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October 10, 2006

Comments

Looking back, do you think that the option proposed in the second letter would have made any difference whatsoever?

The "Just a thought. Best wishes" is very, well, cute, and makes me wonder if you were really stuck for an appropriate ending.

The first letter seems to have "heckler veto" problems. Dubious claims are enough to lead to de facto removal.

"The lesson of this whole affair is not that if you try hard enough, you can drive someone from office."

Hmm. Yes, given they failed. For lying/covering up an affair with an adult ("some of his charges?"), we are going to have him resign? Because of hypocritical sorts in Congress? Please.

Crime is not supposed to pay.

Isn't it great that we have blogs now and you can get what you have to say out to an audience you can influence?

yeah, I didn't say it any where near as well, but that's about what I was writing to him at the time, too (and with the same response).

The world would be a *lot* better off right now if he had taken your advice.

The whole Whitewater investigation was a disgusting abuse of power on the part of the Republican party, and - though I admit this part is pure hindsight, given how we see they have behaved towards Bush - an exercise in pure hypocrisy.

I am not in the least clear, still, after reading your lucid letters, why you felt it would be morally decent for Clinton to surrender to this abuse of power. Possibly I need more coffee.

OT: Lancent's new study says 650,000 dead since US invaded Iraq.

freedom.

OT: Lancent's new study says 650,000 dead since US invaded Iraq.

650,000 commas

"OT: Lancent's new study says 650,000 dead since US invaded Iraq.

650,000 commas"

Enough to make one commatose.

More OT:

CBS News's Lara Logan has filed astonishing reports on the Health Ministry, which is run by supporters of radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. According to Logan, hospitals in Baghdad and Karbala are systematically killing Sunni patients and then dumping their bodies in mass graves.

I'm sure the patients were suspected terrorists and therefore deserve what they got. Can we get a quote from Lieberman on this?

Kid Bitzer:

"The world would be a "lot" better off right now if he had taken your advice."

I don't know what this means, unless you mean certain abstract principles would have been upheld (fine by me) and then the Republican House of Representatives, like the flying monkeys in The Wizard of Oz, would have dropped their pitch forks and kneeled before Dorothy Gore, pledging fealty to the Mayor of Munchkintown.

More likely, the morning after resignation, Al Gore and the U.S. government would have looked like the scarecrow after the monkeys threw his inner hay all over the Yellow Brick Road.

The skies would have been black with cackling, self-righteous wicked witches.

If memory serves, rhetorical plans were afoot to impeach Gore as well.

I'm glad Clinton toughed it out. And I can be glad about that without in any way approving of the guy's behavior.

It would have been funny, however, (someone should make a video with voice overdubs) if during the entire mess Clinton had held an impromptu press conference with Hilzoy's letters in hand and cited them as the deciding factor in his decision to resign.

Unfortunately for Hilzoy, Lucianne Goldberg would have appeared on Meet The Press, looked into the camera and asked the hungry mob: "I ask you, Ms. Hilzoy, to explain to the American people what you mean by 'Sincerely' at the end of these love letters?" Bill Bennett would have intoned, Henry Hyde would have waggled his jowels, and Rush Limbaugh would have dropped cigar ash on Hilzoy's reputation.

Plus, we would have had to wait that much longer for Robespierre Gingrich's head in the basket.

[...]the considerations outlined above might lead some members of Congress to vote for your impeachment on the grounds that you are not able to govern effectively, and/or that by your conduct you have forfeited their respect and that of the nation. I do not think that it would be good for the country for Congress to set the precedent of impeaching a president on either of these grounds.

Do you still feel this way? A common complaint about the current state of US politics, which I sometimes agree with, is that it increasingly resembles a parliamentary system, in which the dominant party has effectively unchecked power to implement its preferred ideology, but we lack a real parliamentary system's mechanisms for interrupting that power by dissolving the government. A looser standard for impeachment might amount to an American counterpart to the vote of no confidence.

I could scarcely agree less.

The Republicans actively plotted to bring down a duly-elected President through abuse of the judicial process. Trumping up a BS court case like the Jones case is far too easy a step for any powerful and well-funded group to take against any political enemy.

Unfortunately, their plot succeeded all too well, and future miscreants will be all too tempted to repeat the sordid process. If Clinton had actually resigned, the encouragement to abuse the courts to take down political leaders would have been even greater.

Clinton should have turned Monica down politely but firmly, and if he weren't able to do that, then he shouldn't have lied about it in deposition at the Jones case. But lots and lots of people have affairs and it is virtually routine for witnesses in civil cases to lie about matters ancillary to the case. What the Republicans did, from the original Scaife-funded plot right through the impeachment, was far, far worse and Clinton needed to fight them, not give in.

