HONORS 195: Rhetoric of Impeachment; Fall, 1999, John Dewey Honors Program, College of Arts & Sciences, University of Vermont
Alfred C. Snider, Edwin W. Lawrence Professor of Forensics
| Back to Table of Contents | Back to Debate Central |
In the current post-impeachment proceedings the question becomes whom it has affected most and what it will mean to them and their agenda. Obvious groups that will suffer most from the impeachment that are subject to the after effects are the Republican Party and American politics in general. As far as individuals are concerned, Monica Lewinsky has a good deal of post-scandal baggage. But what about those who will experience the effects of Monica and what she represents as a woman in American society? The movement which has suffered the most in the standpoint of social and political agenda are the Feminists.
Using Feminist criticism to analyze the discourse surrounding and as well as by the speaker, Monica, I aim to reveal how women's place in society led by the Feminist's has changed due the sex scandal and where it maybe headed next. In looking at this aspect of the scandal it becomes crucial not just to analyze the discourse of Feminists and Monica but to find it in a larger scheme of a society which shapes many of the gender roles and pressures put on individuals to look and act in certain ways. There is an evident change in the role of women in American society that has occurred as a result of the scandal which is important not just to the Feminists and their supporters but to any female who enters the public arena and is faced with pressures and expectations put on them as a result of their gender.
As a leading special interest group, Feminists, who are politically active concerning gender roles in society, have been at the forefront of the Paula Jones case and the Lewinksy-Clinton scandal. What comes at odds with the Feminist stance in politics is a womanizing Democratic President that they support and his opportunizing and provocative young mistress. It was something the Feminists were neither prepared for nor easily responded to when given the option of a liberal President with sexual issues or the conservative, Republican moralists taking charge.
We deplore his misconduct but we also understand the hypocrisy of his opponents. We
Have years of progress at stake if the President is hounded out of office. But worse yet,
We wish the ushering into power of a puritanical or fundamentaliststs, sex police which
Speaks of freedom but allows government to destroy the right of privacy. [Nando News]
Feminists are notoriously Democratic and left wing liberals at that. They do, however, share a common ideology with the interest group of the vast right wing, the Christian Right. This issue is in the moral domain of what should be known about our politicians, and both Feminists and the Christian Right believe that private life is political and the lifestyle of our leaders should reflect our ideal society and act as a role model for our citizens. Clinton, of course, does not fulfill this objective and the issue becomes whether or not it is more important to have our ideal moralist in office or someone who can do a good job running the country.
The issue of Monica for the Feminists and Christian Right is a little different. Monica means very little to the Feminists, she is not important to their agenda nor a good representation of women in American society. For the Christian Right, on the other hand, and especially Ken Starr, Monica becomes a way to get the immoral President out of office. Monica is not in good moral standings with either of these two interest groups as well and they do not hesitate to condemn her and watch as the media follows their example.
Bill and Hillary were the Feminists dream: both are liberal leaders in politics, Hillary is a role model for intelligent women in high political positions and Bill is in support of women's social issues. In fact the Feminists like Bill so much that when the sex scandal erupted, which was truly their worst nightmare, they supported him in spite of the fact that he was exposed as the classic womanizer they detest.
Obviously shes' [Hillary] good for Feminism. A marriage between equals at this level
Of power is still very rare. I think Bill and Hillary are the cutting edge for Feminism.
[New Statesman 10/25/99]
Until the impeachment trial Feminists had a definition of sexual harassment that would grow daily in its detail of a man using his power over a woman of lower position in a sexual regard. But what do you do in a case with Monica Lewinsky where, to many, it is clear that she was the sexual advancer and was using her sexuality to appeal to a man of higher power and hoped to rise up in the world? Bill Clinton can still fit the role of a womanizer who has nameless mistresses and that he had"no intent of arousing"the woman with whom he had an affair, but Monica likewise fits the role of a manizer who showed him a flash of her thong to let him know that"she was available."
