Where are the Feminists on Linda Tripp?
by Stephanie Herman
August 12, 1998
Imagine a woman who was being manipulated at her place of employment. Imagine a woman who was asked to break the law for her male boss. The perfect victim, right? The type feminists start causes for.
Now imagine that the woman stands up for herself. Imagine that the woman becomes proactive in defense of her job. Imagine that she decides to play hardball and wins. The perfect feminist, right? The type feminists celebrate publically.
Now imagine that the names of the woman and the boss turn out to be Linda Tripp and Bill Clinton. The feminist reaction immediately reverses. No longer considered "strong," the woman we know as Linda Tripp becomes a "bitch."
The "strong woman" cast as "bitch" -- the perfect pet peeve of feminists, right? Wrong. When the Democratic Party is in the line of fire, strong women are quickly dismissed as "bitches," even in the minds of ardent feminists.
But isn't that odd?
After all, when Linda Tripp felt threatened, both personally and professionally, she acted as any good feminist would -- indeed, as any good feminist has been taught to do. She fought back. She pulled no punches. And in a most cunning and courageous act, she secretly taped Monica Lewinsky asking her to commit a criminal act. She protected herself and showed she had some balls. And the feminists, usually so impressed by strong women, are instead whining about Linda's failure to protect a non-existent friendship. A so-called "friendship" with a Monica Lewinsky so beguiled by the Alpha Male persona of Bill Clinton that she automatically fails every feminist litmus test. Except one -- she had the good political sense to bl*w a Democrat.
Organized feminists have a history of selectively and reservedly applauding women who live out the feminist ideal. Pro-choice females elected to the House and Senate are congratulated on their victories, despite the fact that Emily's List claims most of the credit. Conservative females elected to adjoining seats, however, are ridiculed for having won only with the assumed help of the GOP bankroll and male endorsements. One thing remains the same, however, in the minds of organized feminists: females don't often win elections on their merits.
In fact, feminism isn't really about promoting women based on their merits. Feminist writer Carolyn Heilbrun actually blames successful, proactive women for the fact that other women might not achieve the same success: "Women in the world of events, whether they be prime ministers, women psychoanalysts, cabinet members... have failed to envision other women at their side. Needless to say, they have not found them there."
Heilbrun further charges, "That distressing attitude of achieving women: I made it, why can't you,' that failure to sympathize with the struggles of less vigorous female selves, has always marked successful women. They refuse to understand the tokenism that they represent, refuse to see that their single presence, far from proving that anyone can make it, determines, under the present system, that no one else will."
Successful women are reduced by Heilbrun to little more than arrogant mistakes. Without the feminist crutch, the selfish achievements of successful (often capitalist) women amount to little more than tokenism. Clearly, feminists do not understand the process by which individuals, be they men or women, achieve success -- as Heilbrun clumsily illustrates: "[Successful women's] personal circumstances somehow allowed them to undergo a process' in which they established a drive toward autonomy. Clearly, most female socialization inhibits such a drive, either plunging the woman into such conflict that resolution appears possible only through retreat, or imposing so much inner tension that the cost of achievement, even where it occurs, is extravagant."
While it's true that motivation alone cannot equal success in the workplace or victory over a harasser or manipulator, the missing factor in this equation is not feminist protectionism -- it's personal responsibility, that aspect of her character that helps a woman overcome the conflicts and problems often found on one's journey through life. And yes, Virginia, the cost of victory is extravagant. Linda Tripp has paid that extravagant price.
Perhaps feminists are finally faced with the visage of a strong woman in Linda Tripp. And perhaps they're guilty of the same charge they make against those white, conservative males sourly contemplating Hillary Clinton; it would seem feminists are intimidated by a truly strong woman.