On Rape Culture, Bill Clinton, and Feminist Double Standards
Juanita Broaddrick resurfacing, along with her allegation that Bill Clinton raped her, has brought longstanding and completely irreconcilable positions within much of liberal feminism into direct and unavoidable conflict — that all women should be believed, all sexual assault treated seriously and their perpetrators punished…and that Bill Clinton’s accusers aren’t credible, and his transgressions should be overlooked. This was always bound to happen, as holding to the belief that everyone who alleges that they’ve been sexually assaulted should always be believed inevitably ties you up in intellectual knots when faced with an accuser about whom there are clear issues with regards to credibility, or whose accusation makes you acutely uncomfortable because for whatever reason, you really can’t believe it of the accused. It’s a position I think which could be best summed up as a prime example of the road to hell being paved with good intentions. It was meant to create an atmosphere which would encourage and not discourage victims to come forward, to remove the stigma surrounding sexual assault, and to give victims a voice, which are all noble and absolutely essential goals in the ongoing fight against rape culture. Instead, people are now being forced to realise that no, not everyone is believable, or worse, that sometimes they don’t want to believe them, and actually finding the practical solutions victims need to regain confidence in the system has now taken a backseat to simply shouting a slogan.
The key is and has always been to transform the way authorities handle reports of rape so women feel secure coming forward. This means police and/or colleges taking the report seriously, treating the accuser with sensitivity, and thoroughly investigating the complaint, and not leaving rape kits to pile up into the thousands. I say “taking the report seriously” as this is not the same thing as believing it — it is not the authorities’ job to believe it, but to establish the facts — but it treats the accuser as a person who deserves to be listened to and heard. This means punishments fitting the crime, and the seriousness of the offence recognised. It’s also important that a victim’s support group — immediate family and friends — act as just that. People should be encouraged to support and believe someone who comes to them saying they’ve been sexually assaulted. And as for the actual “who should be believed” argument, I think the real problem is not that people don’t believe the accusers, it’s that people are very swift to believe the accused, particularly when they’re athletes. Neither should be believed per se, unless there is a considerable amount of clear evidence on either side.
So why are so many women who believe in believing either giving Bill Clinton a pass and making excuses, or if not exactly calling his accusers liars, dismissing them? I get the impression that they’re afraid to call out Bill’s behaviour, because they think that will automatically reflect on Hillary for sticking by him, and then they get into some really murky and uncomfortable territory where she’s concerned, especially given her campaign’s recent deletion of any content mentioning that victims should always be believed. For the record, I don’t think Hillary is responsible for Bill’s actions, and as I’ve mentioned above I actually think the “every person should be believed” position is well-intentioned but ultimately wrongheaded. But Hillary’s campaign taking that position and then dropping it as soon as her husband’s history rears its head again is what a good many progressive feminists are doing, and they ought to be asking themselves why.
What really triggered this was some appalling comments in an article written and published yesterday on Wonkette, by its editor Rebecca Schoenkopf, in which after expressing the view that Clinton “may well have raped” Broaddrick, she proceeds to explain why committing this most awful of crimes wouldn’t necessarily disqualify Clinton from being a feminist:
To sum up, I think Bill Clinton could very well have raped Juanita Broaddrick; that it doesn’t make him an evil man, or irredeemable (I’m Catholic; we’re all forgiven, if we’re sorry, and Broaddrick says Bill Clinton personally called her up to apologize). It doesn’t even necessarily make him a bad feminist — you know, later, once he stops doing that.
Schoenkopf decides that if Clinton raped Broaddrick, him telephoning his victim to apologise proves Clinton was very very sorry indeed for what transpired, and swiftly grants him full and total absolution on behalf of the Catholic faith, because Benedict isn’t the only superfluous Pope now, it seems. She ignores the rest of Broaddrick’s account of the call, where she says she told him to go to hell. Now, if the alleged victim refuses to forgive him, who the hell is anyone else to extend him forgiveness for a crime that did not impact them in the slightest? Does she not realise that this is no less morally repugnant and hurtful to all victims than Brock Turner’s father’s disgusting letter begging for clemency for his unrepentant rapist son? It’s a jarring, unpleasant and hypocritical contrast to her and most feminists’ attitude towards both the seriousness of rape, and the undue leniency shown by judges or juries in a spate of high profile rape cases.
Whether you believe Clinton is guilty of sexual assault or not, what is undeniable is that he has repeatedly taken advantage of women, for which he has endured, at most, inconveniences. He never suffered any lasting consequences, and on the occasions during his presidency where it looked like his habitual treatment of women as sex objects might finally be coming back to bite him, he was able to wriggle out of it by a combination of lying and splitting hairs. Even ignoring the rape accusation, this alone disqualifies him from being a good feminist, because no kind of feminist treats women like this! And this behaviour continued for literally decades after Juanita Broaddrick claimed he raped her, so Schoenkopf’s premise of “if he stopped doing it, it’s all good” is not only extremely offensive, it doesn’t even apply to Clinton anyway.
Society expects those guilty of crimes to pay their debt to it before it offers them a second chance. Feminists should be no less stringent in demanding men who hurt women at least pay for it and make some serious amends before even considering them for admission into the movement. Clinton has consistently refused to take any kind of responsibility for his actions, as Monica Lewinsky noted in her reaction to the version of their affair he gave in his autobiography:
I did though at least expect him to correct the false statements he made when he was trying to protect the Presidency. Instead, he talked about it as though I had laid it all out there for the taking. I was the buffet and he just couldn’t resist the dessert.
Not once has Clinton admitted to the harm he’s caused women or done any kind of penance for his actions — so he damn well stays outside the circle of trust.
Now, let me explain where I’m coming from on this.
I’m a child sexual abuse survivor, and therefore part of the frightening statistics regarding sexual assault. I can speak from personal experience as to the necessity of having both a solid justice system and support group. I was fortunate, when I was abused by a relative as a 10 year old, that my parents believed me, the police took me seriously and the Crown Prosecution Service charged him. This, together with police praising my testimony and hearing afterwards that a court usher thought I was an incredibly good witness and was convinced my abuser was guilty, helped me to bear the brutal revelation that not only was my abuser found not guilty, the jury’d taken less than 30 minutes to reach that conclusion. There was no physical evidence; it was my word against his, and I did not behave as people would imagine a child victim would: I was calm and composed when giving evidence via videolink; when asked if I’d prefer the judge and barristers to remove their traditional robes and wigs (as they always ask child witnesses), I said no, and only got upset when the defence suggested to me I lied. Where professionals saw an extremely credible witness, I’m pretty sure the jury saw the opposite.
Now, it’s possible this relative never abused another child. It’s possible the realisation that person he’d been grooming as a victim was in fact prepared to tell, and their family was willing to report him to the police, scared him out of ever doing it again. I know this relative is now the stereotypical ‘pillar of the community’ — he’s retired, upped sticks to another part of the country where he’s become a parish councillor. He knows what he did, he knows he committed perjury to avoid punishment for it, but no one else in his life knows. He has never answered for what he did to me — so it doesn’t matter if he is sorry, if it “stopped doing it”. He doesn’t earn my or anyone’s forgiveness by not doing this to anyone else.
Likewise, if Bill Clinton raped Juanita Broaddrick, simply refraining from raping another woman for the rest of his life is not fucking penance that buys him an exclusive lifetime membership of the feminist club.