Stop Viewing Women as Victims of Sex

Sen. Rand Paul proves again that elected officials only see women as victims.

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., says the National Security Agency's bulk collection of phone metadata is a violation of the Fourth Amendment.

What do women want? This is not such a hard question, despite the bafflement and genuine cluelessness being exhibited by some elected officials.

The question itself is inherently insulting, anyway, suggesting that women are some hard-to-handle breed that just can't make up its collective pretty little head about what would make its members happy. It's pretty simple: Women, like men, just want to be treated with respect and given equal opportunity. That doesn't mean they all believe the same things or want the same lifestyle any more than men do.

Women, despite the tendency to lump them into one single-minded group (as voters or consumers), are different. They don't all march in abortion rights (or anti-abortion) demonstrations, or read "Fifty Shades of Grey," or hate women who stay at home with their families, or judge women who choose to work outside the home, leaving child care to the father or outside help. Women are liberal, they are conservative, they like (or don't like) sports, and rom-coms either make them tear up or throw up.

[See a collection of political cartoons on the Catholic contraception controversy.]

But there are some basics, and one of them is to stop viewing women as victims of sex.

That's not gender (one could make a strong argument that women are victims of their gender, given the fact that men still make more than women for doing the same jobs). It's sex, one of the domains some men still seem to think (an idea reinforced by the media) is somehow a man's domain. So when a man has sex with women, they are called "conquests," as though women would only have sex if they are tricked into it or dominated in some way. And forget about "Fifty Shades" – if you want to read a real treatise on misogyny, pick up three-times-married Steve Harvey's book, "Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man," which basically tells women to use their sexuality (their "cookie," he creepily calls it) to get a piece of jewelry or a marriage offer from a man. The idea that a woman might just want to have sex with a man because she likes him and is attracted to him seems not to occur to Harvey.

And so it endures, with Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., saying that the GOP (apparently in anticipation of a 2016 run by Hillary Clinton) should resurrect the case of Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky, the White House intern with whom the former president engaged in sexual activity. Said Paul on "Meet the Press":

The Democrats, one of their big issues is they have concocted and said Republicans are committing a war on women. One of the workplace laws and rules that I think are good is that bosses shouldn't prey on young interns in their office. … And I really think the media seem to have given President Clinton a pass on this. He took advantage of a girl that was 20 years old and an intern in his office. There is no excuse for that, and that is predatory behavior.

[See a collection of political cartoons on the Republican Party.]

Predatory? Bad judgment, to be sure, both as a high-ranking elected official and as a man in a very public marriage. But Lewinsky (who was 22, not 20, both ages which qualify her as a woman, not a "girl") wasn't exercising the best of judgment, either. Yes, we should expect more of a middle-aged person than a young adult. But by all accounts, Lewinsky was an aggressive player in that drama. It's awful what happened to her – the fallout from having an inappropriate relationship should be at worst a broken heart, not a public shaming. But she's not prey or a victim because she engaged willingly in sexual activity.

And what of Hillary Clinton? She was either pitied as a victim of a philandering husband, or a spineless sap who was too ambitious or too weak to leave her husband. The irony is that the same people who hold up marriage as a social ideal and think people should not get divorced on a whim don't give Hillary Clinton any credit. She kept a commitment she made to a marriage. Is that so awful? Does that make her a victim, the proverbial long-suffering wife? Or does it show some character?

Hillary Clinton is a brilliant mind and a shrewd politician. She is beatable – any candidate is – but if the GOP wants to pre-empt her candidacy, it's going to have to come up with something better than a 20-year-old affair.

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  • Corrected on : Corrected 1/27/14: The original version of this post misspelled the title of "Fifty Shades of Grey."