The Hillary Trap: Looking for Power in All the Wrong Placesby Laura Ingraham
In The Hillary Trap, journalist and media personality Laura Ingraham turns a razor sharp eye on this view of Hillary and questions her status as a metaphor for the modern empowered woman. Ingraham suggests that if anything, Hillary's mix of opportunism, acquiescence, and dependency has set women back rather than leading them forward. This is the Hillary Trap.See more details below
In The Hillary Trap, journalist and media personality Laura Ingraham turns a razor sharp eye on this view of Hillary and questions her status as a metaphor for the modern empowered woman. Ingraham suggests that if anything, Hillary's mix of opportunism, acquiescence, and dependency has set women back rather than leading them forward. This is the Hillary Trap.
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The Sisterhood Trap
A tour of Hilary's world begins with what she has often made out to be the most important fact about her: She's a woman. For Hillary, that's not a statement of biology or even culture, but a political creed. And that's the point at which Hillary Clinton starts to veer off the road of good sense and toward folly.
Hillary's commitment to "women's issues" reminds me of the old story about the man who loved humanityit was just people he couldn't stand. To Hillary, women are political "sisters" first and people second. She has crisscrossed the globe talking about empowering this sisterhood and setting women free, but at every stop she advances a liberal agenda that reduces women to yet another interest group seeking yet another government handout. By reducing womanhood to a political platform, Hillary creates the ultimate trap for those who choose to follow her: the trap of groupthink and identity politics. For being a truly liberated woman means being your own personnot a victim whining for special privileges or a mindless soldier of anyone's political agenda, liberal or conservative. When the Hillarys of the world talk about sisterhood, women who want real equality and power should Just Say No.
Predictably, Hillary has tried to turn her reputation as a champion of women's rights to political advantage in her race for the U.S. Senate. In May 1999 she announced her Senate exploratory committee. The Albany Times-Union said she was hoping "to court ... women voters" and "to highlight her commitment to issues ofconcern to women voters, including public education, child care for working women, and the role of women in society." New York Daily News columnist Lars-Erik Nelson enthused about her "claim to the women's vote." Well, yes, Hillary is a woman, and she speaks for some women. But does she speak for all, or even for a majority?
A feminist credo from the 1960s was that "the personal is political." But in Hillary's world, sisterhood is anything but personal: It's a purely political concept of women as a group united by common interests and goalsgoals that Hillary and her left-liberal sisterhood define. Hmmm. Where was sisterhood when Kathleen Willey, Paula Jones, and Juanita Broadrick came forward to say they were gropedand in one case, even rapedby Hillary's husband? To the sisterhood, I guess they don't count as "women."
What is sisterhood, anyway? The way I see it, it's about laughing and crying with your girlfriends, about cheering on their successes and commiserating in their failures. It's about being able to rely on them as individuals, not a collective mass defined by faceless organizations or vague notions of community. Sisterhood is about trust, which is only meaningful on a personal level. Yes, "female bonding" often includes joking about male foibles and sharing horror stories of men behaving badly; mostly, such "girl talk" really is personal and not political. It certainly doesn't meansorry, Hillary!that we're ready to embrace some sort of common political agenda.
Women are not the unified bloc that recent rhetoric about the "gender gap" implies. While polls show that women are more likely to be interested in issues like health and education, the obvious truth is that men, too, go to hospitals and care about their children's schooling. And on the other hand, we care about jobs and taxes just like the guys do. The same policies that benefit our brothers, fathers, and husbandspolicies that boost the economy, protect citizens from crime, and strengthen familiesbenefit us as well. There is, as we'll see later in this chapter, no gulf between the political values of men and women. For the most part, despite what the pundits may say, we don't even vote all that differently. Hillary's brand of gender politicsthe idea that women are naturally drawn to a particular social agendais no better than the old notion that women are naturally drawn to nursing, or teaching, or cooking.
