In 1998, when Bill Clinton was impeached for lying under oath about his affair with a 21-year-old subordinate, America was treated to a sad spectacle. Instead of condemning Clinton’s well-documented intern-groping and pants-dropping, a group of feminist leaders called a press conference…to defend him.
“As feminist leaders, we will not stand idly by while a Congress made up of nearly 90 percent men attempts to remove [Clinton],” declared a letter signed by the likes of Betty Friedan and former NOW president Patricia Ireland. It was pathetic to watch this group of “feminists”—who supposedly fight for women’s rights—behave like Clinton’s personal cheerleading squad.
Maybe that’s why it’s been so disappointing to watch conservative women stand quietly behind Louisiana Senator David Vitter.
Vitter is an admitted adulterer who has frequented prostitutes in both New Orleans and Washington. He had ties to the “DC Madame,” Deborah Jeane Palfrey, who killed herself while awaiting trial. (Vitter was never prosecuted.) Instead of resigning, Vitter dismissed his serious crimes as “a sin.”
Then, last month, it was revealed that Vitter knowingly kept a convicted domestic abuser on his staff. Brent Furer pled guilty in 2008 to stabbing an ex-girlfriend, but Vitter employed him for two more years until he was charged for DUI. To make matters worse, Furer was Vitter’s liaison for women’s affairs.
The blog Talking Points Memo contacted several conservative women’s groups about Vitter’s appalling judgment and obvious disregard for women. The response, according to TPM, was silence all around.
“Few of them responded at all,” TPM reported. “There were two exceptions. First, the Independent Women's Forum explicitly declined to comment. Second, current president of the Louisiana chapter of Concerned Women for America, Sonya Hodnett…agreed to comment pending the approval of the national organization, but ultimately did not. The national chapter did not respond.”
Not good—especially now. Ever since a slew of self-made, successful women won their primary elections, there’s been lot of talk about “Pink Elephants,” “Mama Grizzlies,” and an emerging breed of conservative feminists. The Tea Party movement in particular has made enormous gains among female voters. (Far from being a fringy group of Angry White Males, polls show 45 percent of Tea Partiers are women.)
Naturally, feminists don’t like it one bit. They write endless rounds of op-eds calling Sarah Palin, Nikki Haley, and Carly Fiorina “fake feminists.” (But don’t take my word for it: Google “Sarah Palin is not a feminist” and see how many have reiterated this complaint.) They accuse these powerful women of exploiting female voters in order to pick up a few seats in the fall. Any ammunition will do, but feminists especially use the silence on Vitter as proof there’s no such thing as a pro-woman Republican. They’ve gone so far as to accuse conservative women of tacitly condoning domestic violence.
But conservatives have countered by pointing out that feminists’ loyalty is often to left-wing politics, not women. Some conservative female bloggers have even dubbed them “femisogynists.” It’s a fitting label. If the ladies at NOW have to sell out women in order to defend a sleazeball Democrat or a heinous liberal idea, they will.
If conservatives want to take back the word “feminist,” they should start by denouncing Vitter’s behavior. Mama Grizzlies and Pink Elephants are a little too tough—and too principled—to act like good little wives, standing by their man despite his reprehensible treatment of women.