"Clinton should have turned Monica down politely but firmly, and if he weren't able to do that, then he shouldn't have lied about it in deposition at the Jones case. But lots and lots of people have affairs and it is virtually routine for witnesses in civil cases to lie about matters ancillary to the case."

I don't want to refight every detail of the Clinton impeachment, but as a general rule (and as applied to this case) evidence of other instances of sexual harrassment are not ancillary to a civil case of sexual harrassment because they can be used to show a pattern, habit or method.

Okay, I'm going to say this to throw it out there *fully aware that this sort of thinking lands a person on the Dark Side*. All of the points Hilzoy makes for resignation in the first letter are, I think, beyond reproof. Two things could've happened if Clinton had resigned. The issue could have become a dead one politically, and the country could have moved on under Al Gore. Or the issue could have somehow remained alive, if Republicans convinced their constituency that Democrats were the cesspool of satanic corruption, as evidenced by their disgraced president. If Clinton resigns, it only legitimizes the impression that what he did was that heinous. I think it's more likely that this signal gets sent out than the signals that Hilzoy's points suggest ought to be sent out (concern for the future of the country, concern for his historical reputation, etc.). Let us face it: the signals we would like to communicate are not always those that we do communicate. But in addition to this there is the political cost to be carried by legitimizing the scandal. I wasn't alive for Watergate, but I hear that the Democrats played Watergate up in the 1976 election, even though Nixon had resigned. How did they do that? Would Clinton's resignation, for something that fell well short of trying to dismember the Constitution, have helped Republicans in 2000 and in the future or hurt them? And, of course, is it ever justified to indulge in this kind of "us or them" thinking that I criticize Republicans for all the time? Is there any truth to the idea that the political predators in our country are so awful that if a resignation -- however otherwise honorable and helpful -- would be the wrong thing to do, only because it gave them an extra advantage?

And oh yes I have come to see this Republican Party as a party of political predators: people who will offer their constituency nothing much besides cronyism and profiteering, and who live by stoking up racial fears -- whether it be over immigration, terrorism, social services, or urban/suburban politics.

Incidentally, the Lancet numbers are depressing the hell out of me. I'm not sure how much farther criticism of their methodology can go.

I don't want to refight every detail of the Clinton impeachment, but as a general rule (and as applied to this case) evidence of other instances of sexual harrassment are not ancillary to a civil case of sexual harrassment because they can be used to show a pattern, habit or method.

Except that we are (for once!) in agreement, I think: Clinton wasn't a sexual harasser because he took "no" for an answer. Indeed, I thought you made a very good point to Hilzoy on the tribalism thread - the legal definition of sexual harassment has to be more than asking once.

You might have a point, Sebastian, if Clinton's affair with Lewinsky had anything to do with sexual harrassment. It didn't.

In any case, the sentence in my original post would've been just as true without the use of the term "ancillary." Civil defendants lie all the time. If you don't have the goods on them from the documents and the testimony of others, you can forget about getting it in deposition.

I'm not trying to claim that catching a politician lying in a civil case shouldn't be a big strike against him politically, because truth-telling is an important element to judge politicans by. But it's real easy to over do it. For example, all the talk about "anybody else would've been thrown in jail for what Clinton did" is total BS. For anybody else the lie would never have been discovered, and if it had been most likely the worst that would've happened would have been that it would have been used against him in trial to damage his credibility.

I'm not sure how much farther criticism of their methodology can go.

they don't need to criticize the method, only the result. most people aren't savvy enough in the ways of surveys and stats to know if the numbers in the Lancet are accurate or not. they'll just take the word of their preferred authority.

remember, the last Lancent study was "thoroughly debunked".

"Clinton wasn't a sexual harasser because he took "no" for an answer. Indeed, I thought you made a very good point to Hilzoy on the tribalism thread - the legal definition of sexual harassment has to be more than asking once."

I only partially agree. The description of how Clinton orchestrated his meetings put it beyond the mere ask-accept-a-no formula, but even if it didn't, I was describing how I thought the law should work, not how it actually works.

For purposes of the tribalism discussion I pointed out that the (left-wing doesn't seem right? vocal feminist?) consensus shifted dramatically in response to the Clinton case. The law he signed, and the laws which feminists were pushing for prior to the revelations about Clinton were not as permissive as the consensus we are currently talking about. It definitely was sexual harrassment under the legal definition. It perhaps shouldn't have been, but that isn't at all relevant for determining whether or not it was an appropriate avenue of investigation given the state of the law at the time.