Once, slogans like "Sisterhood = Power" were legitimate rallying criesback in the early days of "women's lib," when fifty thousand women joined Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem marching down Fifth Avenue in New York, and young collegiate Hillary Rodham devoured the writings of Germaine Greer and Simone de Beauvoir. Back then, women were bound together in one important sensethey still confronted gross stereotyping and discrimination. They banded together to demand equal treatment and opportunity and beat back the image of the helpless, delicate female dependent on men to protect and care for them.
I'm glad those battles were fought and won, but let's face it, those days are gone. Today women and girls are virtually everywhere they want to be, and it didn't happen during the Clinton Administration. When I attended Dartmouth College in the 1980s, nearly half of the student body was female. Women made up half of my 1991 graduating class at the University of Virginia Law School. Somehow, I managed to make it to Dartmouth and to law school without being drilled about "gender sensitivity" and without being trained to think of every win or loss as saying something about gender. The women's movement helped give me opportunities that women of earlier generations didn't have, but from then on it was up to me to succeed through my own hard work. My outlook wasn't predetermined by my sex, it was informed by my family, friends, and experiences. In fact, the only time I remember the word "gender" coming up was in biology class (I think it had something to do with fruit flies). As for the word "sisterhood," it was akin to phrases like "groovy, man" or "far out!"an amusing rhetorical relic from a bygone age.
Of course, there is lingering discriminationthere always will be. People treat other people unjustly on the basis of all kinds of things that have nothing to do with our true selves and intrinsic meritson our looks, our tone of voice, on the social set we belong to, on misleading or ridiculous first impressions. Life is unfair to practically everybody. But that's no reason women should see themselves as a lifetime member of the P.O.C. (Perpetually Oppressed Club). Unfortunately, in spite of everything that common sense should tell us, gender identity politics of the kind Hillary espouses have gradually worked their way into the laws, the schools, and the universities.
These days, even a women's soccer team's triumphs get politicized. Remember all those GIRLS RULE and GIRL POWER signs in the stands at the Women's World Cup Soccer games in the summer of 1999? Harmless and cute on the surface, but almost defensively hyped in the media as some glorious chapter in women's unending political struggle. Sure, the triumph of Team USA was exciting and it was great to cheer on Mia Hammbecause it was a superb athletic performance. So why the gender mania? One commentator on CNN's Inside Politics got so carried away she gushed that if a woman runs for president thirty years from now "and you interview her and say what was the defining moment of your childhood, I think she will answer, `the 1999 Women's World Cup.'"
During the World Cup tournament, the media endlessly brought up Title IX, the federal law banning sex discrimination in schools. We were supposed to think that the players wouldn't have been there without Title IX. First of all, that's not so obvious. The history of civil rights legislation, from race to gender and beyond, is that civil rights laws have been enacted in response to social changes. They don't initiate social change. In the case of Title IX, there was a growing popular interest in and concern for women's athletics and the politicians ratified what was already going on in the culture. (To some extent, the same can be said of the Civil Rights Act: By 1964, when it was passed, women were already making significant inroads in business and the professions.) Mixing sports and politics in the World Cup detracted from the simple fact that these women were among the best athletes in the country. Those women athletes made it to the top through practice, grit, and sheer determinationnot because gender-conscious politicians handed their victory to them.
Hillary was in the stands, watching the final soccer game, just as she has been at nearly every high-visibility women's event during her years as First Lady. One of her most famous moments was her speech at the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995. Hillary proclaimed that it was "time to act on behalf of women everywhere ... women will never gain full dignity until their human rights are respected and protected ... However different we may appear, there is far more that unites us than divides us." But this sunny, vacuous vision was belied by what was really going on in Beijing. In a witty, incisive report in National Review, British journalist Anne Applebaum detailed the rift that was developing between Western feminists and their sisters in the less developed world:
Most of the Third World women were interested in very basic issues: the horrors of female circumcision, legal systems which prevent women from owning property, hunger and illiteracy.... The Western agenda was somewhat different: it ranged from lesbian rights to the need for women's studies at universities to "Gender Stereotyping and Sexism in Advertising" ...
Third World delegates in Beijing were bewildered and annoyed by the Western feminist dominance of the conference agenda. "Our issues are much more basic: We need education, we need a health system that works," said one Kenyan woman. She found it strange that most of her developed world "sisters" were so much more concerned with the availability of birth control and abortion than with the availability of lifesaving gender-neutral medicines like penicillin.
