Paula Jones and Feminism Discussion (Jan./Feb. 1997)

Paula Jones & Feminists Discussion (Jan/Feb 1997)

Query From Julieanne Phillips 22 Jan 1997

Dear List members,
A student brought to my attention the article by Katharine Seelye, "Paula Jones case puts feminist on the defensive" in the Sunday _New York Times_ and other syndicated newspapers.

The article inferred that feminists will not support Paula Jones because Clinton ' "has more class" than to be a sexual abuser' and that politics come before principle. (Comparing this case to the Anita Hill case.) The student wanted to know if this is an accurate portrayal of most of the feminists' feelings on this matter?

Therefore, I post this to the list because of its female participants. How would other scholars address this student's inquiry?

>From Jo Ann McNamara 23 Jan 1997

My own feelings, which may not be shared by my fellow feminists are two-fold. First, the apparent merit of Paula Jones' case does not inspire me to action on her behalf. after all, it is my personal choice whether or not to spring into action in a particular instance and her failure to act before the possibilities of rewards in publicity, money, and malicious damage became substantial simply turn me off. Secondly, there is no public content here beyond the embarrassment of the President. In the Clarence Thomas case, an appointment to the Supreme Court was pending and the testimony of Anita Hill had great relevance to whether or not that appointment should be confirmed. Jones did not act in time to prevent the original election of Clinton and her action was clearly irrelevant to the voters in the second election. Therefore, no public good and potentially some public harm can result from the pursuit of the case while Clinton is in office.

>From Amy Stevens 23 Jan 1997

Hi, I saw your post on H-Women and thought I would reply. I have given a lot of thought to this situation and am frankly perplexed that there has not been much of an outcry. I firmly believe that anyone who believes they have been sexually harassed should bring their case forward and be heard. Whether the accused is a teacher, a truck driver or the President of the United states, we, as feminists, can not pick and choose who we support based on who the harasser/attacker is, or who the victim is. It is hypocritical to blindly support Anita Hill against Clarence Thomas, while blindly dismissing Paula Jones' claims against Bill Clinton.

There should be no delay in Paula Jones' case, let the justice system do the job, instead of the media.

>From Lynne Getz 23 Jan 1997 Speaking only for this feminist, I believe that Bill Clinton is indeed capable, and possibly quite culpable, of sexual harassment. He is, after all, a male raised in our culture which has until very recently condoned and even encouraged sexual exploitation of women, especially be men in positions of power. That Clinton may also have been an advocate of women's issues is beside the point. Remember Packwood. Unfortunately, too many women and feminists among them, denounced Paula Jones on the basis of her appearance (being Southern, looking too much like low-class trailer trash for a lot of middle-class feminists,etc) and because she seemed to be connected to some Republicans who were trying to make political hay out of the case. The response of the liberal media and of feminists was very akin to the way all victims of sexual assault and harassment routinely used to be treated: denounce the reputation of the victim and question the veracity of her story, thus winking at the behavior of the man. I have no idea if Paula Jones is telling the truth or not, but if you are asking if Clinton is capable of sexual harassment...well, of course he is.

>From Angus Johnston 24 Jan 1997

Lynne Getz said that "the response of the liberal media and of feminists" to Paula Jones' charges was to "denounce the reputation of the victim and question the veracity of her story, thus winking at the behavior of the men." This has become the standard conservative line on the story, but I don't really buy it.

Take a look at this, from NOW's 1994 statement on the case: "Every Paula Jones deserves to be heard, no matter how old she is and how long ago the incident occurred, no matter what kind of accent she has or how much money she makes, and no matter who she associates with."

Pretty cut-and-dried. One could argue this is lip service, I guess, but it's not denunciation. And the comment was quoted in a NOW press release from January 10 of this year, a press release which stated that NOW is "still very concerned that Jones' charges be taken seriously," and claimed that the group has attempted to meet with Jones to investigate the possibility of lending assistance, but was rebuffed.

As for the question of Jones' relationship with the antifeminist right, it goes quite a bit deeper than, as Getz puts it, "seem[ing] to be connected to some Republicans who were trying to make political hay out of the case." Jones made her original charges at a conservative conference, and her accusations have been shepherded by rightwing activists ever since. There's nothing wrong with that, necessarily, but Elanor Smeal, President of the Fund for a Feminist Majority, recently argued that "these people are not champions of women's rights," and that perception has (understandably, in my view) colored some folks' thinking on the subject of her case's relationship to the women's movement.

In a recent Washington Times article, Marcia Ann Gillespie, the editor of Ms., was quoted as saying that, "I haven't heard any feminists saying they didn't believe her. But we haven't heard what happened yet. We're going to have to wait and see." This cautious approach---motivated in part by suspicion of Jones' motives, surely, in part by support (even if half-hearted) for Clinton, but also in part by a genuine, laudable restraint in the face of ambiguity---seems to me to be a pretty common response to the Jones case among feminists and on the left in general.