[Monica Lewinsky is a] woman who used her powers over the President to advance her
Career, but in fact she seems more pathetic than powerful. If a man can be called a ëwomanizer'
She can be called a ëmanizer'. If I weren't a Feminist, I guess I'd call her a pathetic little
Slut...You make your bed and you lie in it. [Washington Monthly p8]
Feminists get themselves caught in a grind similar too many when issues of sex and politics intertwined and interests conflict. Politically, they support Bill Clinton as a political leader who will help the Feminists rise. Sexual liberation is something Feminists look for in the future and know well that with the conservative Republicans in power they will have no such glory.
In the past Feminists have been conservative moralists regarding the lifestyle of our leaders and set up rigid rules to keep men in power in check against any female oppression. The idea that the"personal is political"(The New Republic 2/15/99) is something Feminists have used to identify gender roles in society to expose when male leaders use power and sexuality to the disadvantage of women. A good example was in the case of Anita Hill against Clarence Thomas for sexual harassment and the Feminists came out strong in her defense. The Lewinsky-Clinton sex scandal, however, was a different sex-gender issue altogether.
Feminism, in short, was not well prepared for Bill Clinton. Feminists have at least started
Down the difficult road toward a movement that does not degrade politics by turning
It into a synonym for life...Like Feminism, the Christian right is the product of an ideology
That views government as morally derivative. [The New Republic 2/15/99]
As a result of the impeachment proceedings, the Feminist movement will only move further away from that ideology of strict moral conduct as it only reflects the conservative Republican and Christian Right views. The issue of public versus private in regard to the lifestyles of our politicians has been divided along party lines like many of the forces running the impeachment trial. If it comes down to the question of what does the American public want more, a moral leader or a brilliant manager? The Republicans will say the former and the Democrats the latter. But the Feminists want both, which they cannot have with Bill Clinton, and thus the movement suffers as a consequence.
The Feminists, for not joining the attack on President Clinton for allegedly having oral
Sex with this twenty-one year old intern in the Oval Office...is an outrage, since Feminists
Generally condemn sexual harassment of any kind... The issue in sexual harassment
Should not be sex but discrimination. [The Progressive 3/98]
Feminists have had to change their tune as a result of the Lewinsky-Clinton sex scandal or their progress will be stagnant and influence within American politics decline. Society seems to have evolved as a result of Feminism in ways in which it could not predict. It fights against male oppressors of women and ends up with an opportunist like Monica. They can no longer be so rigid on an issue that can work both ways and the consequence of continuing with such a stance on the issue will damage their liberal political agenda.
Before Monica Lewinsky, it was a major tenet of Feminism and an increasingly
accepted workplace ethic that even consensual sex involving a subordinate and
the boss was suspect given the unequal power relationship and the potential for
exploitation. That was then...New Feminist principle: Even the workplace is private
and the inquisitors who violate that privacy are guilt of"Sexual McCarthyism.î
[The Weekly Standard 3/15/99]
This suggested dramatic change in Feminist principle may be an exaggeration yet it demonstrates that throughout the impeachment crisis, they have been brought further from the moral right to the liberal, anti-sex police left. Sex in politics is an issue that has dominated much of the ethical talk surrounding the impeachment crisis with the main question being whether or not it is an issue that we should be concerned about with our political leaders Generally, people are divided by their own personal moral beliefs yet objectively they are entirely different subjects.
Sex does not enter into your cooking if you're a chef, so why should it enter
into politics? [The Advocate 2/2/99]
What is interesting, is that from the right side it all relates back to morality and"what will we tell our children?"with Ken Starr and Henry Hyde leading the way. In contrast, on the left side the sex scandal and impeachment have been compared to the book The Crucible and the Salem witch trials along with McCarthyism and the anti-Communist era. There have been parallels made between Ken Starr and McCarthy in their interrogation of politicians in an effort to deny politicians of their power by proving they were committing adultery and lying about it or were secret communists. Both men used witch-hunt like tactics to uncover the secrets of leaders and bring them to the public to be morally judged.
Puritans believe the sex exposes a conspiracy of witches. Ken Starr believes it exposes
a conspiracy to obstruct justice, suborn perjury, and abuse power. [The Advocate 2/299]
Feminist's drawing these parallels and especially acknowledging the concept of"Sexual McCarthyism"can be seen as a very left statement that implies that Ken Starr is the instigator and that he is at fault for bringing sexuality to the foreground. It also implies that the scandal is not an issue that our leaders need to be evaluated on. This is an extremely different stance than the one Feminist's have traditionally taken yet it is more consistent with their liberal political ideology.