Certainly there are abuses of women that need to be exposed and stopped. Genital mutilation in Africa, wife burning in India, forced abortions in China. These are outrages. But how do these horrific actions connect with any "women's agenda" in American politics? When feminism tries to link these bloody crimes against women with workplace issues in our advanced society, they're just piggybacking on the suffering of the truly oppressed. The complaints of Western feminists look like petty self-absorption when you line them up against human rights abuses in Third World military dictatorships. Clitoridectomy and denial of maternity leave are simply not equivalent offenses against womankind. To patch together the gross injustices done to women in places like Nigeria with the relatively minor difficulties women face in their everyday lives in the United States into one giant collage of women's oppression, so as to rally women as one monolithic political voting block, is political opportunism of the most odious sort.
Let's get our priorities straight: Volunteer for a couple of weeks at Freedom House or Human Rights Watch if you want to see what human oppression is all about, In this diverse multicultural world of ours, oppression comes mainly from brutal repressive governmentsnot from your husband or the mythical patriarchy.
Republicans can be just as guilty of using gender for political gain. Before she pulled out of the 2000 presidential race, Republican Elizabeth Dole played the gender card, too, glowing about how her candidacy sent a positive message to young women. In response to a tough question about traditional GOP support for a constitutional ban on abortion, Dole lamented that because of the "inordinate focus" on that topic, "urgent issues such as domestic violence, child care, sexual harassment, women's health, and the financial security of women" were being neglected. It was a carefully scripted response to show Dole's sensitivity to "women's issues." But it plays to the same demagoguery that Hillary and her acolytes specialize inthe notion that violence, health care, and Social Security are somehow "female" special interests, rather than human issues that concern men, too.
Hillary didn't invent gender politics. But she was the first First Lady to use her position as a bully pulpit for the sisterhood and to do "consciousness raising" among lawmakers. As we will see, she and her feminist allies have had a major impact on what is happening in politics, in the classroom, in courts, and in the workplace, big-time. Politicians are often ridiculed for making a lot of promises and doing nothing, but what they actually dowith money taken out of your paycheckis often worse. Even conservative politicians like Senators Orrin Hatch and John McCain are so cowed by the feminist lobby that they go out of their way to assure us that theirs is a "pro-women" agenda. Look, Ma, I'm sensitive! Today's female-friendly politicians stir a stew of vaguely defined issues such as violence against women, women's medical needs, or girls' education. They ladle it out to the public whenever it seems politically advantageous, however expensive, and however ridiculous. When these policies become law, the real beneficiaries are mainly bureaucrats, lobbyists and activists, not individual women or their daughters.
Women's Crusades: Fighting for Justice or Promoting Myth-Information?
Convincing a new generation of women that they ought to pledge allegiance to their gender is one clever way to keep us politically dependent, while giving us a false sense of security that the sisterhood is always looking out for our interests. This is the False Sisterhood Trap in a nutshell. With all the advances and choices women enjoy today, how do Hillary and her sisters keep the gender fixation alive? By creating the impression that rampant discrimination is still prevalent but in covert and disguised form.
Perhaps the most frightening of these claims is that the male-dominated American medical establishment has been willfully neglecting women's health. It's a charge that Hillary Rodham Clinton made in a July 1993 appearance at a fundraiser for a breast cancer screening center at UCLA. She brought a mostly female crowd nearly to tears, and to deafening applause, when she described the "unfair emotional burden inflicted on women because of the inequities of the system." But the real kicker was her claim that women have been discriminated against in the all-important world of medical research. "We have been on the medical and scientific sidelines," she complained.