One could argue that such a lukewarm response is hypocritical, and in some cases I'm sure it is. But it's not the attack that Getz depicts.

The NOW press release can be found on the web at

Elanor Smeal's statement can be found at

The _Washington Times_ piece can be found at 854081966.3330&hitnum=0

>From Cynthia Lynn Klessig 24 Jan 1997 I fully agree with Jo Ann, there was no mention of the alleged incident until there was the possibility of personal and political (those opposing the president) gain.

>From Maura Doherty 27 Jan 1997

In response to the query about why "feminists are not supporting Paula Jones...The media once again is reducing Feminism to a single ideology; SOME support her, SOME do not. Why haven't groups like the National Organization for Women supported her? Patricia Ireland gave an interview last weekend and said that she did in fact take Paula Jones' accusation seriously; she contacted Paula Jones to discuss her case; made a specific time and date for which Ireland flew out to meet with her; and then was stood up by Paula Jones, who purportedly told the media that she didn't show because she had to buy a new dress. It was difficult for Ireland and N.O.W. to take Paula Jones seriously after that and perhaps justifiably so. Some of my feminist friends also question whether the behavior Jones has described was in fact sexual harassment. Clinton's alleged behavior was neither persistent nor a threat to her work environment or the conditions of her employment. My friends see it as lewd and ridiculous behavior and possibly "indecent exposure" (for which women do not traditionally get to sue for damages), but not sexual harassment. If she is not an opportunist and the behavior actually took place, they still feel that "sexual harassment" is a much more threatening behavior that many women in the workplace face--and that Jones' version ridicules the experiences of women at Mitsubishi and at Northwest Airlines (where a Boston woman was eventually killed by male co-workers ( who had harassed her for three years), to name a few examples.

>From Crystal Kile 27 Jan 1997

Was at a lecture by Patricia Ireland about a year ago. Sat in front of these two, very rude, sniggering Young Republicans from a local conservative Christian high school (this was in Ohio, BTW). During the Q & A, the suit-n-tied young fellows got up and in the most CONTEMPTUOUS tone imaginable, read from a carefully prepared index card "the Paula Jones question," i.e. why hasn't NOW and Liberal Feminism taken up the cause of Jones against Liberal President Bill Clinton, "or have I [the guy] answered my own question?"

Ireland was very gracious (the Q&A was much better than her actual potted speech), and replied that, indeed, NOW had set up several meetings with Jones...all of which had been broken by Jones. She recalled the latest incident in which NOW reps & reps of some other feminist group had been waiting and waiting in the lobby of a NYC hotel to meet with Jones at her convenience (tight sked, don't you know), only to be told by one of her handlers upon calling up to the room that Jones "had gone shopping for a new dress."


If a cat scratches you like that, baby, you don't continue to seek her out. Why SHOULD "the women's movement" be expected to waste its precious time and tight funds on her?

Bubba may very well have asked her to blow his sax, but the folks who're whoring her out now are megaexponentially more exploitive. There's the rumor of Clinton's sexual compulsiveness...then there's what we know about the stealthy and not-so-stealthy anti-feminism of the Right, a key tactic of which is that oldie-but-goodie, "Divide and Let's Go Back to the Good Old Ass-Pinching/Barefoot and Preggers Days (with good behavior exceptions, of course, for such stellar "Individuals" as Phyllis Schlafly and Gertie Himmelfarb).

Not to put too fine a point on this, but Paula Jones should have been more careful about whom she got into bed on this one. Poor woman.

>From William B. Turner 27 Jan 1997

Reading the posts about Paula Jones, her sexual harassment claims, and her connections to right wing political activists, I see a trajectory running from Ms. Jones back through the "Defense" of Marriage Act (DOMA) to Gennifer Flowers. The connection between Ms. Jones and Ms. Flowers seems fairly obvious, although it would merit more careful specification. The point with DOMA (law intended to prevent any federal recognition of same-sex marriages, should they become legal in the future) is that right wing activists however much they might believe that DOMA is good public policy--"conservatives" intruding federal power into the definition of marriage, which has always been the province of the states--they also saw an opportunity to create a rift between Clinton and part of his political base: lesbians and gay men in the case of DOMA, feminists in the case of Ms. Flowers and Ms. Jones.

It's worth noting that, in the case of lesbians and gay men, the right may have succeeded, at least partially. The _Washington Blade_ reported just after the election that the drop off in l/g voter turnout was greater from 1992 to 1996 than that for the general population. Some observers suggested that l/g voters were willing to overlook DOMA itself, but gave up when the Clinton campaign ran ads on right wing "Christian" radio stations bragging about having signed it--a transparently stupid strategy in my view: as if voters who choose their candidates primarily in opposition to l/g rights (if there are such) would vote for Clinton anyway.

The real problem, it seems to me, is that the right is still getting away with defining the issues in the public mind with almost no effective response from the feminists--not for lack of trying, as cited releases from NOW and E. Smeal on this topic make clear. How do feminists succeed at the right's trick of getting the "liberal" media to report right wing fantasy as fact every night?