Even with all the change brought about by the impeachment crisis Feminists have an origin of the Women's Movement coupled with a very serious agenda that has been getting only stronger over the past thirty-odd years. The issues they address cover many areas of society such as the power imbalances in marriage, in the workplace and the way women are treated in both America and worldwide. Clinton is someone whom the Feminists politically agree with and count on for their movement is morally one of the worst scenarios of men they are fighting against. One of the contemporary leading Feminist speakers is lawyer Patricia Ireland:
I am absolutely determined to resist our culture's obsession with evaluating women
on the basis of our sexuality...I think we're better off with Clinton than we would have
been with Bush or Dole. And at the same time, I really think Clinton has got a very
serious problem, Clinton is beyond what even the worst culture of men usually behave
like. [The Progressive 9/99]
This statement demonstrates the sacrifice that Feminists have had to make in order to keep their movement going. They identify that under a Republican president like Bush or Dole less will be done for a liberal gender equal society and yet to keep their Democratic man, they must not fully condemn him. This decision goes against most of what Feminism has stood for up to this point where it seems logical in the movement that they would declare his office in jeopardy because of all the women with whom he sexually engages in his personal life. In going against this instinct to preserve political interest, Clinton ultimately makes Feminists look bad and just about as partisan as Henry Hyde on whether or not the figure on trial is Republican or Democrat.
Monica is another problem for Feminists. She has coined the new word"manizerî. With the female in the role of perpetrator it expands our notions of sexual oppression to both genders and diminishes the definition of the world"womanizer"as the only kind. Politically, they are glad that she did not give the incriminating testimony to the Grand Jury that may have turned the impeachment into a true case of perjury, yet Monica is entirely had for Feminist politics. Having a female vixen who used her sexuality to appeal to a much older, more powerful and then tries to have him find her a job is a scenario that switches to roles of sexual harassment.
There is so much sexual harassment that goes on at a workplace, she [Monica] has
really made it hard for other women who are going to come up in that situation, because
everyone is going to say: ëOh, you Monica.' There are women who are legitimately
harassed at the workplace, you know, but the girl walked in there and said, ëYou wanna
see my thong?'...And I'm really upset because it is going to make it that much harder.
[Hotline Extra 9/26/99]
Feminists can cast a good deal of their blame onto Monica for her role in the sex scandal yet it downplays the roles that Tripp, Clinton and Starr played. Regardless of how much Monica welcomed the affair, the scandal would not have been exposed as a scandal had not Clinton entertained the relationship for an extended period of time, Tripp recorded the incriminating evidence and Starr interrogated every last detail out of everyone involved in order for the scandal to make impeachment hearings. Monica, however, remains just as bad and in many cases worse than any other sexual inquisitor.
I think she's very young. I think you don't show your thong bikini underwear to your
employer without giving a signal of some sort that you'd welcome a sexual advance...
Part of what happens with any young woman who comes to see her only value as her
sexual appeal and her conventional attractiveness, who is so obsessed with her body
being too large and trying to fill that insecurity with attention from men, is that the
ageism of the culture catches up to her. [The Progressive 9/99]
The fact that Monica's reason for sexually advancing herself can be traced back to her weight insecurities by the Feminists, demonstrates how they find her to be the kind of weak-minded young woman who would resort to such provocative methods in order to gain power, control and self-confidence. It seems harsh that the Feminist's can identify the causation of Monica's actions and relate it to women's body image in the face of society and the"ageism"of our culture and yet blame the individual and not the society which promotes such insecurities. Many Feminist spokeswomen seem to be above this plight although Monica is now the victim from both sides as her fellow women condemn her and leave her out to be crucified by the next one who wants to take a hit.
Even though Feminists have censured and dismissed Monica the person, Monica the female symbol and sex icon that has come out of the sex scandal is worth a closer look. The Feminist's have categorized her as an opportunist cut and dry, but it is important to look at the society from which she came and how it has shaped her to be as such. The issues surrounding Monica as a person vary and are controversial yet the society which makes these judgments and criticisms in many ways is the source of Monica's issues.