"But it's real easy to over do it. For example, all the talk about "anybody else would've been thrown in jail for what Clinton did" is total BS. For anybody else the lie would never have been discovered, and if it had been most likely the worst that would've happened would have been that it would have been used against him in trial to damage his credibility."

He wouldn't have been thrown in jail. But if he had been the CEO of any large company he would have been tossed out. In fact even under the more modern (less stringent) interpretations of sexual harrassment if he were a CEO he would have been tossed out of power.

"You might have a point, Sebastian, if Clinton's affair with Lewinsky had anything to do with sexual harrassment. It didn't."

It's one thing to claim that Clinton's relationship with Lewinsky did not constitute job-place sexual harassment. (I disagree, but okay).

It does not follow from that, in the least, that Clinton's relationship with Lewinsky "had nothing to do with" sexual harassment.

The details of that relationship were, indeed, material to showing a pattern, habit, and method.

Look, I despise Gingrich, Starr, and all of their lying, slimy, unprincipled Republican tools, and I include Sebastian Holsclaw centrally in that latter group. So it gives me no pleasure to agree with him.

But as to the facts of Clinton's case, I do not see any way that Clinton's behavior with Lewinsky--combined with his notorious groping and abuse of other women, well-known among the liberal-progressive circles that hilzoy traveled in and that I traveled in--can be treated as irrelevant to the Jones case.

I voted for the guy twice. I liked most of his positions, and the competence and basic honesty of his administration now seems like a golden age. I would take him over Bush any day, because he actually knew how to do his job, and was pretty damned good at it.

But he was a pathologically deranged sexual pervert who was willing to sacrifice all of his progressive goals for cheap thrills. For that he deserves universal contempt, not strained attempts at legalistic defenses.

Sebastian: For purposes of the tribalism discussion I pointed out that the (left-wing doesn't seem right? vocal feminist?) consensus shifted dramatically in response to the Clinton case.

No, it didn't. Right-wingers/anti-feminists certainly claimed that it did, but this was about an accurate a claim as you might expect.

What did shift (and for the purposes of attacking Clinton only) was the right-wing/anti-feminist presumption that women who testify about being sexually harassed are lying.

Feminist/left-wing POV about sexual harassment didn't change one whit, and didn't have to: but right-wingers who had publicly disbelieved Anita Hill did a sudden shift when it was a Democratic President who was being accused, not a Republican judge.


And of course on the other double-standards front: as Dan Savage points out, if he had done what Mark Foley had done, he'd be in jail.

"Feminist/left-wing POV about sexual harassment didn't change one whit"

That just isn't true at all. The fact that the feminist consensus now seems to be much closer to an "ask once and accepting 'no' is ok" rather than "all asking from positions of power is illegal sexual harrassment" is a major change.

Strangely I think about Foley pretty much the same thing I think about Clinton--the conduct is reprehensible and should cause them to be driven from office, but maybe not strictly illegal. Dan is probably wrong, he wouldn't go to jail.

I think there are interesting parallels between the two cases--the most interesting for me being that Foley and Clinton both engaged in behaviour that was very similar to things they were involved in getting outlawed.

Sebastian: The fact that the feminist consensus now seems to be much closer to an "ask once and accepting 'no' is ok" rather than "all asking from positions of power is illegal sexual harrassment" is a major change.

No: the fact that anti-feminists now know that the feminist consensus is "ask once and accepting 'no' is ok" is the major change.

Ignorance of feminist ideas from an anti-feminist is only to be expected, but it was anti-feminist ignorance that changed, not feminism. (Or, in a shorter form that you may be more familiar with: 'However we dress, wherever we go, Yes means yes, no means no.')

Seb: if the kids were beneath the age of consent, why not illegal?

Er, longer. But rhymes. Therefore, more memorable. ;-)

Ara: Seb: if the kids were beneath the age of consent, why not illegal?

The pages Foley propositioned over the Internet were above the age of consent in Washington DC (16). But, Foley sponsored a law that made any virtual sexual contact with a minor (a person under the age of 18) illegal.

P.S. "The Age of Consent" is a title that might have been tried by either Edith Wharton or a creepy Martin Amis? Now how many titles can boast that?

No: the fact that anti-feminists now know that the feminist consensus is "ask once and accepting 'no' is ok" is the major change.

I.e., that folks who weren't feminists now have a better idea on who's on the fringe and who's more mainstream. I don't think it's debatable that more conservative elements had a rather warped idea of feminism's principles and I think it was during the Clinton imbroglio that they realized how much of those principles that they could actually accept.