Hillary wasn't breaking any new ground. In 1991, a bipartisan group of women in Congress charged that women were victims of systematic discrimination in medicine. "One of the reasons our hormones rage is that we're so often written off and trivialized," proclaimed liberal Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD). Senator Olympia Snowe (R-ME) seconded her Democratic sister: "There is a bias in federal research," she stated. "Medical research is largely done and conducted on men." As evidence, the congresswomen cited the fact that only thirteen percent of the total research budget of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) was devoted to diseases affecting women and that major federally funded heart disease studies had used exclusively men as participants. Representative Patricia Schroeder (D-CO) painted an ominous picture of the "boys' club" ignoring female health problems. "People tend to fund what they fear first," she opined in a television interview. "A majority of the House and Senate and other people never feared breast cancer, ovarian cancer, osteoporosis, so we feel they've been underfunded." The accusation sent shivers through the spine of many a male legislator. How would they respond when a female constituent asked, "Are you one of those politicians who don't care about women's health?"
No one wanted to be so "insensitive" as to point out that if thirteen percent of all federal medical research dollars went to specifically female health problems, a mere seven percent was earmarked for men's diseases such as prostate and testicular cancer. Eighty percent of the money was going to the study of diseases that affect both sexesincluding heart disease, which kills ten times as many women annually as does breast cancer, and lung cancer, which has killed more women than breast cancer in every year since 1989. That didn't stop Hillary Clinton from declaring at the 1993 fundraiser at UCLA, "If we have technology sophisticated enough to direct missiles to targets thousands of miles away, then we [ought to] have technology sophisticated enough to detect every fatal lump in a woman's breast." (Leave it to Hillary to turn health care into a struggle between the Pentagon and women's breasts!) Never mind that we also don't have technology sophisticated enough to distinguish a lethal fast-growing prostate tumor from a slow-growing one that does not require surgery.
In fact, it's interesting to note that between 1981 and 1985, long before women's health was turned into a political issue, five federal dollars were spent on breast cancer for every dollar spent on prostate cancer. By 1997, when prostate cancer claimed almost as many victims as breast cancer (41,800 versus 43,900), NIH spent more than $410 million on breast cancer research compared to a paltry $105 million for prostate cancer. So is it time for a Men's Health Equity Act?
As for major heart disease studies that included only male patients, there were actually good reasons for such policies. Judith LaRosa and Vivian Pinn, who used to work in the NIH Office of Research on Women's Health, acknowledged in a 1993 article in the Journal of the American Medical Women's Association that until the age of sixty-five, women are at very low risk for severe cardiac diseaseso to test, for example, the benefits of a daily dose of aspirin in preventing heart attacks, researchers would have to recruit at least three times as many women as men to get equally valid results. Sometimes male-only studies are just good science: First you study the group most at risk or the group least medically complicated. Once you obtain the results, then you figure out whether further testing in other groups is warranted. In light of this, the exclusion of women seems to have been based on valid and gender-neutral concerns, not male chauvinism. It is worth noting that in the same period when male-only heart disease research was done, trials of treatments for hypertension, which affects both sexes at similar rates, included both women and men.
In the 1999 book Ceasefire!: Why Women and Men Must Join Forces to Achieve True Equality, journalist Cathy Young reports that over two-thirds of all studies and clinical trials reported in medical literature from 1966 to 1990 were two-sex studieswhile of the remaining third, more than half were female-only. Diseases for which women are at higher risk than men, such as arthritis or osteoporosis, have been studied primarily in women; there have been more all-female than all-male studies of diabetes, kidney disease, and chemotherapy. Dr. Sally Satel, a lecturer at the Yale University School of Medicine, also finds no evidence of anti-female bias in medical research. She points out that as early as 1979, over ninety percent of active clinical trials being conducted under the auspices of the NIH involved both men and women; the rest were evenly divided between all-male and all-female participants.
Women's health advocates have complained that from 1977 to 1993 the Food and Drug Administration barred women of childbearing potential from the early stages of drug trials. These rules were adopted to protect the fetuses of pregnant mothers and allowed an exception for women with life-threatening illnesses to take part in the early testing of promising new drugs. In all other cases, once the basic safety of a drug was established, women were fully involved in the later stages of trials monitoring its use and effects. According to Dr. Ruth Merkatz, special assistant to the FDA commissioner for women's health, FDA surveys in 1983 and 1988 found that "both sexes had substantial representation in clinical trials conducted before FDA approval of drugs."