It seems to be a commonly held view that Monica is an overweight woman for our society. She is not what we expected to see on our television screens for a national frenzy and an international display of our President and the surrounding politics. The issue becomes less of this unlikely young woman and her problems and more of American society in general and our response to someone like this when they come up for public display.
Who is to say how the impeachment trial would have been different if Clinton's mistress had had the ideal body image that Americans expect of the majority of people put in the lime-light, and especially for as long and to such as degree as Monica. People may have related to and forgiven Clinton easier if his mistress had been say, Cindy Crawford, and the public may have put the blame on her for being so beautiful and making herself available to our lustful and helpless President. Beautiful people recover more quickly from whatever the public and media can say about them because they are still watching and like what they see. In many ways it would have been easier for both sides, the President and his mistress, if she filled our expectations for the most powerful man in the world's girlfriend.
So what if it wasn't Monica? What if it was a more glamorous opportunist? Would she have received the same treatment? It seems easier to blame things on a person like Monica because she is already victim to her own personal scrutiny of body image and low self-esteem and the public and press only reiterate and exacerbate pre-existing insecurities. One thing is for sure, had Monica exhibited an ideal body, she would not now be a Jenny Craig spokeswoman and the Internet would not have pictures of Monica modeling for different products with a brand-new slim, fit body in tight leather apparel that was cut and pasted to her head.
The fact is, America is truly obsessed with female body image, even more so than Monica herself. It just made it easier that she had grown up with her weight as her major concern and battled with it all along emotionally at ëfat camps' and through her young life. Because, ultimately, if she had not known about it before, then we would have told her. America is a culture that has time and resources to fuss over the female images we see on our television screen and just as we are the culture that has facilitated Feminism we are also the culture that has facilitated anorexia and bulimia.
Body image scrutiny is a Western concept, one that comes from having excess material means and thus with no other struggle for survival we resort to details over the aesthetics in society. Both consciously and sub-consciously, we have tens of thousands of images of what we think public figures should look like and what we wish we looked like. Fashion magazines are the best examples of the ideal body image fed to us every day. We may take these images of nameless model with a grain of salt but we find that they have in fact affected us when we see public figures whose images deviate from this prescribed ideal. They, as exemplified by Monica Lewinsky, appear out of place.
Monica is that woman, the one that looks chubby on a magazine even if in reality she is just healthy and voluptuous. When society advertises perfection to the masses the public expectation creeps its way into the crevices of communities until it becomes an expectation in everyone's psyche. People in the privacy of their own homes can look however they please but when they step out to the supermarket they subject themselves to the scrutiny of both men and women. And it does not take long to develop a personal complex within oneself, and especially as a women as their ideal female body has already been mapped out more times than imaginable by the few women who have this body and make a living off having it photographed.
If the pressure of women even at the community level leads young girls to eating disorders and low self-esteem around their peers concerning their weight; then what must it be like on the public level? Monica suffered most of the societal pressures that come with growing up in American society, and especially Beverly Hills, the aesthetic capital of the country. But when her issue became a public display, instead of remorse she suffered the criticism she had put on herself from the mouths of the media, the masses, Feminists and anyone else who cared to remind her of her"problemî. It is true that we could do whatever we wanted to do with her, and we did, yet even when Monica pays her dues for being an overweight and provocative opportunist, does she really deserve the majority of the negative discourse surrounding the sex scandal or is it because she is not only a woman but an imperfect one?
Media icons like Monica can have a number of things happen to their public image once their is a market for stories about their personal life. Some pull out in one piece, others are ruined and a few get made into gods or goddesses. The best example of a female goddess in this decade is Diana Princess of Whales who received only positive praise and remorse in all the discourse surrounding her death. What is overlooked, however, is that before her death Diana was subject to much of the scrutiny that Monica was and the media tried to uncover her affair and relations with other men.
Interestingly, Diana was also publicly commented on her body as the media took shots of her thighs while she was walking into her gym in spandex and wrote articles saying she had cellulite. This is another Western example of body image check on all public figures that every women faces. To become beloved Diana had to die since perfection in the public eye only exists with the bodies of female models and other public and private figures who only suffer as a result.