But if he had been the CEO of any large company he would have been tossed out.

Not true at all. A few corporations have established rules forbidding "fraternization with the ranks," but most have not. For most corporations, if it's not sexual harrassment under the law, then it is not a firable offense.

It does not follow from that, in the least, that Clinton's relationship with Lewinsky "had nothing to do with" sexual harassment.

The details of that relationship were, indeed, material to showing a pattern, habit, and method.

If the pattern, habit, and method is to accept the sexual advances of female underlings, that's not relevant in any sexual harrassment case in any way I am aware of. So what do you mean?

Matt McIrvin commented above about the evolution of the U.S. into a more 'parliamentary' system. What worries me most about the U.S. is how much symbolic authority (or "gravity") the Presidency holds. By capturing that symbolic power, one side can use it as a potent tool to lock in gains.

Looking at the last ten years in the U.S. from my Canadian vantage point, I believe it would be better for your country if the prestige (the Head of State) and the leadership/executive (Head of Government) functions were divided as they are up here.

What I don't like is how the Presidency can protect a president from stinging criticism. This flaw will become more dangerous as the overall US system becomes more 'parliamentary.'

What's particularly annoying is that Republicans managed to wield the gravity of the office of the Presidency against Clinton, but can now use it as a shield to protect Bush Jr.
from harsh criticism (since he's a wartime president.)

This analysis is a bit superficial. Still, I sense that this tendency leaves your country vulnerable to something really unsavoury. (Obviously the last eight years have been unsavoury; I mean REALLY unsavoury.) Politically, I am a very moderate liberal/libertarian (and I voted Conservative in the last fed. election here), but when it comes to the US I'm totally in the coalition of the shrill. I really identify with the positions and the ideals in Hilzoy's letters, but these days, I am so glad Clinton didn't knuckle under to those goons. My advice to the Democrats right now is to win the Congress, and then retaliate as ruthlessly as the Republicans acted in 1998. Kneecap them. Their mantra when they crank out the hearings and subpoenas needs to be: "Go massive, things related and not."

gwang: I don't think it's debatable that more conservative elements had a rather warped idea of feminism's principles and I think it was during the Clinton imbroglio that they realized how much of those principles that they could actually accept.

I don't think they did accept them: I think they still haven't. Look at the consistent right-wing meme that claims feminists made an exception for Clinton, or that Clinton changed the feminist consensus. There isn't anywhere in that the understanding that, if you're a Clueless Het Guy, it's okay to ask - so long as you take no for an answer; and that it's perfectly feminist for a woman who wants to say yes, to say yes.

Instead, what you get consistently is a right-wing belief that feminists think heterosexual sex is bad and it's not feminist for women to be attracted to men and to act on that attraction. Which is weird, because that is in fact consistently a right-wing conservative idea, not a feminist idea.

For example here is a link to NOW's "Women-Friendly Workplace Campaign Employer's Pledge."

While pledgees promise to forbid sexual harassment, educate managers/executives on sexual harassment, and not to take retaliatory action against persons bring sexual harassment charges, there is no promise to forbid any sort of sexual relationship between non-equals in the workplace. It's just not a typical practice to treat that sort of activity as sexual harassment or a firing or even disciplinable offense.

Jes: as I noted in the last thread, I really disagree with your account of 'the feminist consensus'. As I understand it, it is (and has been throughout the 90s) that while sexual harassment of one random person by another requires persistence (though surely there's some group of actions that if done only once constitute harassment -- like, oh, rubbing your unclothed genitalia against a complete stranger unasked), any propositioning, or asking out on a date, of one's professional or educational subordinates counts.

This is the standard not just for feminists, but for academic institutions. If I asked one of my students out, I would be in deep trouble, and deservedly.

Ara, so far as we have seen, they were above the age of consent.

Jesurgislac, "No: the fact that anti-feminists now know that the feminist consensus is "ask once and accepting 'no' is ok" is the major change.

Ignorance of feminist ideas from an anti-feminist is only to be expected, but it was anti-feminist ignorance that changed, not feminism."

That just flatly isn't true. Gloria Steinem's position changed dramatically. NOW's position changed dramatically. The position as being taught in feminist-oriented classes when I was going to college is very different from the one being taught now.

hil: any propositioning, or asking out on a date, of one's professional or educational subordinates counts.

That's what I remember from my college days, i.e., there could never be a consensual relationship between a subordinate and a superior due to inherent power issues.

