No Means No and Yes Means Yes --Steinem on Jones
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From: Peter Langston <psl>
Date: Thu, 2 Apr 98 17:05:13 -0800
Subject: No Means No and Yes Means Yes --Steinem on Jones
Excerpted-from: New York Times, 3/22/98
[This is Gloria Steinem's 3/22 commendably lucid op-ed in the NYT, entitled
"Feminists and the Clinton Question." -jv]
If all the sexual allegations now swirling around the White House turn out
to be true, President Clinton may be a candidate for sex addiction therapy.
But feminists will still have been right to resist pressure by the right
wing and the media to call for his resignation or impeachment. The pressure
came from another case of the double standard.
For one thing, if the President had behaved with comparable insensitivity
toward environmentalists, and at the same time remained their most vocal
champion and bulwark against an anti-environmental Congress, would they be
expected to desert him? I don't think so. If President Clinton were as vital
to preserving freedom of speech as he is to preserving reproductive freedom,
would journalists be condemned as "inconsistent" for refusing to suggest
resign? Forget it.
For another, there was and is a difference between the accusations against
Mr. Clinton and those against Bob Packwood and Clarence Thomas, between the
experiences reported by Kathleen Willey and Anita Hill. Com- mentators might
stop puzzling over the President's favorable poll ratings, especially among
women, if they understood the common*sense guideline to sexual behavior that
came out of the women's movement 30 years ago: no means no; yes means yes.
It's the basis of sexual harassment law. It also explains why the media's
obsession with sex qua sex is offensive to some, titillating to many and
beside the point to almost everybody. Like most feminists, most Americans
become concerned about sexual behavior when someone's will has been
violated; that is, when "no" hasn't been accepted as an answer.
Let's look at what seem to be the most damaging allegations, those made by
Kathleen Willey. Not only was she Mr. Clinton's political sup porter, but
she is also old enough to be Monica Lewinsky's mother, a better media
spokeswoman for herself than Paula Jones, and a survivor of family tragedy,
struggling to pay her dead husband's debts.
If any of the other women had tried to sell their stories to a celebrity
tell-all book publisher, as Ms. Willey did, you might be even more skeptical
about their motives. But with her, you think, "Well, she needs the money."
For the sake of argument here, I'm also believing all the women, at least
until we know more. I noticed that CNN polls taken right after Ms. Willey's
interview on "80 Minutes" showed that more Americans believed her than
Nonetheless, the President's approval ratings have remained high. Why? The
truth is that even if the allegations are true, the President is not guilty
of sexual harassment. He is accused of having made a gross, dumb and
reckless pass at a supporter during a low point in her life. She pushed him
away, she said, and it never happened again. in other words, President
Clinton took "no" for an answer.
In her original story, Paula Jones essentially said the same thing. She went
to then-Governor Clinton's hotel room, where she said he asked her to
perform oral sex and even dropped his trousers She refused, and even she
claims that he said something like, "Well, I don't want to make you do
anything you don't want to do."
Her lawyers now allege that as a result of the incident Ms. Jones described,
she was slighted in her job as a state clerical employee and even suffered
long-lasting psychological damage. But there appears to be little evidence
to support those accusations. As with the allegations in Ms. Willey's case,
Mr. Clinton seems to have made a clumsy sexual pass, then accepted
This is very different from the cases of Clarence Thomas and Bob Packwood.
According to Anita Hill and a number of Mr. Packwood's former employees,
the offensive behavior was repeated for years, despite constant "no's." It
also occurred in the regular workplace of these women, where it could not
The women who worked for Mr. Packwood described a man who groped and lunged
at them. Ms. Hill accused Clarence Thomas of regularly and graphically
describing sexual practices and pornography. In both cases, the women said
they had to go to work every day, never knowing what sexual humiliation
would await them -- lust the kind of "hostile environment" that sexual
harassment law was intended to reduce.
As reported, Monica Lewinsky's case illustrates the rest of the equation:
"Yes means yes." Whatever it was, her relationship with President Clinton
has never been called unwelcome, coerced or other than something she sought.
The imbalance between them increased the index of suspicion, but there is
no evidence to suggest that Ms. Lewinsky's will was violated; quite the
contrary. In fact, her. subpoena in the Paula Jones case should have been
quashed. Welcome sexual behavior is about as relevant to sexual harassment
as borrowing a car is to stealing one;
The real violators of Ms. Lewinsky's will were Linda Tripp, drho taped
their talks, the F.B.I. agents who questioned her without a lawyer and
Kenneth Starr, the independent prosecutor who seems intent on tailoring the
former intern's testimony.
What if President Clinton lied under oath about some or all of the above?
According to polls, many Americans assume he did. There seems to be sympathy
for keeping private sexual behavior private. Perhaps we have a
responsibility to make it O.K. for politicians to tell the truth --
providing they are respectful of "no means no; yes means yes" -- and still
be able to enter high office, including the Presidency.
Until then, we will disqualify energy and talent the country needs -- as we
are doing right now.
c. 1998, NYT
© 1998 Peter Langston