Copyright © 1998 Henrietta W. Hay
Feminists United! Well, maybe not.
April 3, 1998
"Where are the feminists?" Now that Kenneth Starr has temporarily run
out of women to subpoena, his followers have taken on the "other"
women. They have discovered that the women they brand with the "F"
word don't all agree with each other. Rush Limbaugh is salivating.
(By way of apology, I listen to Rush for entertainment value when I am
in the car. ) Even a Sentinel headline tells us that "Willey case
splits leaders of feminists."
Listening to the media, one gets the impression that "feminists" are one
big, single entity, rolled into a ball like a basketball or something
that is expected to bounce as a single unit.
Of course we don't agree on everything all the time. From the very
beginning the women did not agree on techniques, only on the result.
Today there are the conservatives, the moderates and the radicals, even
as there were then. Rita Mae Brown got kicked out of the New York
chapter of NOW back in the '70s because she and Betty Friedan had a
major difference of opinion. Patricia Ireland, president of NOW and
Gloria Steinem, a founder of the feminist movement, made public
statements about the Kathleen Willey interview that did not exactly
match. That's not news.
Disagreement among activists is not strictly a feminine trait. We have
excellent role models. I seem to remember reading about the delegates
to the Continental Congress. They were rugged individuals, united only
in their desire for a new country. They were utterly different from
each other in personality and background and political experience. They
all wanted a new country, but they practically tore each other's wigs
off in deciding how to do it. They disagreed on every period and
comma. They fought for every sentence. But in the end they created a
constitution that works.
"Where are the feminists?" Don't worry; we're still around. Yes, most
of us believed Anita Hill, because she was speaking out of strong
personal convictions, and she had nothing to gain personally. She
spoke out because she believed that if Clarence Thomas were appointed to
the Supreme Court it would set back the cause of women's rights. His
record on the bench has proved that she was right.
Our voices are somewhat quieter now because we are trying to determine
whether President Clinton is guilty of sexual harassment or, as Steinem
suggested, he "made a gross, dumb pass." We do not yet know the true
facts in any of the cases which are creating such a furor and a lot of
us are withholding judgment until we do. Sue O'Brien, writing in the
Denver Post, said, "It is a mark of maturity in the women's movement
that women are able to avoid knee-jerk reactions when another woman
describes sexual harassment."
Sexual harassment is a serious offense. Lawyers and judges are
struggling with its legal definition. Employers are offering
sensitivity training. Men and women of good will are living under new
rules. But the bottom line is, "No means No and Yes means Yes." And
"No" means "Back off."
So far Kenneth Starr has spent somewhere around $40 million of taxpayer
money conducting his witch hunt . His latest effort to find something
to hang on the president has reached the ridiculous. He has infuriated
librarians and booksellers and nearly everybody else on this one. He
has subpoenaed the records of Kramerbooks, a bookstore in Washington,
to find what Monica Lewinsky has bought there. I wonder whether she
reads mysteries or science fiction. He'll probably hit her local
grocery store next.
I still don't know who or what to believe in the whole mess. I'm going
to wait and see what the courts say and hope that Kenneth Starr goes
back to teaching very soon.
Meanwhile, the president is trying to do his job. And yes, most
feminists are taking it a little slow and waiting for some facts
before condemning the first president in history to support issues of
special importance to women.