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Leslie Loftis: Monica Lewinsky did not turn me off feminism. But her bitchy female detractors surely did

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Last week, a young grad student here in the United States interviewed me for a study on feminists who had read The Feminine Mystique. As I’m writing here at The Conservative Woman and as some readers might have read some of my other work, it might come as a surprise to learn that a feminist would assume that I was a feminist. But it is quite common actually, for the women who believe the feminist line that feminism is really just about equality for women, then, unless the topic is abortion, I sound like what they expect a feminist to sound like.

Usually, however, when they find out I am conservative, they will stop engaging with me. This grad student was different. She had deliberately included a few conservative women in her research. She asked about when I decided I wasn’t a modern feminist. I told her my story of reading The Feminine Mystique and The Second Sex in my mid-20s, how they turned me away by insulting traditional womanhood rather than building upon it. I wasn’t interested in tearing women down or in living like a man.

Now I wish the interview had taken place a little later. A few days after the interview, I remembered when my views of modern feminism solidified, when I realised that I did not merely disagree with feminists, but that women could not trust them.

Monica Lewinsky, the young intern who had an affair with Bill Clinton during his presidency, recently gave a speech to the Forbes Under 30. She has been back in the media spotlight since.

I was in law school and a few years past my feminist rejection when the Lewinsky scandal broke. We talked about it often in study groups, trying like good baby lawyers to disentangle the sensation from the legal issue: Clinton’s perjury.

I saw a young, naive, and infatuated woman. I remember thinking how mortified I would be to have all of that information in the public domain. I don’t contend that she was blameless, having an affair with a married man, but that the man was far more powerful than she was. That is, aside from the legal and the sensational, Lewinsky’s plight was a classic example of an old sexist power play. Therefore, I watched for how declared feminists treated her.

They treated her abysmally. Maureen Dowd even won a Pulitzer Prize for her coverage of the scandal, in part because she was willing to call out feminists for their hypocrisy.

The feminist icon in the White House doesn’t flinch at smearing these women…Ms Lewinsky must die so that the women of America can have better childcare, longer maternity stays, toll-free domestic violence hot lines and bustling mutual funds.

Mrs Clinton knows she can count on the complicity of feminists and Democratic women in Congress. They accept the trade-off in letting a few women be debased so that they can get more daycare centers.

Influential feminists not only accepted the trade-off of debasing a few women, some were willing to be the debased themselves. Journalist Nina Burleigh famously offered to get on her knees and service the President for keeping abortion legal.

And The New York Observer’s coverage of a symposium of then prominent feminists discussing the scandal is stomach-turning reading, not just for their immature and raunchy musings about bragging rights, but also for their dismissal of the young Lewinsky.

The most sympathy they can muster for her is the “bless her heart” tactic, an old gossip excuse stereotypically used by US Southern belle types, in which one can gossip about another with impunity as long as the gossip makes some caring platitude about the object of the chatter.

Read the whole thing, if you can. It is vapid and vulgar. If you do read, compare the swooning over the sexually aggressive virile man to the contemporary concerns that we teach men to be too sexually aggressive.

Monica keeps trying to redeem those horrible years, and for that I admire her. But the cattiness creeps back each time she tries to forge a life beyond the scandal.

Feminists fret constantly that conservatives want to turn back the clock, yet they were the ones cattily competing for the privilege of kneeling before a powerful man as a thank you for doing what they wanted. If The Feminine Mystique hadn’t turned me off of modern feminism, the debasing of women before Clinton would have done it for certain.

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Leslie Loftis
Leslie Loftis
Leslie is a once and future American expat, most recently in London. She is also a lawyer and former local political campaign operative turned freelance writer. She currently lives in her hometown of Houston with her husband and their four children. Find her on twitter @AHLondonTX.

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