Bluntly put, the notion that modern medicine has benefitted men while ignoring women is one of the nuttiest ideas ever put forth by feminists. In fact, it's more plausible to argue that women have gained more from medical progress than men. Until this century, women on average died younger than men; today, we're living seven years longer. Thanks to medical progress, we no longer have hundreds of thousands of young women dying in childbirth, and we've all but gotten rid of infectious diseases like smallpox, cholera, and tuberculosis, which used to kill off a lot of women and men at a young age. So far, science hasn't done anywhere near as good a job against the afflictions that kill men at a younger age than women (mainly heart disease). So if you're grateful for being alive and having a good chance to live to be eighty or more as a woman, don't thank Hillary, Pat Schroeder, or the Capitol Hill sisterhood. Thank "patriarchal medicine," however maligned it is by the women's studies mavens for taking over health care from the female healers and midwives.
Nevertheless, a lot of people bought the "male bias in medicine" myth. By the time Hillary and Bill moved into 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, the sisterhood had organized thousands of American women to fight against this alleged bias. The activists, many of them breast cancer survivors, gathered millions of signatures to demand more money for research on breast cancer. They marched on Washington, where their leaders met with President Clinton and the First Lady. It was an occasion for the First Partners to score political points with a voting bloc essential to Bill's re-election, and they did. Bill and Hillary assured the advocates that more money would go to breast cancer research and that women would never again be treated as "second-class citizens" in health care.
Members of Congress knew that the political fallout among women voters could be disastrous if they didn't act like they "cared" about women's health soon. So in 1993 Congress passed the Women's Health Equity Act, allocating $805 million to women's health and mandating that women be included in every federally funded clinical study. Republicans and Democrats all heaved a heavy sigh of relief. They'd covered their butts. Now they could point to their vote as proof that are indeed "sensitive to women's health concerns."
Most Congressmen and Senators were so panicked about losing their female constituency they didn't bother to question the facts underlying the allegations of bias against women by the medical establishment. During the congressional deliberations, anyone who voiced reservations over the Women's Health Equity Act was immediately savaged by women's health lobbyists. Scientists who warned that it was unwise to allow politicians to dictate the makeup of medical research studies were branded as heartless tools of the male establishment.
The women's health crusade shows what can happen when women become a special interest group. Due to the cries about "shortchanged women," special funds are now set aside for women's health, supposedly to correct the imbalance. A network of six National Centers of Excellence in Women's Healtha public-private Partnership partly funded by the U.S. Public Health Servicewas created in 1996, and expanded to eighteen by 1999. Meanwhile, there are no centers for men's health, and doctors still don't know enough about prostate cancer to be able to decide whether surgery for a newly diagnosed tumor will be beneficial or harmful. Should women be concerned about this? After all, it's the lives of our fathers, brothers, husbands, and sons that we're talking about.
Besides, not everything that's done in the name of women's health actually benefits women. The tendency to hype the perils to women's health, such as the activists' sloganeering about the "breast cancer epidemic""One in eight, we can't wait!"has frightened a lot of women into needless paranoia. The actual numbers don't paint such a grim picture. The one-in-eight statistic is the cumulative lifetime risk of breast cancer for an eighty-five-year-old woman; however, average life expectancy for white women is seventy-nine and for black women, seventy-four. As you age beyond fifty, people's risk of cancers of all kinds increases; cancer predominantly strikes the elderly. But because of politically fomented breast-cancer hysteria, women of all ages are more scared than informed. A 1999 Harris poll found that forty percent of women believe they will get breast cancer. In fact, even among women who live to eighty-five, just over twelve percent will get it. And only 1.3 percent of all women in their forties will be stricken by breast cancer in the next ten years.