A pattern of sexual contact with underlings of any type (consensual or otherwise) is relevant to an allegation of sexual harassment of a specific underling. "Relevant to" does not mean "exactly the same as." Denying this is pointless. Discovery under the modern rules that govern federal court depositions (and other discovery) are intentionally broad, designed to bring to light as much potentially relevant information as possible, so as to encourage early resolution of disputes. You don't even need to show that your question itself may produce admissible evidence. It need only be designed to "reasonably lead" to admissible evidence. Asking whether Clinton had sexual contact with an intern was perfectly permissible in the context of the Paula Jones suit, and Clinton committed dead-flat perjury.

Scaife? Scumbag.

Starr? Right wing tool.

The moralizing from the right? Phoney as a three-dollar bill.

Impeachable offense? No way. Not even a close constututional call, no matter how much smoke the wingers put up.

The wound? At least partially self-inflicted. The bad guys pulled the trigger, but Clinton had a lot to do with pointing the gun at himself.

there could never be a consensual relationship between a subordinate and a superior due to inherent power issues

Policy-wise, virtually every college in the country has instituted a policy over the last 2-3 decades forbidding sexual contact between faculty and students. I don't really agree with this as a blanket policy to be instituted regardless of the facts of the individual case, particularly in graduate programs that tend to bring like-minded adults into contact eac other. But I do think I understand it: it's a product of the extreme litigation-avoidance that most educational institutions are driven by and the historic promise of colleges to stand in loco parentis. The in loco paentis relationship does in fact complicate the legal picture.

It's very different in the business realm.

Hilzoy: any propositioning, or asking out on a date, of one's professional or educational subordinates counts.

Well, of one's immediate subordinates, yes, it can be. If I had an admin assistant (which I wish I did) and I asked her out, that might well constitute harassment even if when she said no, I took no for an answer. Or if my immediate manager asked me out. But, my department has an admin assistant, who is technically "my subordinate", but over whom I have no particular authority outside the immediate "Please copy this for me by Friday" and such, and this we both know. My department's admin assistant might come under the heading of "Way too embarrassing if it didn't work out" to proposition, but another department's admin assistant?

I've worked for companies with extreme stratification (far more than where I work now), which employed thousands of people. There were people who worked there who were technically my subordinates, and people who were technically my superiors, but the only way of finding out which was which at a work social would have been to go to a computer and look both our names up in the staff hierarchy: "See, you're H12 and I'm C1, so if you proposition me it's sexual harassment."

For you to proposition one of your students, whose essays you grade, would be sexual harassment. For you to proposition a student in a different department at the same university might be considered sexual harassment even if you had no academic responsibility them whatsoever. For you to consider that if you proposition any student, anywhere, that it's sexual harassment, would be ridiculous. There is a line you draw, and knowing you, you probably draw it as widely as possible. But it's a line that doesn't include all-the-students-in-the-world, and could justly not even include all-the-students-at-your-university.

The way Paula Jones describes her proposition by Clinton sounds to me like she would have had reasonable grounds to fear his proposition was going to turn into rape when she said no (certainly, under those circumstances, I would have feared that and I would have got out as fast as possible). If Clinton had ever tried to damage Jones - in any way at all - because she said no, that would have been disgusting, even if he escaped legal charges of sexual harassment.

And certainly, the moment someone lays an unwanted hand on me, that's harassment - sexual or not.

Sebastian: Gloria Steinem's position changed dramatically.

Did it? So, you'll be able to locate where Steinem wrote (prior to her 1998 op-ed) that it's not okay to ask?

Whether information is discoverable is a different matter entirely than whether it is ancillary to a case. I don't dispute that the Lewinsky matter was prima facie discoverable in the Jones case.

This however

Clinton committed dead-flat perjury

is not true. Clinton had at least an arguable defense, i.e., that he intended to skate around the issue without actually lying. Perjury requires intent to lie. That defense may or may not have flown in a jury trial--and probably would've been even less likely to fly in a bench trial--but it is a legitimate defense that makes your statement a big over-eager.

"If the pattern, habit, and method is to accept the sexual advances of female underlings, that's not relevant in any sexual harrassment case in any way I am aware of."

I don't know what to say to that. In any sexual harrassment case in the 1990s that absolutely would have been a relevant inquiry. Any plaintiff's lawyer who did such cases would request such information. Any defense lawyer in such cases would try to stop it from getting in. Most of the times (given variations for particular judges) the inquiry would be deemed relevant. Furthermore, it is crystal clear that unwanted, repeated sexual advances to underlings would have been harrassment. For purposes of the discovery process the defendant doesn't get to just assert that the relationships in question were by consent and intiated by the woman. You investigate to see if he is lying. Whether or not, at the end of the discovery process, you decide that Monica Lewinsky came on to Clinton, he doesn't get to short-circuit the process by lying about it. Investigating the relationship is absolutely a normal procedure at that point in the suit.

