Clinton is the culmination of the liberalism and feminism of the last 50 years, inheritor ne plus ultra of the proposition that there is no difference between the sexes and, therefore, that women can be treated, not as the exalted fairer sex and the mothers of children, but as simple objects of pleasure who can abort kids as a "right." In both his political and personal lives, he carried the feminist revolution of the '60s and '70s to its sour and debased conclusion.
To understand how, turn to Domestic Tranquility: A Brief Against Feminism, published in 1998 by Carolyn Graglia, a former Justice Department lawyer and current housewife and mother of three. Graglia traces Clinton's and modern liberalism's loathing of the feminine to the 1940s hysteria over "momism"--the belief, as identified by social critic Philip Wylie, that idolatry of femininity and the housewife was turning American males into soft and squishy drones, laboring relentlessly in boring jobs just to keep their better halves content.
Wylie gave voice to an anti-momism backlash that found its most powerful expression in 1953, when the first Playboy hit the stands with Marilyn Monroe on the cover. "[Monroe] was everything both male rebels and feminists expected of the new woman, liberated at last from what feminists depicted as the stifling cocoon spun by the oppressive patriarchy," Graglia writes:
Liberated Monroe surely was. Pursuing a successful career until she died a suicide at age 36, she depended on no breadwinner. Not requiring the sexual revolution to unfetter her from any vestiges of constricting morality, she was the paradigmatic sexually liberated woman. . . . Finally, she was no mom for, to her great sadness, Monroe was unable to give birth. . . . This failure, one might speculate, could have been related to the fact that [according to essayist Diana Trilling] "she had a dozen or more abortions."
Here was the emerging modern woman, an archetype later embraced by "progressives": not beholden to any one man, sexually "liberated" (which pleased counterculture leftists and the sexual predators like Clinton who followed them), childless, career-driven. In other words, the antithesis of everything that women had been, by nature, for centuries.
As women became even more "liberated" in the '60s and '70s, nontraditional progressive types such as Clinton respected them less. By rejecting their role as sexual aggressors as the hang-up of the older generation, men freed themselves of the responsibility to act like gentlemen--a problem that has only gotten worse, as Clinton proved.
Feminists and their male acolytes demanded equality and rejected paternalism, believing they were ushering in a bright new era of intimacy between the sexes. What they're too politically myopic to see is that, without the constraints of chivalry and gallantry that acknowledged men as natural sexual predators and therefore saddled them with responsibility for acting like gentlemen, we lost a system that allowed men and women to be friends and lovers while acknowledging their differences.
More confusion followed. Contraception, promising eroticism detached from procreation, gave us sex without the spiritual or emotional ties that imbue it with meaning. Free sex became promiscuity, ushering in our golden age of sex without love, date rape, and the dehumanization of pornography. (A few years ago, Hollywood liberals, many of them Friends of Bill, applauded Larry Flynt at the Oscars, cheering a man whose magazine once depicted a woman being fed into a meat grinder.)
It was in this brave new world of womanhood that Monica Lewinsky found Bill Clinton, the dual face of the modern male feminist. While touting his appointment of women to high office and (of course) defending their right to abortion (upholding that fine progressive value of violence against the defenseless), he was receiving favors from a 21-year-old whose Rubensesque form recalled the Playboy bombshells of the '50s. Had the affair happened 100 or even 50 years earlier--or to a less "progressive" president--it would have occurred differently. The president would have viewed his mistress not as a thing to please his base instincts but as a full human being. He might even treat her like a lady, acknowledging his role as the fling's instigator. And when he got caught, he would certainly not let her take the heat, the most caddish aspect of the entire affair. He would have acted like a gentleman, something liberalism has made difficult if not impossible.
Mark Gauvreau Judge is a Washington-based freelance writer and author of If It Ain't Got That Swing: The Rebirth of Grown-Up Culture.
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