Screechy interest-group-generated rhetoric about "male medicine" can also pressure many women into making bad health care choices. Feminist health counseling groups, for instance, often take the view that hysterectomyunless absolutely essential to save a woman's lifeis an evil act of female mutilation. Certainly, there are instances when doctors have been too eager to recommend this radical surgery. But there are also instances when feminist groups have been too eager to discourage it. One woman who fell into the clutches of such a sisterhood, Ellen Bertone of Pennington, New Jersey, described her experience in a 1997 letter to the New York Times: "I postponed [a hysterectomy] for several years because I had been made to fear it and ... to feel that I was submitting to manipulation by the patriarchal medical profession, and that I was somehow failing if I gave in and had the surgery." She added that when she finally had the surgery, her health improved dramatically and she bitterly regretted the delay: "I had suffered needlessly for several years."
On the political level, too, sound medical judgment often goes out the window when politics take over. A good example is the Women's Health Initiative, a massive, $625 million study launched by the NIH with great fanfare in 1991, under the leadership of women's health advocate Bernadine Healy. Two years after the study was begun, a review panel of the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences (IOM) appointed by Congress issued a devastating report. It concluded that the study was so poorly designed it was of little scientific use. Furthermore, the women enrolled in the trials weren't properly advised of the possible health risks. According to the journal Nature, the IOM committee said that "politics, not science, [had] dissuaded it from outright cancellation of the study ... committee members were besieged by women's health groups who said that canceling the study would be a sign that the NIH does not care about women."
Prominent political women seemed offended at the very idea that the project should be subjected to critical review. "Billions of dollars have been spent to do research on men," wailed Dr. Bernadine Healy, former head of the NIH. "Now a relatively modest study comes along to do studies on women, and it is subject to this kind of scrutiny." Pat Schroeder charged that the IOM report was yet another vicious patriarchal attempt to shortchange women. (The review panel was made up of seven women and four men and chaired by a woman.) Schroeder promised to "make sure that nobody cuts the corners on us one more time." Of course, nobody was planning to cut corners on women, but facts have never stopped politicians from making hay with gender demagoguery.
Women's health remains a favorite arena for posturing by politicos of both parties and sexes. Complaints about "drive-through mastectomies" by stingy HMOs refusing to pay for more than twenty-four hours of post-surgery hospitalization have prompted calls for action in Washington, with Hillary Clinton joining the chorus. While this may sound like a worthy cause, the problem has been massively exaggerated: A survey reported in The Atlanta Journal found that only six percent of mastectomy patients in HMOs went home quickly, usually because they wanted to. (Where's the concern for patients who have undergone surgery for equally devastating but gender-neutral diseases like colon cancer?) And in 1997, when a National Cancer Institute panel of doctors and consumer advocates concluded that scientific evidence did not warrant routine annual mammograms for women in their forties, Congress quickly intervened and pressured the NCI to reverse this recommendation.
Two years later, women's health was again the buzzword in the debate over the "patients' bill of rights" intended to protect patients from abuses by insurance companies and HMOs. While Republicans and Democrats disagreed over the scope of these protections, both versions of the bill focused on women's needs: namely allowing women to stay in the hospital at least forty-eight hours after breast surgery and to choose their gynecologist as their primary doctor.
Women may feel gratified by all the attention lavished on their health. But this special status makes me cringe. It's politics by chromosome, based on pandering and opportunism. Essentially, we're being patted on the head and told, "Now, now, little ladies, we'll look out for you, and you just honor and obey your protectors." Ironically, even some women's advocates are starting to express misgivings about the women's health vogue. National Women's Health Network executive director Cindy Pearson has said that it's a "double-edged sword," since politicians may feel compelled to "choose to make medical decisions through legislation that they think are helpful to women, which are often arguable." Some also detect a whiff of paternalism in the legislators' eagerness to "intervene in the way doctors and private health insurance companies conduct themselves when the patients are women." That's exactly right. But when you turn women into a special interest group, that's what you get.
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Another pet project of the gender police is the equally mythical problem of "shortchanged girls." In 1994, Congress passed the Women's Educational Equity Act (WEEA), authorizing millions of dollars to fight alleged anti-girl bias in education. A better name might be the Gender Equity Experts' Employment Act. Supporters of the bill invoked dubious studies by the American Association of University Women (a group for which, as we will see, politically correct zealotry has long displaced educational goals). "Where nine-year-old girls were once confident that they could conquer the world, girls at age eleven suddenly begin doubting their worth," declared the ubiquitous Pat Schroeder. The AAUW research "refutes the common assumption that boys and girls are treated equally in our educational system," chimed in Senator Ted Kennedy, never one to stand by when females are in peril.
