By Stephanie Herman
January 1, 1999
Early in 1997, when Columbia Pictures released The People vs. Larry Flynt, feminist leaders and organizations were extremely vocal in their opposition to Flynt and his causes.
In a New York Times editorial dated January 7, 1997, Gloria Steinem coolly dismissed the movie's attempt to portray Flynt as a first-amendment champion: "So, no, I am not grateful to Mr. Flynt for protecting my freedom, as the film and its enthusiasts suggest I should be. No more than I would be to a racist or fascist publisher whose speech is protected by the Constitution."
But now, almost two years later, is Steinem indeed grateful to Mr. Flynt for protecting her president?
By focusing attention on the sexual misconduct of Congressional Republicans, Larry Flynt's political motives suddenly align with those of his political arch-enemies, the feminists -- an alliance mainstream feminist groups have yet to repudiate. And so, while Flynt, publisher of Hustler magazine, prepares to "expose sexual hypocrisy" on Capitol Hill, Rightgrrl! wonders what could be more hypocritical than the refusal of mainstream liberal feminist groups such as NOW to distance themselves from this strange political bedfellow, simply for the purpose of supporting President Bill Clinton.
True, it wouldn't be uncharacteristic for groups like NOW to support Flynt's effort to publicly expose Republican sexual misdeeds. NOW president Patricia Ireland insisted in 1995 that "the ethics committee should get digging and get public," (emphasis added) regarding the sexual harassment allegations against Senator Bob Packwood. And at the outset of the Anita Hill/Clarence Thomas hearings, NOW, fearing a cover-up was at hand, "demanded that Hill's charges be heard in a public forum," (emphasis added).
So it's hardly a case of public prudishness that separates feminist organizations like NOW from the publisher of Hustler magazine. Instead, what is uncharacteristic is the alliance of liberal feminism with a man who is blatantly and in a most partisan way attempting to distract America from Clinton's alleged sexual abuse of women.
Historically, feminist groups like NOW have cited two reasons to despise Larry Flynt. The first is Flynt's objectification and portrayal of violence against women in Hustler magazine. The second, allegations that Flynt has pimped prostitutes, molested children, and failed to financially support his family.
In a January 1997 NOW press release, Flynt's daughter Tonya made the above-mentioned scathing accusations regarding Larry Flynt's personal life, though surely Flynt's personal and public lives do tend to bleed together. Still, back then the argument that a sexual offender's crimes should fall under the heading of his own private business was unheard of in feminist dogma.
The immediate condemnation of Flynt based only on allegation is nothing new to modern-day feminism. Prominent feminist leaders and organizations have showered immediate public condemnation upon public figures who have been only accused of sexual harassment, especially if they can claim membership in the Republican party. The slogan, "I believe Anita Hill," touted by NOW in 1992 on promotional t-shirts, was obviously born of the inherent uncertainty a sexual harassment charge can bring -- since Hill's charges had yet to be investigated, all NOW feminists could do was to believe them.
From a May 17, 1995 NOW press release, one finds that accusations and allegations alone are more than enough to start a feminist rucus: "NOW has held protests calling for [Packwood's] resignation since soon after allegations by more than 29 women became public; the most recent was March 1. Ireland has helped organize fundraisers to support the Packwood accusers." (emphasis added)
This willingness of mainstream feminist organizations to lend support based only on claims of harassment may be due in part to the statistics cited at the NOW website: "Experts conservatively estimate that at least 50 percent of U.S. women will experience sexual harassment in their work or academic careers." If fully half of the women in the U.S. will become victims of sexual harassment, a high volume of claims is certainly to be expected.
But when Kathleen Willey, Christine Zercher, Elizabeth Ward Gracen, Juanita Broaddrick and Paula Jones joined the dreaded 50%, NOW and other feminist groups were dubious of these claims. After several tense months leading to the dismissal of the Jones case, the leadership of NOW seemed almost relieved to report that, "Jones does not have a valid harassment claim because she could not prove that the overall result was a hostile work environment." Had this been the result of either the Thomas or Packwood allegations, it's not unreasonable to believe feminist groups would have been outraged. After all, according to the wisdom of Feminist.com: "Sexual harassment... is illegal even if the harasser is not your boss, even if he is not threatening that you will lose your job if you don't go along."
So why have feminist leaders and organizations failed to denounce this fellow Clinton supporter? It seems that feminism doesn't yet realize that Larry Flynt has every interest in distracting the country from the fact that Clinton both lied under oath and tampered with witnesses to avoid prosecution in a sexual harassment case -- a case, though dismissed, Clinton chose to settle for $800,000. Surely sexual harassment charges must be nothing more than a nuisance to a publishing magnate who allegedly enjoys using women as sexual chattel, himself, both for pleasure and for profit.
Feminist leaders and organizations are collectively missing the point that Larry Flynt is not only "supporting" his friend, Bill Clinton, but is, at the same time, attempting to undermine the viability of sexual harassment claims in toto. If Flynt can convince the nation that Clinton's prosecuters are hypocrites, then he will have succeeded in equating sexual harassment with nothing more than an extra-marital affair... hardly a sin deserving the status of a "crime."
Lesson to feminists: kick Larry Flynt off your political pillow, or kiss sexual harassment laws goodbye.
This article copyright © 1999 by Stephanie Herman and may not be reproduced in any form without the express written consent of its author. All rights reserved.