I thought Clinton's strategy was (a) the agreement worked out before his deposition had a specific definition of "sexual relations" (or whatever the term was; (b) this definition was couched in terms of him initiating the sexual contact; (c) it was always Lewinsky who initiated the sexual contact; (d) therefore, he never had "sexual relations" with Lewinsky since she started it; and (e) he did not lie.

Am I misremembering?

Policy-wise, virtually every college in the country has instituted a policy over the last 2-3 decades forbidding sexual contact between faculty and students.

a law which would've prevented my father, the English teacher, from meeting and marrying my stepmother, one of his students... and then i would have no little brother.

Jesurgislac, if you want to know about the Pre-Clinton feminist understanding of sexual harrassment I would suggest Catharine MacKinnon's "Sexual Harrassment of Working Women" (1979). On other topics, especially pornography, MacKinnon is not representative of the consensus. On the topic of sexual harrassment, however, that book was firmly in the mainstream of feminist thought and well in line with NOW and Steinem during the pre-Clinton years.

Whatever you may think of conservative understanding of feminism in general, I was very well exposed to feminist thought in college. I'm not just making stuff up when I note the shift. Furthermore, hilzoy's current beliefs on the topic look exactly the way I am describing the older feminist consensus.

The law he signed, and the laws which feminists were pushing for prior to the revelations about Clinton were not as permissive as the consensus we are currently talking about.

Seb- I'm puzzled by this; you may be talking about something I haven't heard of, but I'm not aware of any federal statute that defines sexual harassment to include asking out a subordinate with no suggestion of quid-pro-quo and not under circumstances that would create a hostile environment.

On the 'pre-Clinton understanding of sexual harassment', I think you may be comparing apples and oranges a bit. If you're comparing stuff you heard from academic feminist activists in college to stuff you heard in mainstream political discourse, whether or not from feminists, later on, I'm not surprised that the latter positions were more moderate than the former.

Sebastian, I think it's pretty obvious that a lot of people are not accepting your claim at face value. I don't think people are accusing you, or at least I am not accusing you of any kind of dishonesty, but rather I'm suspicious that you may have some kind of misconception based on over-exposure to conservative interpretations of feminist thought.

Even assuming that you are correct that some sort of shift occurred, you haven't identified what sort of shift it was, i.e., from what old thing precisely to what new thing. That makes it difficult to discuss your thesis.

In other words, I think you need at least to be more specific, and it would be preferable if you could provide a cite.

"If you're comparing stuff you heard from academic feminist activists in college to stuff you heard in mainstream political discourse, whether or not from feminists, later on, I'm not surprised that the latter positions were more moderate than the former."

I learned about MacKinnon's book in college, but it formed the basis for NOW's opinion (mainstream political feminists) on the topic and was very influential in the EEOC (governmental rule-making) on the topic.

I don't think people are accusing you, or at least I am not accusing you of any kind of dishonesty, but rather I'm suspicious that you may have some kind of misconception based on over-exposure to conservative interpretations of feminist thought.

I'm not sure I have much exposure at all to conservative interpretations of feminist thought. Other than Sowell and Buckley, I don't often read conservative writers and definitely not on feminist issues. My interpretations are largely coming from my reading of widely accepted feminist thinkers--MacKinnon and Steinem being the ones who immediate leap to my mind. The generally accepted feminist line pre-Clinton was that relationships with subordinates almost always implicate sexual harrassment because of the unequal power relationships.

None of you seem to be looking at hilzoy's apparent belief in precisely the principles I'm talking about. Did that come out of nowhere? She is describing the MacKinnon understanding and the pre-Clinton Steinem understanding.

I'm actually surprised by hilzoy's position as well, unless she's interpreting 'subordinate' in the professional context more narrowly than she seems to be. I don't know of any legal standard anywhere that comports with hilzoy's position, and I haven't elsewhere encountered a mainstream feminist norm defining 'office romances' between non-peers as necessarily sexual harassment. Academic environments tend to have absolute rules on non-peer romances, which is a good thing, given the issues of age and inexperience around students, but such absolute rules aren't the norm in other workplaces, nor do I think demanding such absolute rules was ever a widespread feminist position. It's worth noting that you agree that hilzoy is out of step with the feminist consensus (to the extent such exists) now; she can't really be strong evidence that her views were characteristic of that consensus in the past and have now changed.