That time, at least, two Republican senators, Nancy Kassebaum of Kansas and Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas, tried to slow down the steamroller. They made the modest proposal that the WEEA be held up for a year pending a more rigorous review of the sexism-in-schools research. The feminist-educrat lobby quickly sprang to action. At a House-Senate conference, an AAUW representative warned Kassebaum and Hutchison about the female retaliation that awaited them if they did anything to weaken or stall the gender-equity legislation. No one else came to their support and the rebellion was quashed.
This drama replayed itself in 1999, when some Republicansincluding "moderates" like New Jersey Congresswoman Marge Roukemawanted to cut off the funding for WEEA, pointing out that the goals of gender equity in education had been achieved and the program had outlived its usefulness. The AAUW and other "progressive" groups mobilized yet again, and Democrats like Patsy Mink of Hawaii earnestly argued that there was still a need to "balance the scales." As we'll see in the next chapter, the educational "scales" have in many ways tipped in favor of girls, and if they are "shortchanged" it's not by gender bias but by the overall dumbing-down of education to which Hillary's friends have contributed quite a bit. But as usual, the gendercrats were not about to let the facts get in the way. Funding for WEEA was triumphantly restored by a 311 to 111 vote in the House. Not only did the Democrats overwhelmingly support it, but so did half of the Republicans.
The Clinton Administration has gotten into the act as well. In 1996, under the stewardship of Friend of Hillary and Health and Human Services (HHS) secretary Donna Shalala, the HHS Department launched a public education campaign called "Girl Power!"intended, according to the HHS press release, to "encourage and empower nine- to fourteen-year-old girls to make the most of their lives." That sounds like a worthy goal, and "Girl Power!" includes many initiatives no one could quarrel with: promoting sports; fitness and healthy nutrition; preventing drug use, smoking, and teenage sex. But since when are drug use, poor health habits, and teen sex problems for girls only? Here's one example of how dishonest this "girl power" propaganda can be: The HHS press release cites a study showing that ninth-grade girls are twice as likely as boys to "have thought seriously about attempting suicide" and to have attempted it in the past year. It conveniently forgets to mention that boys actually commit suicide five times more often. This isn't sisterhoodit's female chauvinism. As women, don't we care about our sons as much as we do about our daughters?
Or take another noble cause-turned-feminist pork: violence against women. The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) passed in 1994 as part of the omnibus crime bill, is one of the most cherished accomplishments of the Capitol Sisters. Hillary Clinton has touted it as one of her husband's greatest gifts to women. While campaigning for Chuck Schumer for the U.S. Senate in New York in 1998, she declared that women should boot out Republican Alfonse D'Amato because, among other things, he had voted against VAWA. Actually, the irony is that D'Amato had cosponsored VAWA in the Senate (along with several other Republicans, including Orrin Hatch, Arlen Specter, and the great defender of women Bob Packwood), and voted against the anticrime bill because it contained too many feel-good programs like "midnight basketball." Like many other exercises in legislative chivalry, VAWA was, alas, largely a bipartisan effort.
Who could possibly be against a bill that protects women from violence? Unfortunately, what we have here is stealth radical feminism. Sure, VAWA has some bits no one could quarrel with. For instance, it requires the states to pay for medical exams for rape victims and to enforce orders of protection against abusive spouses issued in another state. It also provides grants to improve security in parking lots and bus, train, and subway stationsthough one may ask why such matters should be handled by the federal government rather than by state and local authorities, who are in a much better position to address specific safety issues, which may differ from one community to the next.
