News of rampant sexual harassment at a leading progressive public relations firm seems to have surprised some on the Left: How can enlightened liberals, so staunchly committed to women’s equality and progress, allow old-school sexism and abuse of power to persist? How could FitzGibbon Media, which represented MoveOn.org, NARAL Pro-Choice America, and the AFL-CIO, have a CEO sending text messages asking for dirty pictures from female underlings?
Conservatives, of course, shouldn’t start throwing stones: No doubt, there are plenty of cads in every political party. Yet progressives really shouldn’t be surprised that such behavior exists in liberal enclaves, and, in fact, there’s reason to suspect there may be more mistreatment of women by the Left than the Right.
It’s a phenomenon I call “the Bill Clinton effect.” President Clinton isn’t just another example of a prominent pol who habitually cheated on his wife with many women, including those on his staff. Clinton showcased how those who normally police behavior and work to penalize men for mistreating women will excuse men aligned with them politically. In other words, Clinton revealed that liberals can expect to get away with a lot more in terms of abusing women than conservatives.
Young progressives may only know a whitewashed version of the Clinton scandals, in which rabid conservatives tried to make a mountain out of a consensual-affair molehill. Yet the undisputed facts of the Lewinsky affair reveal a clear and classic example of a powerful man abusing women under his power and creating a hostile work environment: Clinton was a powerful executive having sexual relations with a 22-year-old intern working in his office, whom he rewarded with a taxpayer-financed job and other special treatment. None of the interns working alongside Monica got cushy job offers post-internship. That alone is supposed to be a giant red flag for those concerned about equal treatment and a harassment-free workplace.
But, of course, that was just the tip of the iceberg; Clinton was having his affair with Monica in the midst of an ongoing investigation into his alleged sexual harassment of a state employee (Paula Jones) during his time as Governor of Arkansas. Other women also came forward with allegations of harassment and even assault. Clinton lied about his affair with Lewinsky, at first suggesting she was delusional, both to the public and then when testifying under oath as a part of that sexual harassment suit.
Liberal women’s groups are supposed to frown on men who smear women and undermine the legal process of sexual harassment suits, and take accusations of sexual assault seriously. Yet President Clinton—a good Democrat who supported abortion rights and other feminist sacraments—was largely given a pass. Sure, some feminists murmured their disappointment with Clinton’s behavior and mouthed platitudes about Paula Jones
deserving her day in court. But their criticisms were perfunctory at best. Mostly, they stood by Clinton’s side, defending him and remaining silent as he lied and slandered the women who accused him.
Compare this to the treatment of Justice Clarence Thomas. Even if one assumes that every accusation made by Anita Hill is true, Justice Thomas would at most be crass and a little boorish, but very minor-league in terms of sexual harassment compared to Clinton. Yet women’s groups and the liberal media pounded Thomas, almost derailing his Supreme Court nomination, and to this day ensure that his name is synonymous with sexual harassment.
Given these examples, it would make sense that liberals would feel freer to abuse women than their conservative counterparts. Conservatives have to assume that the press and the establishment women’s movement will exact as mighty a punishment as possible for any misdeed, while liberals can expect far less blowback. Moreover, conservatives, who are consistently bashed as part of a “war on women,” are terrified of anything that might legitimize that charge. Thus they are motivated to deal harshly with fellow conservatives who threaten to further entrench that reputation with the public. In contrast, liberals enjoy a comfortable advantage with women and reputation for caring about women’s issues, so are likely to be less vigilant about policing their own ranks.
Given this history, it’s no big surprise that, as the liberal online website Vox.com put it, progressive have a sexual harassment problem. This exposé, however, may hark the beginning of a turning point. After all, while it took a semen-stained dress for Monica to be believed by the liberal press, in today’s age of omnipotent technology, women have a lot more hard evidence to use against men who harass them. They don’t need to convince Newsweek to run a story, they can take their evidence to the public on their own. Men everywhere—even liberals—may find that the potential fallout isn’t worth it, and behavior, finally, might really change.