a discount department store.  I felt a physical quality that was completely new to me.  It was a fear, almost primal in nature that filled me with an uneasiness and mild panic.  I was drifting in and out of the circular racks of clothing when I felt it before I heard their words,

Look at blondie.  Someone thinks she’s sexy.  Hey, little sexy girl.”

I was only five years old.  They continued,

“Do you want to come home with us pretty little lady?” as they laughed in a way that caused my spine to ache.

My mother, at first in shock that this was even happening, laid into them in a rare public display of anger.  Her voice strident with all the rage of an animal protecting her young,

“What is wrong with you?  She is a child?  You are disgusting! Get away from my daughter!”

Even with my mother’s objection they simply cackled in her face and walked away.  I wondered what I had done to cause them men to do that.  Was I walking strange?  Did I have a weird look on my face?  Was it something I was wearing?  I knew it wasn’t just the words.  What I felt that day was unseen and startling to me – it was predatory sexual energy.

That incident was the first of many.  Strangers have grabbed me on the street, I have been stalked, cyber-stalked, intimidated, threatened, insulted and fought off more than one would be attacker.  My childhood dentist would make blow job references.  One eye doctor was noticeably aroused in front of me, when I was only 13 years old.  Then there was our parish pastor who simply creeped me out.  A photo exists of me in my first communion dress standing next to him, the rigidness in my back, apparent from my body language.   I am not sure why he made me uncomfortable, I just knew his hand on my shoulder made me queasy.

In the workplace I didn’t fare much better.   It didn’t help that most of my jobs, meant to supplement my acting career, were rife with toxic work environments.  When I worked at a sandwich shop near the Chicago Board of trade my manager had the back room plastered with X-rated porn images.  He would comment on my body and more than once graze up against me.  Was it an accident?  Why did it seem to happen nearly every day?  I needed the job for the summer, I put up with it with the message in my brain. Just one more month, just one more month, just one more month.  I only had one more month until school started and I didn’t have time to quit and find a new job.  I had to pay my rent, so I put up with it.

Multiple food service jobs that I had over the years I dealt with: comments from co-workers, full on gropings and even uninvited kisses.  I would always blow up and chastise the men for their behavior but why did I have to constantly correct them after the fact?  Even in the corporate world it didn’t completely stop.  Once when discussing my tax returns a co-worker implied that my acting and modeling income was the same as working as a stripper or prostitute.  I threatened to go to Human Resources and report him, he immediately apologized.

Recently I shared a story about having to drop out of college and give up on a full ride scholarship due to overwhelming sexual harassment. A peer in a writing class commented that

“I was bragging”

because of this admission and another story about being hit on in a work related environment   He  put the two stories together and decided I was boasting about being sexually desirable.  I was just so floored that a man would view sexual harassment this way.

“I should be proud that “I still have got it!” was his second quote.

Well at the time of the first sexual harassment, in college, I was all of 18 years old.  I think most 18-year-old women have got plenty to attract most men.

When the words came out of his mouth I was just too dumbfounded to actually say much of anything.  Is this really how some men view sexual harassment?  Should women be open and gracious to all sexual advances no matter how unwanted or inappropriate?

Is it really so difficult to understand the concept that sometimes women just want to go to work, get and education or walk down the street without having to feel like the object of some man’s sexual fantasy?  Do these men understand that we don’t want to feel like we must “go along” with comments or actions to keep our jobs, get a good grade or be polite?

Would this same man view a story about rape, attempted rape or child molestation as boasting?  That somehow I was so physically attractive that a man just couldn’t help themselves and decided to force me into a sexual situation.  Harassment is simply a weaker form of sexual abuse.  Rape, molestation and sexual intimidation are all various shades of the same color.  Because that is what harassment is at its core – intimidation.  It is forcing a woman who has no power to speak out or do anything about the abuse to put up with it.  She may have thought she was getting an education, or working at a job, but a man with some power over her, has decided that it is more important that she is a sexual plaything.

As if being intimidated to the whim of an older man with power over my future was somehow something to envy.  It seemed like a classic case of projection.  Perhaps he had a fantasy of an older woman coming on to an 18-year-old version of himself.  What he failed to understand about female and male sexuality is profound.  Perhaps he resents the sexual inequality between the genders.   Woman can get sex easier than most men.  The downside is of course, that woman also have to deal with sexual violence far more often than men.  I wondered if this man had ever had a grade in college determined on whether he would or would not have sex with a teacher.  Would it be OK if the teacher harassing him was a gay man?  Had he ever been pushed up against a wall by a stranger and groped?  Had he ever had a man force himself on him sexually?

Was he implying that sexual harassment is not a real problem?  He even used the phrase

“I was making much to do about nothing.”

It was shocking really.  I walked away from a full ride scholarship because I didn’t want feel forced into a sexual relationship.  Would this man want his daughter to face the same dilemma in her career?  Would he want his mother, sister or girlfriend to put up with this kind of treatment at her workplace?

I baffles me that sexual harassment should even be talked about in this way.  I am more than whatever sexual desire a man wants to project upon me.  I am more than the sum of my body parts.  I am more than my physical appearance.  And when I finally become too old, when my glory days are over.  I won’t look back and miss the feeling that I first felt at such a young age with my mother – like a prey animal about to be devoured by a predator.  I am not bragging when I simply call to light a problem that nearly all women have had to deal at some point in their lives.  I am just sharing what it is like to be female – and our reality is not always so nice.