Copyright © 1998 Henrietta W. Hay
No Easy Answers
February 27, 1998
It has been a tough winter for women. Unlike the religious right, which
claims to know exactly what the right answers are to every question,
activist women have had a lot of confusing issues to deal with recently
-- most of them centering about one subject I never expected to discuss
in a column. I prefer to leave sex issues to Dr. Ruth.
But with Hillary Rodham Clinton, Bea Romer and Karla Faye Tucker in the
news, those of us involved with women's rights have had a lot of
questions to think about.
The problem is that everybody wants simple answers. There aren't
any. There are just questions. Should politicians use ethical and
moral issues for political gain? Should everyone's personal life be
open for public examination? Are Presidents and Governors different
from the rest of us? If my son told me something in confidence,
could I be legally required to repeat it? Should a woman be put to
death legally? Is adultery a political, social, moral or personal
issue? Has the media gone nuts?
Yes - no - maybe - probably - to all of the above.
If we want to talk about empowerment for women, we must include
responsibility. I think the death penalty is morally wrong. It is,
however, legal in many states. Karla Faye Tucker was found by a Texas
jury to be guilty of taking a pickax to two people. She was sentenced
by a judge to death. Fifteen years later she became the first woman to
be executed in Texas since the Civil War. The fact that she had "found
Jesus" and was female did not and should not have influenced the final
disposition of the case. But I still think the death penalty is
When we get into issues of privacy, it gets more complicated. Sue
O'Brien, writing in the Denver Post, explored the "slippery slope" of
privacy in public officials. Writing as a journalist she said that "the
best guideline on public-official privacy was articulated in 1983 by
Washington and Lee University ethicist Lou Hodges: 'In reporting on
public officials we should publish private information, even against
their will, if their private activity might have significant impact on
their official performance.'"
If our public servants are doing the jobs for which they were elected,
whether we agree with them or not, should their private lives -- and
their wives' lives -- be private, or are they the business of all of
us? Are we quite free to discuss the Clintons' sex lives over
breakfast? Or is it, really, none of our business?
In discussing the sexual activities of the Clinton and Romer families
with various people and reading far too many columns, several
interesting, unofficial and inadequately researched conclusions emerge.
By and large the men are saying, "Oh the poor wives." And they women
are saying, "Every marriage is different. If she chooses to stay, it's
her choice. And it's none of my business."
Bea Romer and Hillary Clinton have shown great strength and dignity.
They are facing a vicious invasion of privacy, each in her own way.
We can't know what goes on in anybody else's marriage, nor should we.
Sometimes we don't even know what goes on in our own. If Bea and
Hillary have built marital relationships that are satisfactory for them,
it is not for me to judge them. At long last, women have acquired
enough power in the world to be able to make their own choices.
Personally I believe what they are saying.
There are more questions than there are answers.
When I was 20 I knew the answers. Women were dutiful and men were
faithful. But sixty years of living and listening and observing have
made me a lot more tolerant and less judgmental. I have watched with
fascination the evolutionary changes that have taken place in our
society. Some call it a moral breakdown. I'll go along with those
who call it growth in personal freedom, painful though it may be. In
any case, it has gotten far too complex for simplistic answers.
But just to be on the safe side, maybe anyone planning to run for public
office in the future should stick to kissing to babies.