Hillary Clinton has a rape culture problem… and her supporters need to ask the right questions.
Hillary Clinton has a problematic record when it comes to the issue of rape culture in America. Any politician with a similar background – regardless of party, ideology, or gender – should be expected to answer for them.
Unfortunately, as I learned last week, there is the disturbing possibility that many of Clinton’s supporters will be content to give her a pass.
On Saturday I published an article for The Good Men Project (which was subsequently picked up by The Daily Dot) about the multiple rape allegations that have been made against Clinton’s husband, former president Bill Clinton. Because recent history has shown that public figures with a large number of sexual assault charges are often guilty of at least some of them, I argued that liberals have a moral responsibility to ask the same hard questions of Bill Clinton that they asked of Bill Cosby. In addition, because Hillary Clinton wishes to be America’s first female president, I observed that it particularly behooves her to address the legitimate questions that exist about the possibility that her husband is a serial rapist.
Since then, two important details have come to my attention:
- Hillary Clinton’s problematic history on the issue of rape culture extends beyond her husband’s actions. As a 27-year-old lawyer in 1975, Clinton represented a man who was accused of raping a twelve-year-old girl. It was her first case as a criminal defense attorney, and to win Clinton accused the victim of being “emotionally unstable,” making “false accusations” against other persons in the past, and exhibiting “an unusual stubbornness and temper when she does not get her way.” She even claimed that children “tend to exaggerate or romanticize sexual experiences,” which would be problematic enough… if it wasn’t for her subsequently released tapes that show Clinton acknowledging her client’s guilt (at one point even laughing about how his ability to pass a polygraph test) and bragging about getting him exonerated, particularly by finding a forensic expert who could get the physical evidence proving her client’s culpability thrown out because he was “willing to testify so that it came out the way you wanted it to come out.”
- Many of the self-described feminists and progressives who responded to my first article were outraged… not at the prospect of America electing its first female president without asking her to account for the personal misogyny potentially perpetrated by her husband, mind you, but at the fact that I would risk undermining Clinton’s election at all. Needless to say, that made me think very carefully about how I wanted to present the additional point I’m raising in this piece.
In response to all of this, I would like to advance the following proposition as (hopefully) self-evident:
For gender equality to be a reality, it is necessary for half of America’s future presidents to be female. It is not necessary that Hillary Clinton be one of those presidents.
The election of America’s first female president, though historically significant, will primarily be a symbolic milestone rather than a substantive one. After all, the only direct beneficiary of that event will be the woman who becomes president as a result. For that election to have symbolic importance for all women rather than only the one who becomes president, the narrative in which she becomes president must contain a message that – at the very least – doesn’t implicitly undermine the cause of women’s rights.
These are the questions that Clinton needs to answer:
- Although she cannot be faulted for doing her job as a defense attorney (Clinton has correctly pointed out that she “had a professional duty to represent my client to the best of my ability”), her behavior toward the rape victim – both in the misogynistic arguments she used to discredit her and the callous attitude she privately displayed regarding her suffering – both contribute to the problem of how our society disempowers and stigmatizes rape victims. Does Clinton recognize this, regret her own role in perpetuating the problem, and have ideas as to how we can more effectively confront these cultural assumptions in the future?
- Although she cannot be faulted for her husband’s possible actions, the reality remains that if Clinton’s election depends on the voices of his potential victims being silenced, it will send the message that women with power are “more equal” (so to speak) than women without power. As such, Clinton needs to be asked what she knows about the allegations against her husband and why she believes the public should believe his story over those of the women who have come out against him (since we can take it for granted that she’ll say she doesn’t believe them herself)?
If Clinton becomes the first female president by silencing the women who may have been sexually terrorized by her husband, as well as failing to address her own past of problematic thinking and actions vis-à-vis rape culture, the story of her ascent to the White House will be that of one woman allowing others to be exploited in the name of her ambition. The “triumph” (if one can call it that) will be hers and hers alone.