But VAWA also ensures a steady stream of federal grants to groups like the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, whose mission statement reads like an over-the-top parody of political correctness: The abuse of women, we are told, is related to "sexism, racism, classism, anti-Semitism, able-bodyism, ageism, and other oppressions." VAWA reclassifies sexual assault and domestic violence as gender bias crimes for which women can file federal civil rights suits against their attackers. Does this do much for women who are raped or battered? Actually, no. There is little chance of collecting monetary damages from the typical perp (federal statistics and many other studies show that men who attack women are likely to be uneducated, unemployed, alcoholics, or drug abusers), and it doesn't make sense to go through the arduous and lengthy litigation unless there's big money involved. Only a handful of VAWA suits have been filed since 1994, mostly involving wealthy husbands in divorce cases or deep-pocket entities like a college that allegedly mishandled a student's complaint of date rape.
Provisions that make such litigation possible may be more pointless than harmful, but the real shame is that the VAWA lobby seemed more interested in scoring political points and winning federal dollars for feminist projects than in protecting women. Activists talk about the symbolic importance of court rulings that treat battering and rape as part of a male "war against women," but victims of such crimes presumably would like to see more focus on putting their attackers behind bars for longer terms. Yet in 1993, when Senator Joseph Biden (D-DE) tried to include stiffer jail sentences for rapists in VAWA, women's groups nixed the idea, denouncing such provisions as "aimed at black males."
You might think that VAWA supporters would be passionately concerned for the underprivileged. In fact, instead of funding services in poor urban areas where women are most likely to be victims of rape and other violence, VAWA shells out millions to "date rape education" on college campusesprograms where young women are told, falsely, that one in four female students gets raped in college. If that statistic were accurate, parents would be insane to let their daughters go off to college. But, however self-evidently ridiculous, this statistic has taken root in the public imagination. It is obtained by defining rape down. One leading date rape educator, Dr. Andrea Parrot of Cornell University, asserts that a woman who is "psychologically pressured" into sex is "as much a victim of rape as the person who is attacked on the streets." A woman who lives in a neighborhood where she has to worry about being attacked on the street probably won't find this argument convincing.
This sort of misguided "education" about rape is only one instance of how VAWA puts ideology over women's real-life needs. It also promotes ignorance about the relationship between drugs and alcohol and crimes against women. When I checked out the Department of Justice website with information on how to apply for VAWA grants (no, I wasn't thinking of getting one for myself), one thing I learned was that no grants are given to programs that focus on substance abuse. Was that a typo? After all, the website also tells us that alcohol is involved in three out of four sexual assaults on college campuses and all the data show that the majority of batterers abuse alcohol or illicit drugs. But according to the new orthodoxy at the Justice Department, the abuse of women is caused by "beliefs and attitudes that women are subordinate to men and that men have the right to exercise power and control over women"so, even if most sexual aggressors and woman-beaters are junkies or alcoholics, drinking and drugs must be treated as entirely separate problems from the violence.
Clearly, VAWA is not the dream legislation for women that it's been made out to be. Has it been good for women at all? Bonnie Campbell, the first director of the federal Violence Against Women Office, points to a drop in murders of spouses and intimate partners. But that's not very convincing, since the decline is part of a twenty-year trend. Visiting a battered women's shelter in 1998, Hillary Clinton crowed about a Justice Department report showing that from 1993 to 1996, incidents of domestic violence had dropped by twenty-three percent. There is no evidence that VAWA was the reason for the decline. Domestic violence numbers go up and down from year to year; in 1993, for example, they rose by twelve percent from 1992. According to the same Justice Department report, VAWA has been a total failure on at least one countthe percentage of battered women who seek police assistance has barely budged, despite millions spent on police sensitivity training.
Women benefitted most from the overall drop in crime, not from any specially targeted violence-against-women measures. For all the feminist complaints that the biggest threat women face comes from the men in their lives, government statistics show that only about twenty percent of violent crimes against women are committed by husbands and boyfriends; attacks by strangers account for more than a third (the rest are by non-intimate acquaintances). That means women have benefitted even more from the drop in stranger crime than they have from the drop in domestic violence (in the mid-1990s both types of crime have declined at the same rate). Whether it's medicine, education, or crime, women and girls gain far more from across-the-board improvements than from anything the politicos set out to do "for women." Still, women are always expected to be wowed by legislation that treats them as a special interest groupthe political equivalent of a cheap pickup line.
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