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Jewish World Review March 30, 2001 / 6 Nissan, 5761

Diana West

Diana West
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The sweet sound of slamming doors and clucking feminists -- IN 1995, Bill Clinton opened the White House Office for Women's Initiatives and Outreach. The WIO, as it was non-famously known, was pretty much a symbolic shop with a handful of staffers whose main purpose seems to have been to identify women as a special interest group in the Clintonian scheme of things. That made feminists happy.

During that same year, of course, Mr. Clinton was almost simultaneously initiating some women's outreach of his own in his private White House office with a 21-year-old intern named Monica Lewinsky. That seems to have made feminists happy, too--or at least happy to remain silent.

And even as Bill Clinton was revealed to have been a serial sexual harasser who had groped and propositioned a career-long kickline of luckless females (including some employees), while failing to refute a credible charge of rape along the way, feminists remained happy--or at least happy to remain silent. Sisterhood, schmisterhood. What was feminist principle next to political power? They were a special interest group in the Clintonian scheme of things and that made them happy.

No more. Now that Bill Clinton is gone and George W. Bush has coolly and quietly shuttered the more official of the two Clinton outreach offices (having repainted and redecorated the one known as the Oval Office), feminists are in what you might call snit.

"If [Mr. Bush] doesn't want there to be polarization, wants to get out of gridlock and head-knocking, this is a strange way to go about it," huffed Patricia Ireland, president of the National Organization for Women, to the Washington Post. Audrey Haynes, former WIO director, sounded her alarm to the Boston Globe: "Bush's decision to close the office concerns me,"--as Mr. Clinton's predatory ways with women, apparently, never did. Martha Burk, self-described "chair" of the National Council of Women's Organization, is also verging on palpitations, particularly when it comes to the--get this--the future of sexual harassment complaints in the Bush administration.

Given the shameful failure of avowed feminists to voice any such "concerns" (or even cluck) over the vivid, detailed harassment and intimidation charges made against Bill Clinton by women ranging from Gennifer Flowers to Paula Jones to Kathleen Willey to Juanita Broaddrick, you've got to wonder whether Ms. Burk is more concerned about how such charges might be pursued in the future, or simply whether there will be any such charges in the future to lend a cockeyed kind of sexual-harassment-parity to the Bush White House--which would really make feminists happy.

Of course, there are other ways to try to cover up the years of silent complicity. Having had nothing to say for a single Jane Doe, before, during or after Mr. Clinton's impeachment, feminists now, finally, seem to be finding their voices. And what are they saying? Writing in the Los Angeles Times, Elaine Showalter, Princeton professor and author of "Inventing Herself: Claiming a Feminist Intellectual Heritage," has decided it is now time to invent Monica Lewinsky, along with Sarah Ferguson, "two long-standing targets of ridicule and scorn, whose humiliations have launched a thousand quips ... about fat and sex" as "feminist icons of the year."

Now, there's something to admire. "Both have had scandalous failed relationships with men in positions of power. Both have been spokeswomen for diet centers," she writes. "It's empowering and inspiring to see this much-mocked duo speak up, strike back and convert mistakes into lessons, instead of hiding away in shame or going into a nunnery." Feel that surge of victimhood? Strange that Ms. Showalter doesn't see that whatever success this "much-mocked duo" enjoys has nothing to do with feminism, but everything to do with the potency of notoriety in our culture. Leaving aside Sarah Ferguson--who just might, incidentally, quibble over equating her celebrated, if doomed, marriage to a prince, which resulted in two children, with Ms. Lewinsky's furtive and adulterous interludes with the former president, which resulted in a hat pin--the apotheosis of Ms. Lewinsky as "feminist icon" comes across as a self-serving effort to salve the feminist conscience, to turn Ms. Lewinsky's outrageous victimization, which feminists did nothing to avenge, into a weird kind of virtue.

Sounds like a matter worth further study by the White House Office for Women's Initiatives and Outreach--that is, if George W. Bush hadn't just shut the thing down. Then again, who really needs a special-interest office to "reach out" to women with "initiatives," whatever they are, especially when the White House--from counselor Karen Hughes, the highest-ranking female White House staffer in history, to National Security advisor Condoleeza Rice, to cabinet secretaries Christie Todd Whitman and Gayle Norton, to Counsel of Economic Advisor member Diana Furchtgott-Roth, to Office of Personnel Management director Kay Coles James--happens to be filled with them?

JWR contributor Diana West is a columnist and editorial writer for the Washington Times. Comment by clicking here.


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© 2001, Diana West