Elections

Tara Reade, Feminists, and the Devil’s Bargain

It is irrelevant whether or not Tara Reade is telling the truth about her encounters with Joe Biden. What should be scrutinized is the reaction of prominent feminist leaders in response to her complaint.

Sexual liberation offered women the promise of freedom. The pill and abortion supposedly leveled the playing fields in our personal and professional lives. Likewise freed from prevailing gender roles, many women pursued college degrees and careers that had previously been culturally and physically off-limits.

Yet the coveted ground of gender equality seemed littered with mines planted by those who held power and those who sought it. Powerful men were all too willing to exploit the women working for them. These women were betrayed not only by men, but by the most prominent voices within the “sisterhood” of the feminist movement. Women are particularly vulnerable to exploitation when they drop their guard based on professed shared ideology.

Movements such as the #MeToo and #TimesUp coalitions are now part of the institutional feminist movement and are challenged by women like Tara Reade, just as they were challenged by Juanita Broaddrick and Kathleen Willey in the 1990s. These women were or currently are supporters of Democratic politicians. Reade finds she must either sell herself in service to the feminist/progressive movement or loudly call attention to that movement’s hypocrisy on her way out.

Feminist leaders know this conflict exists. It is nowhere more apparent than in the silencing and shaming of women who were victimized by the movements’ political supporters, only to be victimized a second time by women for whom the protection of the ideology was supposedly paramount. A woman’s genuine autonomy regarding consent is precluded. The irony would be laughable if the lives of Reade and her sister accusers hadn’t been ruined.

This enslavement rather than liberation is mandatory for liberal Democrat women. The injury inflicted by liberal Democrat exploiters must be endured in silence, lest the perpetrator’s contribution to the ideological cause be diminished or eradicated. Accordingly, conservatives like Donald Trump and Brett Kavanaugh have been pilloried by the feminist movement while predators like Bill Clinton have been spared.

Those who accuse Republican candidates are hailed as heroes, simply because their accusations are damaging to those who posed an ideological threat. To these ideological plaintiffs, “No” does indeed mean “No” if you are Christine Blasey Ford; conversely, a liberal Democrat’s victim doesn’t have the necessary social support to confront her accuser. In short, for her, “No” becomes untenable . . . and objecting after the fact is impossible without being shunned by her personal and professional peers.

Sexual liberation remains a prominent part of the feminist canon. The freedom to pursue intimate relations free from prescribed social notions of fidelity and monogamy was supposed to be liberating.

William Jefferson Clinton was sold to voters as a sex symbol who would further the sexual revolution after it had stalled (allegedly) during the Reagan years. Even as Clinton prepared to leave office in 2000, with the scandals of his administration behind him, portrait artist Platon Antoniou presented him defiantly in Esquire magazine. The outgoing president’s legs splayed apart in an ostentatious display of manspreading decades before it became a social faux pas. A clear aspirational symbol for men, and a desirable one for women, it seemed to hint that the women who accused him of assault were crazy to have rejected him.

Female journalists and feminist writers stood by Bill Clinton. In a 1998 New York Times op-ed, Gloria Steinem called for continued feminist support his presidency:

If the president had behaved with comparable insensitivity toward environmentalists, and at the same time remained their most crucial champion 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 he resign? Forget it . . .

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. Until then, we will disqualify the energy and talent the country needs.

Steinem would revisit and recommit to this assertion in the wake of the #MeToo and #TimesUp media scrutiny. In a 2017 interview with Shethepeople, she asserted that Monica Lewinsky was pursuing her own sexual gratification with Bill Clinton, and professed her continued support for Clinton’s unseemly conduct while he was president because he supported sexual harassment legislation and abortion:

We have to believe women. What you write in one decade, you don’t necessarily write in the next. But I’m glad I wrote it in that decade…Because the danger then was we were about to lose sexual harassment law because it was being applied to extramarital sex, free will, as with Monica Lewinsky.

Steinem argued that to be a good feminist, not only should a woman take pleasure in servicing male leadership that supports the cause, it is an honor and responsibility to do so. Journalist and writer, Nina Burleigh was even more emphatic about a woman’s supposed joyful duty:

I would be happy to give [Bill Clinton] a blowjob just to thank him for keeping abortion legal. I think American women should be lining up with their presidential kneepads on to show their gratitude for keeping the theocracy off our backs.

When Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton in November of 2016, this mindset was all too evident in the shaming of women who did not support Hillary’s candidacy. After all, Trump had been accused of harassment by scores of women, and his “grab them by the pussy” hot mic moment was played on an endless loop by mainstream media outlets.

How could reasonable and independent women vote for him? Clinton opined that their identity with the conservative men in their lives had compromised their independence “. . . part of that is an identification with the Republican Party, and a sort of ongoing pressure to vote the way that your husband, your boss, your son, whoever, believes you should.”

Clinton ignored calls from her party to backtrack those comments. Instead, she enlisted the support of Michelle Obama, who echoed them. The concept that women could willingly put aside sexist comments from a conservative candidate was inconceivable to them. Offering oneself as concubine in the name of women’s empowerment was to be applauded, and woe to the women who said “No.”

Phyllis Chesler is an outlier among feminist thinkers. She has been an outspoken critic of this toxic mindset. Chesler is a psychotherapist and an emerita professor of psychology at the City University of New York. Chesler rightly questions this narrative in her 2019 essay, “The Only Thing Necessary for the Triumph of Evil is for Good Women to Do Nothing”:

Imagine being part of a movement that’s on record as being against sexual violence and on record as believing the victim; a movement that earned its credibility and enormous following for holding precisely these views. Imagine finding out that some feminist leaders are as power-hungry as men and as invested in covering up their small, scorched-earth policies. Like all politicians, they’ll sacrifice one principle (believe the woman who says she was raped), for another (back the man who pays well or the political party that will keep abortion legal).

Chesler goes as far as to liken such women to “incest mothers,” who willfully ignore their daughter’s victimization because it serves their interests whatever those may be.

This is why, on the one hand, it is irrelevant whether or not Reade is telling the truth about her encounters with Biden. What should be scrutinized is the reaction of prominent feminist leaders in response to her complaint. For example, Lis Smith, a leading Democratic strategist who most recently advised Pete Buttigieg, said “These accusations have not been found to be credible, so it’s in the Biden campaign’s interest to nip this in the bud directly and do it quickly . . . ”

Reade’s allegation, though severe, can’t be proven or disproven. She joins women like Ford, Broaddrick, and Willey, who tell harrowing tales of abuse that had no witnesses. These women’s stories, unlike that of Trump’s accusers, will be topics of heated discussion because of Reade’s threat to the feminist movement. Trump accusers, however, will be believed unquestionably because “women should be believed.”

What can be verified, though, is the shackling of women’s voices in deference to Biden and his outrageous behavior.

Early in the campaign season, numerous videos of Biden emerged among his supporters, sniffing, groping, kissing, and hugging women and young girls. They stood mute and frozen while his hands roamed freely. The images spoke for them, frowns, side-eye, turned heads, and uncomfortable fidgeting and wriggling, which Biden and other supporters pointedly ignored.

Reade’s friends, liberal Democrats like herself, while ostensibly supporting her account, all stressed that they would still vote for Biden come November. They affirm the endorsements of avowed feminists Hillary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi, and Donna Brazile. They applaud Alyssa Milano and cheer Lady Gaga when they support a woman’s right to choose, or to be free from harassment at work. We’ll let you abort your baby, but you have to agree to let leaders like Biden molest you. More importantly . . . you should relax and enjoy it.

This is a Faustian bargain. It should be rejected, not only by women but by all Americans.