Did Clinton Harass Paula Jones?

E-mail debates of newsworthy topics.
Nov. 12 1996 3:30 AM

Did Clinton Harass Paula Jones?

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Dear Stuart:

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Are you really to my left on this one? I'm not sure it's a straight line any more, from left to right. I am very proud to call myself a feminist, but it doesn't mean that the woman is always right and the man is always wrong. I have a son, too. Someday, he might even want to go to a same-sex school.

But give me this: I think enough of women in general, and of Paula Jones, in particular, to assume that she is not a blithering idiot. I'm not talking about the hotel-room business, just the last two years, when she went from being a first-name reference deep in an article in a conservative publication (that she didn't sue, as I've mentioned before) to a household name in every publication, entirely of her own doing. If the reference so humiliated her, as she told you, why did she embark on a path whose only end could be to ensure that every human being in America would know who she was? If she didn't want to be the next Gennifer Flowers, why did she follow in her footsteps? If she wasn't interested in a career out of this, why have a book deal in your lawyer's contract? Was she really the victim of every single man she has dealt with--all the lawyers and consultants, the Rev. Falwell, even?

But here I am, getting dangerously close to doing what I hate most. What angers me is that sex has become just one more weapon in the anti-Clinton business, which is what Clarence Thomas, no doubt, thinks about how it was used against him. It doesn't do the case of victims of serious abuse, of whom there are many, any good to see both sides alternate between overlooking allegations of "shabbiness" or wrongdoing on the one hand, and overstating them on the other.

Remember Gary Hart, who "lied" about adultery, and then everybody piously pretended that it was a character flaw and not sex that did him in? The truth is suicide, even if it really isn't so terrible. If Bill Clinton had looked into the television camera, the way you and Paula wanted him to, and said he was sorry, the tape would've been in every Republican ad this fall. The best defense of Clarence Thomas is that given the environment, he had little choice but to play the race card, because to admit that he asked the woman out a few times, and maybe told some jokes, but she was an adult and never complained--if he'd said that, he wouldn't be on the Supreme Court.

The worst of it is, women pay the price coming and going. If allegations can kill you, and if even a piece of the truth is unutterable, then the only alternative is to destroy the woman. Anita Hill may not be a hero, but she didn't deserve to be victimized. What Justice Thomas' defenders did to Anita Hill is what many of the president's defenders have done to Paula Jones (although I admit to having been blissfully unaware of her nude shots for an ex-boyfriend in Penthouse till I read it in your fabulously researched and written, but ultimately unpersuasive, piece). Men are spared the burdens of our hypocrisy by destroying women. Who made these rules?

When it comes to issues of morality and sexuality, there is an unholy alliance between the most radical feminists and the most conservative traditionalists, in opposition to the rest of us, who'd like to make sexual judgments for ourselves, looking to the government to enforce our right to make choices rather than make them for us.

Some women use sex to get ahead, and some women don't. Men, too. Some women play these games better than others. Some hate them. Some want to learn to play them better. If I had any entrepreneurial instinct, I'd be writing the workplace equivalent of The Rules about how you get to the top by not sleeping with the boss, but making him want to sleep with you, or some such thing. So be it. The only solution is autonomy. You can try, but you can't take advantage.

Have you ever wondered why women don't hate Bill Clinton? Here he has this wife we all admire, and first there's Gennifer Flowers, then Paula Jones. Yet, this election saw the biggest gender gap in history, fueled by the "soccer moms"--the middle-class women whom you'd expect to have very little patience for "other women," much less ones with the extra time it takes to even have big hair.

Here's my theory. I believe our president genuinely likes women. He liked his mother. He may or may not be attracted to big hair. But he doesn't abuse people. He doesn't harass people. He doesn't have to, and it's not his style.

I'm not so sure about Clarence Thomas.

Here's my hypo.

Imagine you're 25 again, an associate on a business trip, at a hotel with a senior partner, a great-looking, smart woman in her 40s, who chats with you early in the evening, and later sends word that she'd love to have you come up to her room for a drink. You check around. She's married, but there's talk. You go up to her room. Once inside, she sits next to you on the couch, unbuttons her blouse, revealing her breasts, and tells you she would like you to kiss her. You decline. She accepts your answer, tells you if you're late with tomorrow's assignment, to tell the senior associate to get in touch with her. As you leave, she says she trusts you'll keep this to yourself. You do. She does. You move to another city, and live happily ever after.

Oh yes, and here's hypo No. 2. Angry woman boss. There's a religious young guy in the office, very, very square. The boss loves to make him uncomfortable by telling him what nice buns he has, making sex jokes, and talking about her period in front of him. And she's a feminist lawyer, no less.

Whom do you like less?

All the best,

Susan

Susan Estrich is a law professor at the University of Southern California. Stuart Taylor Jr. is a senior writer with American Lawyer Media, L.P., and author of "Paula Jones vs. Anita Hill" in SLATE.

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