Letter from America
WHILE WE have in the White House a man who is not only a sexual predator, as New Directions' editors noted last month, but almost certainly a rapist as well (a judgment following not only from his victim's testimony but from every revelation of his real character), one can still take some comfort in watching the moral collapse of American feminism.
The feminist reversal
I don't know how much of this made the English news, but since President Clinton was first accused of sexually abusing a young woman who thought she was invited to see the then-governor for a talk, and perhaps a job, feminist leaders have jumped to his defense, and with the most remarkable reversal of the standards for sexual propriety they had been furiously demanding for the last two decades.
Once their cry had been "Believe the woman," no matter what the evidence, and they did not spare even the pro-abortion Senator Robert Packwood for pressing himself (not just his intentions) upon women in his office. Once they had declared, and worked to have written into law, that any sexual relation between a superior and an inferior was by definition abusive, because the victim could not safely decline. The imbalance of power, so they argued, made consensual sex impossible.
But those were the days of "consciousness-raising," a phrase with the pleasing implication that those who did not agree with them had low, probably subterranean, consciousnesses. These "are the new days of consciousness- lowering," Noemie Emery wrote in The Weekly Standard, when feminist leaders tell women "to unlearn everything they knew. They are being told now that the accused male merits the presumption on innocence; that without absolute proof, the man's word is valid; that if it's an old story, it no longer has meaning; and that a rape charge shouldn't be allowed to interfere with the career of a prominent man."
Even before the latest revelation, the spokeswomen of American feminism had, to a woman, sided with the President and against the women who accused him - women whose testimony they would have accepted without question, had it been directed at one of their enemies, as they accepted without question Anita Hill's unlikely story of sexual harassment by Clarence Thomas. (Thomas, who upset liberals by appealing to Natural Law - that is, suggested that there actually was a Law behind the law - recently left the Episcopal Church and became a Roman Catholic.)
Interviewed in The New York Observer, a group of prominent feminist writers cheered on his affair with Ms. Lewinsky, one famously announcing that she would herself, er, enliven President Clinton's day as a reward for his having kept abortion legal. Others made similar offers.
The group included Erica Jong, who with her novel Fear of Flying proved that you could make a best-seller out of a few banal ideas as long as you were the first woman to put so much sex in a book and your banal ideas were the sort - sex is fun and liberating too - the public seemed to want to have articulated in a (supposedly) serious book. She thought the President's intimate hours with an intern, gross imbalance of power though it was, just wonderful.
So, as it turns out, the last remaining feminists seem to be moral conservatives like me, and I assume most of you, who think the imbalance of power argument true, but would have called a man who desired sex of his secretary a creep and a worm long before any feminist thought up the argument. But we would also say, and here we part company with the feminists, that even two people of equal status should stay out of bed with one another unless they are married, a rule that would help protect the secretary, had the sexual liberals not removed it.
And our standards would not change if the man were our political ally. There is an advantage in having a fixed moral code: one doesn't look as so self-serving and unstable and unprincipled as our feminist leaders have made themselves look. Or, let me be honest, revealed themselves to be.
Episcopalians have our own example of this remarkable reversal of principles. You will all remember that at Lambeth Barbara Harris, the suffragan bishop of Massachusetts, who is herself black, announced that the African bishops had been bought off with "chicken dinners." Had anyone else used such a racial, if not racist, stereotype, Ms. Harris would have howled with outrage - and howled and howled and howled - and howled and howled and howled.
Other liberal bishops have offended even more grossly against racial sensitivity and multicultural ideology, but I have not heard one word of criticism from another American liberal. The bishop of Arizona, you may remember from last month, declared that the Africans "want to condemn homosexuality quite soundly while turning a blind eye to the instances of polygamy, tribalism, genocide and even female mutilation in their own culture," and the bishop of Rhode Island announced that they had taken money (meaning bribes) from American bishops.
But as with President Clinton, so with our bishops: the revelation that their claims to complete moral enlightenment are bogus will have no effect on their power or on their confidence. They are still in office, and still in control, and still, on all other matters, particularly innovations in sexual order, insisting on building the new Kingdom of sexual diversity which, they think, only reactionaries and homophobes would resist.
On second thought, our feminist leaders and liberal bishops do have a fixed principle, which is the absolute necessity of affirming the sexual activity anyone prefers. Our bishops may place a few more restrictions than the feminists, by requiring that such activity be "life-enhancing" and "mutual" and perhaps even monogamous (an ambiguous word, these days, meaning only "for a period of time"). This would explain the feminist who would gladly service President Clinton to reward him for his support for abortion, because abortion must be legal in the sexually unfettered world they desire.
Perhaps a psychologist should investigate this, because it all looks very much like an addiction. Only an addiction would explain Bishops Harris and Shahan's transgression of the liberal pieties, in slandering their African brothers for saying what once even American liberals believed.
David Mills is director of publishing at Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry and editor of The Pilgrim's Guide: C. S. Lewis and the Art of Witness (Eerdmans).
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