Monica wishes should could be made into a Diana post-scandal but she will have no such luck while she is alive and overweight. Monica has tried hard to relate to Diana on a personal level as well as by using the same author to write her biography. The author, Andrew Morton, makes countless parallels between her relationship with the President and Diana's with Charles and how they both suffered greatly from the media.
I see myself in a similar situation [to Diana]. I'm not a princess in a royal sense but
I was wronged by a man who said he loved me. And remember, I was in love with him.
I was trapped too. I had a lot of pressure on me and, like Diana, I had nowhere to go,
nowhere to hide. [Monica's Story p351]
Although the similarities between Monica and Diana are less true about their respective relationships it is apparent in analyzing the media and specifically women in the public eye. Women in general receive more attention and criticism then men do in the public realm and most notably it goes beyond personal conduct that many public figures are judged for, but to aesthetics and the outward image these women portray. If Monica wears red lipstick and has her hair styled a certain way it becomes all the more easy to call her a bimbo and likewise with Diana and the way they look and dress.
The behavior of Monica Lewinsky and Diana has dominated the media for quite some
time. Both women actually have a lot in common despite some significant differences.
They exemplify the stereotyped public perception of passive women who are either
vixen or victim. What they share is passivity. In abstract, it is all women's fault, but
individually we are not responsible. [New Statesman 8/21/98 p13]
At different times in their public exposure Monica and Diana both fluctuated between being portrayed as vixen and victim. These portrayals related more to how their stories would sell than to what was the actual case. Both women had relationships that became available to the world to know all the details about and thus faced the subjective character judgment of many. As two of the most publicized women in the world they not only demonstrate the rising popular media and its growth to multi-media and international audience, but the emphasis that is put more on the sexuality of these public figures than any other aspect of their character.
Sexuality is a rising issue at the end of this century, especially in America. Everyone's sexuality is coming out of the closet regardless of preference which changes the dynamics of society as not long ago it was a very private issue. In relation to Monica's sexuality there is a different opinion from each side in regard to this exposure. Internationally, the response to the scandal has been that Americans are obsessed with sex and over-publicize a trivial issue like a president's affair. Within American life the response varies among interest groups like the Gay and Lesbian community which relate to her position.
The drama surrounding Clinton and Lewinsky bears a remarkable resemblance to the
position of gay people in the United States culture today. Privacy---for sexual activity
or simply being gay---often affords little immunity from persecution. Ask Monica
Lewinsky. [The Advocate 9/15/98 p9]
Looking at what has happened to Monica as sexual persecution is one that few will adhere to as it overlooks her as the orchestrator of her own actions. And yet as a woman, in many ways, she has been criticized for her sexuality in every possible scope. Politically, it is another partisan issue where generally Democrats do not want sexuality public and Republicans want our leaders to exemplify all moral qualities. The Christian Right are the main moral leaders who bring the issue back to a good and evil issue of human nature that is flawed by desires.
At this moment in our national history the circumstances involving another gifted and
flawed man and Monica present a kind of epiphany of our national need for healing in a
variety of ways. A case can be made that we are seeing patterns of individual and collective
addiction---sexual addiction. [America 10/10/98]
This sexual addiction that both our President and his mistress Monica seem to entertain is a concept that in many ways has been created by the emphasis of sex in the media. Previous presidents were not exposed as sex hounds because the society at the time did not talk about sex and the media did not find it of public interest. Times have changed and society is open about sex, they want to know all and talk about it. What remains old fashion, however, are the role men and women play in these public displays and how a promiscuous male is a"ladies man"and a promiscuous women is a"slutî.
When we are faced with Clinton's sexual history it seems less of a fatal flaw in that we blame it on him being a male who cannot control himself, who might have a clinical problems or that he is a powerful man and has such a stressful job and is in an unfulfilling, business-like relationship with Hillary. For Monica, however, it is much more harsh as she is tagged an opportunist, bimbo, vixen and seductress with little class or sustenance as a person. She is now shunned from ever being a normal figure is society and worries about getting married and finding a job whereas Clinton is still running our country.
The discrepancy between male and female images in the public arena is one of the leading issues to be learned from the sex scandal. It is also an issue that seems to be in the Feminist domain as an important social barrier facing women. This is not the case, however, and Feminists credit Monica's problems to her low self-image as a woman who uses her sexuality for power and confidence. Feminists are aware of how society is set up so that women have a need to fulfill the idealistic body images expected of them and yet in the case with Monica they attribute the outcome to her own insecurities that have made her whim to these forces.