(I would certainly agree that the feminist norm I've encountered is more restrictive than the legal standard -- Anita Hill's allegations probably wouldn't be severe enough to constitute a hostile environment claim, but I, and I think most other feminists, do think that her allegations rose to the level of sexual harassment.)

"I don't know of any legal standard anywhere that comports with hilzoy's position, and I haven't elsewhere encountered a mainstream feminist norm defining 'office romances' between non-peers as necessarily sexual harassment."

"Necessarily" is too strong of a word. How about "suspect absent strong evidence to the contrary"? In legal terms I would think of it as shifting the burden of proof.

See, that's why the accusations of inconsistency over the Clinton/Lewinsky thing seem so strained. (Note: the following is not intended as a defense of adultery, perjury, or any other behavior of which Clinton has been accused or which he in fact engaged in. Just the Lewinsky relationship.) While the fact that, given the age and power differential, he consented to the relationship still strikes me as, at best, sleazy, the facts as I understand them were that not only was her enthusiastic consent to the relationship not in question, but that she initiated it and actively pursued it. If we agree on those facts (and I don't think they're in question), then I can't see how to construe the relationship as sexual harassment in the absence of a blanket rule defining all non-peer office romances as sexual harassment.

What would you want strong evidence to the contrary to show, in order to demonstrate that a non-peer relationship was not sexual harassment, that wasn't shown in the Clinton/Lewinsky case?

Academic environments tend to have absolute rules on non-peer romances, which is a good thing, given the issues of age and inexperience around students...

Unless you're at Wisconsin, where the entirety of the sexual harassment policy can be summarized -- and is, by the instructors of the relevant seminars -- as "Don't have sex with your students while grading their finals."

[No-one that I know, alas, has ever had the courage to ask whether it's sufficient to stop mid-stroke or whether one must disengage entirely...]

Interestingly, the prohibition is entirely raised against sex. One of my good friends, for example, was on the cusp of being engaged to one of his students -- they knew each other through their church, so this is substantially less sketchy than it sounds -- and there was technically no prohibition against him grading her final. I believe he recused himself anyway, being the honorable type, but still: there was no official conflict of interest.

Sebastian: Jesurgislac, if you want to know about the Pre-Clinton feminist understanding of sexual harrassment I would suggest Catharine MacKinnon's "Sexual Harrassment of Working Women" (1979).

Catharine MacKinnon is not Gloria Steinem. You claimed you knew of a dramatic reversal by Steinem. I've cited for you the 1998 Op Ed by Steinem where she outlines a mainstream feminist position: it's okay to ask if you take no for an answer. You've asserted that's a dramatic reversal of a previous position held by Steinem. Therefore, you should be able to cite me something you've read that was written by Steinem at some point before 1998.

While the fact that, given the age and power differential, he consented to the relationship still strikes me as, at best, sleazy, the facts as I understand them were that not only was her enthusiastic consent to the relationship not in question, but that she initiated it and actively pursued it. If we agree on those facts (and I don't think they're in question), then I can't see how to construe the relationship as sexual harassment in the absence of a blanket rule defining all non-peer office romances as sexual harassment.

Lewinsky and Clinton's relationship wasn't the sexual harassment in question. The suit was about Paula Jones. Investigating other workplace and color of authority sexual relationships was part of resolving the Jones case. Clinton had a number of workplace and color-of-authority sexual liasons and attempts at liasons. Investigating them was a wholly legitimate function of the discovery process in that case. It came up with some that would not be counted as sexual harrassment (Lewinsky) and some that probably would (Willey, Broaddrick). Just because in the final analysis we would find that the Lewinsky tryst was not harrassment does not excuse obstructing the investigation of it in a harrassment case. You can't trust the defendant to accurately characterize the relationship, so you are allowed to investigate it.

Academic environments tend to have absolute rules on non-peer romances, which is a good thing, given the issues of age and inexperience around students...

In my experience, academic environments tend, as Anarch points out, to have few or no rules until something outrageous happens, and then, absolute rules are imposed that are then walked back until the previous situation occurs.

"Therefore, you should be able to cite me something you've read that was written by Steinem at some point before 1998."

Ok, I'll look through my college books for the Steinem piece. (Her 1980s work is not immediately available on the internet to my knowledge). But MacKinnon was more influential in shaping the field of feminist opinon on sexual harrassment at the time. I suspect the essay I'm talking about is either "Words & Change" or "Importance of Work" both found in Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions

Sebastian: Ok, I'll look through my college books for the Steinem piece. (Her 1980s work is not immediately available on the internet to my knowledge).