>From (Harper Dairy) 27 Jan 1997

First, I take issue with the male talking heads who through the media have been trying to tell feminists how to think about anything, including Jones and Hill.

Second, the Hill case and the Jones case are not the same. The fact that men cannot tell the difference between the two is evidence that their opinions are uninformed.

(Assuming, arguendo, that both Hill's and Jones' stories are true): Hill came forward at (1) an appropriate time for (2) a good reason: to give information to a forum which was *considering* Clarence Thomas for the United States Supreme Court. It was important information to be considered at the time. Hill was not claiming she suffered damages, nor was she seeking monetary renumeration. Hill's story was about a pattern of behavior that Thomas exhibited over a period of time. Thomas' behavior toward Hill took place in the workplace where Hill was a "captive audience". Thomas' behavior was inappropriate, if not outrageous, and made more so by its continuing nature, within that setting.

Jones is making a claim for money based on damages. She did not try to make the claim at a reasonable time after the incident. She made the announcement in association with a political group which cast suspicion on her motives. Jones was not a "captive audience." She was an adult woman who went of her own free will to a man's hotel room where a "pass" was made. She turned it down. He didn't force the issue, or continue the behavior. She left.

What's the similarity?

>From Janine Beichman 28 Jan 1997

In order to be able to follow all the ins and outs of the Paula Jones discussion, I would like more information about the Northwest harassment-murder case that Maura Doherty refers to in her letter--I did not know about it at all.

>From Maura Doherty 29 Jan 1997

Janine Beichman wanted to hear more about the Northwest Airline incident. I can't recall the name of the woman but here's the story: About six years ago, a woman who worked in the baggage handling area of Northwest Airlines at Boston's Logan Airport, left during her break to buy dinner for herself and some co-workers one night and never cam e back. No one at work reported her missing. The next day her family discovered she had not returned from her late shift. Several hours later her body was found mutilated in the trunk of her abandoned care, a few miles from the airport. A year to the date of her death, her mother finally got the courage to clean her daughter's bedroom. She found a diary dating back three years in which the woman detailed episode after episode of threatening sexual harassment that occurred almost daily at work. She repeatedly reported these incidents to Northwest Airlines officials who did little more than re-paint (3x, I believe) the lunchroom where the obscenities about her were routinely written. Baggage cars and even airplanes were graffittied with *c* word and other obscenities about this woman. The attacks apparently increased when she was promoted.

No workers were put on probation or fired. Threats were made against her life. The family was not able to get a conviction against any of the workers, several of who seemed quite suspect. The family then sued Northwest Airlines and finally won an out-of-court-settlement (amount cannot be disclosed). At the five-year anniversary of her death, sometime last year, 60 Minutes or 20/20 re-ran their earlier coverage of the story with the update on the success of the lawsuit. Some stories about sexual harassment (perhaps the Jones' story) do seem less horrific and harder to take as seriously as this. There are women out there who feel threatened in their own workplace almost daily...the media discredits the severity of their plight by reporting on silly cases (like the kissing first grader) as worthy of front-page news.

>From William B. Turner 03 Feb 1997

I was on my way to write a letter to the Nashville _Tennessean_ about a column by Jeff Jacoby in which he repeats the claim that NOW--no individual specified--refused to support Paula Jones in what Jacoby considers a clear cut case of feminist elitism, when I found yet more posts to this list on the subject. The related issue that we need to address very concretely, is how to counteract the extremely effective demonization of all feminists in the mainstream press. I have thought before that I would like to write a book about the process of making "feminist" a dirty word over the past 30 years or so, but that will take a long time. Right now I'm writing to my mediocre local newspaper (Gannett rag) to point out one small but important example of feminist bashing on the basis of false information (who needs accurate information when you have the right wing ideology?), and I'm enough of a believer in karma that I don't mind putting drops in buckets, but still, what more effective steps can we take? With a strong, and presumably shared sense of frustration,...

>From Elisabeth I. Perry 04 Feb 1997

Good for Bill Turner's effort in writing to his local paper. We should all be doing that sort of thing, whenever our local media distorts and demonizes the causes we believe in. A letter to the editor may be a small "drop in the bucket," but little droplets can grown into mainstreams! And why not op ed pieces? articles in "mainstream" magazines? discussion groups in classes and associations to which one belongs? No effort, no matter how tiny, is wasted.

>From Ann Colbert 04 Feb 1997

Two books which come to mind re: William Turner's comment about writing about feminism has become a dirty word are Susan Faludi's _Backlash_ and Paula Kamen's _Feminist Fatale_. Neither of these books are written by academics; both are written by mainstream media writers who are shocked at the same process of demonizing feminism that several list contributors have found shocking,etc.

[Editor's Note: The subject of this thread evolved into other topics...those discussions can be found under "Sex Harass Definitions Discussion" (Feb 1997) and "Sex Harass Solutions Discussion" (Feb 1997)]