In any case, at the close of the century there is a major shift taking place in women's place in society that been most challenged by the Lewinsky-Clinton sex scandal."Americans were able to see the way that society has changed for women"[The New Yorker 3/15/99] through all the social, gender issues that were brought up by the scandal. It marks a time when Feminism, which has long since moved into the political arena, must be faced with the conflict of women's political and social interests. Sexual harassment, one of the main social issues of Feminism, will change in definition and in popular response due to the sex scandal. In turn, Feminists will have to decided where they stand on both political and social issues so that they do not come out looking as partisan as the majority of leading white, male politicians have in the impeachment trials.
Feminism right now is in the midst of a profound identity crisis. [Hotline Extra 9/26/99]
Monica is one of the main causations of this recent identity crisis in that she has indirectly put to question many of the Feminist stances. The fact that through the impeachment crisis Feminists have supported Clinton and dismissed Monica, goes against their previous views of the male perpetrator. This identity crisis is one that will put in question all the traditional views of Feminism and make the shift towards a more liberal and revised"Modern Feminismî.
Monica is without a question bad for Feminism yet she may be a good eye-opener that forces Feminists to re-evaluate their own biases of interests. In creating a more liberal society, it becomes necessary to look at both sides of the picture of each gender-filling role of all kinds so that if there is a"businessman"there is a"businesswoman"and if there is a"womanizer"there is a"manizerî. Feminists may not have wanted to admit to these opposite roles where suddenly women are the perpetrators and resent Monica for creating a public example. However, it is the same liberal forces which put to question the Republicans and their conservative, partisan anti-Clinton impeachment trial that put to question Feminism and its contradictory gender bias.
It is the hope that Feminism will make the shift to Modern Feminism in a productive manner so that its progress will continue yet in a revised fashion that takes into consideration conflicting interests. It is also the hope that more attention will be paid to the popular media and their role in portraying female images which not only helps to create unattainable and unhealthy expectations on women but exposes them for all their insecurities that do not fulfill this image.
Feminists must diversify in order to address this issue of female body image on a large scale. Monica must be less deplored and more looked at as an example of how women in American society suffer from all sides of self, male and societal pressure. The result of these pressures lead them to be the women that use their sex to bring them the power and confidence that the women in magazines seem to entertain. As attention is drawn to this issue it will help to liberalize gender portrayals in the public view which will act as a model and ultimately reach the community and every-day social levels. It is through this process that society as a whole is able to break its stereotypes and misconceptions of what women should be so that women will not feel the need to satisfy this image and the public will not feel such a need to criticize when a woman does not fit it, like you-know-who.
Foss, Karen A. and Sonja K., Cindy L. Griffin. Feminist Rhetorical Theories. SAGE
Publications, Inc. 1999.
Hotline Extra."Identity Crisis."September 26, 1999. Vol 30, No. 37 p20(3).
Morton, Andrew. Monica's Story. St. Martin's Press. 1999. USA.
New Statesman."Sex and the Married Man."Sara Maitland. August 21, 1998 v127
The Advocate."Monica-gayt."September 15, 1998. n768 p9(1)
The Advocate."Sexual McCarthyism."David Kirby. February 2, 1999. p27(1).
The American Prospect."Irresponsible Elites."May-June 1999. n38 p14(4).
The New Republic."How the Personal Became Political. PRIVATE MATTERS."Peter
Bienart. February 15, 1999. p21(1).
The New Yorker."Thoroughly Modern Monica."March 15, 1999. v17 i3 p24(2)
The Progressive."Patricia Ireland."August 1999. v6 i8 p35.
The Progressive."Sex and Death in Washington."Ruth Conniff. March 1998. v62 n3 p10(1).
The Weekly Standard."Feminism."Charles Krauthamer. March 15, 1999. p9.
Washington Monthly."Lipstick Feminists."Elizabeth Austin. November 1998. p8(1).
*Definition of Feminist Criticism taken from Foss, Karen A. and Sonja, Cindy L. Griffin. Feminist Rhetorical Theories. SAGE Publications, Inc. 1999.