No, it's not. But if you can find title and date of first publication of whatever piece you're thinking of, I can probably locate it myself and will concede here if you're right and the 1998 piece was a dramatic reversal (and be snide if you're wrong). ;-)

But MacKinnon was more influential in shaping the field of feminist opinon on sexual harrassment

Depends which feminists you ask. She's certainly been influential in shaping legal academia, and I suspect that's where you're coming from, as a lawyer/anti-feminist.

"Depends which feminists you ask. She's certainly been influential in shaping legal academia, and I suspect that's where you're coming from, as a lawyer/anti-feminist."

I think it would be fair to say that her sexual harrassment work is fairly mainstream feminist stuff while her pornography work is not as generally accepted.

Huh. I must say that I've always seen accusations of inconsistency directed at the feminist response to the Lewinsky relationship; isn't that what the Steinem editorial is about? I don't think there were a lot of people taking the position that Jones' allegations, if true, didn't reflect wrongdoing on Clinton's part--lots of people found them incredible, but even if that was a partisan response it's not the sort of change in position on sexual harassment you're talking about.

Lizardbreath, we're mixing normative questions with questions of the law. Part of my discussion is with people like Trickster who want to suggest that the perjury was someone excused by Lewinsky not being legally harrassed. That isn't the same as talking with you about the shift from something more like hilzoy's perspective to something more like the current consensus perspective.

Just for the record: I was using 'subordinate' to mean: someone over whom you have some professional control. If Jes has (for instance) a say in the professional assessment of her department's admin. assistant, I think she shouldn't ask the AA out; certainly not if she gets to give the AA orders.

I did not mean, however, to say that if you rank higher than someone else within a large organization, but have no say over that person at all, you don't get to date them. (If, say, you are a colonel in the army, and you fall for a sergeant in an entirely different division. I'm leaving aside the Army's actual policies, of which I am ignorant; also, there may be some reason why this would be sexual harassment that I'm not aware of. I'm just imagining a sergeant in a distant and unrelated corner of our very large army.)

More to the point, I once went out for a few dates with a prof in the biology department when I was an undergrad. I had not taken, and did not plan to take, any bio courses. I think, looking back on it, that there are reasons to think that he was dumb to ask me out (chiefly, that he was my then-recently-ex-boyfriend's academic advisor), but that the absence of any superior/subordinate relationship meant that it wasn't sexual harassment.

Also, the reason I think superior/subordinate relationships are wrong isn't that it's impossible to have such a relationship consensually, because of the power relationship. It's because I think that while it might in fact be the case that everything is fine and dandy, the superior is in no position to know that when s/he asks the subordinate out, or (if the subordinate is the asker) that the subordinate is continuing in the relationship for the right reasons thereafter.

Think of when my second reader asked me out. In fact, I was perfectly willing to say no. In fact, he was not after a quid pro quo. But neither of us could have known that about the other at the time, not with enough certainty to allow him to ask me out without worrying that I was agreeing because I didn't want to jeopardize my grade, or me to know that I wouldn't actually be jeopardizing it.

people like Trickster who want to suggest that the perjury was someone excused by Lewinsky not being legally harrassed.

Not sure what you're referring to, but either you've misunderstood me or I've misspoken badly. I don't hold any position close to that.

A feminism bleg is up at TiO. Warning: especially good comments may be elevated to the front page.

If Jes has (for instance) a say in the professional assessment of her department's admin. assistant, I think she shouldn't ask the AA out

I do, but the department's admin assistant also has a say in my professional assessment. Neither of us directly, though: appraisal time is public, and either of us may inform our manager of any professional lapses by the other. A relationship between myself and the AA would definitely be awkward if it went wrong, but it wouldn't be harassment - though it would be if I were responsible for the AA's appraisal. (I am able to be detached about this since the AA is a gay man: accusations of sexual harassment by either of us about the other to our manager would be met by considerable bemusement, not only by the manager but by everyone who knows either of us.) In my view, that's about as close as you can get without it being default sexual harassment.

And, FWIW, having read first-hand Paula Jones' testimony against Clinton, while I'm not at all clear that Clinton knew what he was doing was sexual harassment (a Clueless Het Guy* can be really, really clueless), I am clear that for Jones it was sexual harassment, and it's her viewpoint that counts in ethically judging the situation. (Legally, however, I still think that asking and accepting a no - and never asking again or attempting to damage the person who said no - cannot constitute sexual harassment.)

*With apologies to all Het Guys reading this who are not that clueless.

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