New York Supergals Love That Naughty Prez

What Do Women (Erica Jong, Nancy Friday) Really Want? A Boyish Chief Executive Who’s Alive Below the Waist

At the cocktail hour on Friday, Jan. 30, in a private room at Le Bernardin, 10 Manhattan women gathered to drink wine and talk about the only topic anyone talked about all week. To analyze the telltale stains on a White House intern’s dress, to debate the Clinton Doctrine ( does oral sex constitute infidelity?) and to decide which is worse, fucking a humble intern or secretly tape-recording your friend.

The panelists included Erica Jong, whose Fear of Flying introduced the concept of the “zipless fuck”; Nancy Friday, author of The Power of Beauty ; retired dominatrix and writer Susan Shellogg; fashion designer Nicole Miller; Katie Roiphe, author of The Morning After ; Marisa Bowe, editor of Word ; Patricia Marx, former Saturday Night Live writer and author of How to Regain Your Virginity ; restaurateur Maguy LeCoze, owner of Le Bernardin; and Elizabeth Benedict, author of The Joy of Writing Sex .

The consensus, as Ms. Jong expressed it, was that a Presidential “fuckabout” was far better than a “fascist pig” like Kenneth Starr. Maybe it’s that women are too smart about human nature in general and men in particular, too savvy to take all this seriously or be suckered into another hysterical media psychodrama. Among those who could imagine having sex the President, none could imagine not telling someone about it. And as for the female preoccupation with the link between sex and love, “the only person who minds that Bill Clinton’s having sex without being in love,” said Ms. Benedict, “is Ken Starr.” Ms. Shellogg, the ex-dominatrix, wondered if the President wore a condom.

In any case, the 10 of us overcame our individual misgivings about the Clinton Presidency (What about health care? Bosnia? Welfare? Gays in the military?) to talk raucously about Clinton, the guy who loves women too much.

At the cocktail hour on Friday, Jan. 30, in a private room at Le Bernardin, 10 Manhattan women gathered to drink wine and talk about the only topic anyone talked about all week. To analyze the telltale stains on a White House intern’s dress, to debate the Clinton Doctrine (does oral sex constitute infidelity?) and to decide which is worse, fucking a humble intern or secretly tape-recording your friend.

The panelists included Erica Jong, whose Fear of Flying introduced the concept of the “zipless fuck”; Nancy Friday, author of The Power of Beauty ; retired dominatrix and writer Susan Shellogg; fashion designer Nicole Miller; Katie Roiphe, author of The Morning After ; Marisa Bowe, editor of Word ; Patricia Marx, former Saturday Night Live writer and author of How to Regain Your Virginity ; restaurateur Maguy LeCoze, owner of Le Bernardin; and Elizabeth Benedict, author of The Joy of Writing Sex.

The consensus, as Ms. Jong expressed it, was that a Presidential “fuckabout” was far better than a “fascist pig” like Kenneth Starr. Maybe it’s that women are too smart about human nature in general and men in particular, too savvy to take all this seriously or be suckered into another hysterical media psychodrama. Among those who could imagine having sex the President, none could imagine not telling someone about it. And as for the female preoccupation with the link between sex and love, “the only person who minds that Bill Clinton’s having sex without being in love,” said Ms. Benedict, “is Ken Starr.” Ms. Shellogg, the ex-dominatrix, wondered if the President wore a condom.

In any case, the 10 of us overcame our individual misgivings about the Clinton Presidency (What about health care? Bosnia? Welfare? Gays in the military?) to talk raucously about Clinton, the guy who loves women too much.

We discovered that his sex life has given women this new sense of unity. Years after George Bush promised to Bring Us Together, Bill Clinton finally has.

Francine Prose: Does anyone actually think it didn’t happen?

Nancy Friday: I don’t think it’s just Bill Clinton. I mean, these kinds of things have obviously been going on in the White House for generations and generations and generations. It’s just that, until recently, it was an all-male cadre surrounding the President. So boys love to kind of protect and goad on the leader who’s-oh, I just watched that movie with Jodie Foster. You know … where she’s raped on top of the pool table. And the guys were in the background saying go, go, go. Well, this is not rape we’re talking about, but that is the all-male audience urging on their leader to go deeper and faster and further with whatever women.

Patricia Marx: I, for some strange reason, like Clinton even more because of this. But he’s had the recklessness to pick the wrong women. I mean, Bush picked someone who was discreet. And all of my women friends and I would be happy to have sex with Clinton and not talk about it. I mean, I would have talked about it-but everyone else I know would have been discreet.

Prose: Do you think it’s possible to have sex with the President and then not talk about it?

Several women at once: Absolutely impossible … No, why would you?

Friday: If you’re married-if you’re married and you’re having an adulterous affair, you don’t talk to anybody about it.

Katie Roiphe: There are women who have a stake in the system. So if [Monica Lewinsky] had been a high-placed White House official, she would be less likely to talk. Like the woman Bush allegedly had an affair with. If Clinton’s choosing these women who are younger and interns and you know, whoever it is, I think they’re more likely to talk. Because they don’t have a stake in the entire White House structure.

Friday: But let’s just imagine that we’d slept with Bill Clinton-

Elizabeth Benedict: The issue is who you tell. And [Monica Lewinsky's] mistake was telling a woman who works in the White House, who worked there under Bush, and who has other allegiances. That’s her mistake.

Susan Shellogg: I think the President is reckless for not practicing safe sex if she has stains on her dress. She was not using a condom. That’s a big story.

Jong: How do you know he didn’t use a dental dam?

Shellogg: It would be interesting to know if he does use a condom. I think that the President should be more or less ready.

Roiphe: This is a President who takes risks.

Friday: But he is, you see, that’s exactly it. It’s an act of grandiosity. The more I read about this and think he’s like a flasher in a way. He kind of wants to be caught. And you got to look at the way he grew up, at his mother and that whole relationship. She was fascinating. Because she said in her autobiography, she said that when she and Bill and Roger entered a room, they were all exhibitionists. And they all wanted to be seen. They wanted to be looked at. If there were a hundred people in the room and 99 people were looking at them, they would work on that one person until he looked, too.

Prose: Do we think that Bill gets off on the guilt?

Marx: I think he kind of likes the sex.

Prose: So nobody seems to doubt that these events occurred?

Marx: Oh, no, I’m not sure what happened. But I don’t care.

Roiphe: Well, what’s interesting is that women overwhelmingly, even more than men, agree with you. And still strongly support Clinton. Even mainstream feminists, who you’d think would come out and say, “You know, here’s this poor young woman being exploited, let’s take her side,” they’re not taking her side. The guys who really want to give him the chair are Wall Street lawyers. Those are the people that are ready to fry him.

Benedict: Nobody is aggrieved here. Monica’s not complaining, Hillary’s not complaining. The only person who cares is Ken Starr.

Marx: I have a confession. I have a confession that I’ve been Ken Starr’s mistress for 12 years.

[ Laughter ]

Marx: And no one will believe me.

Marisa Bowe: I think men feel guilty about their own behavior, and so they project their own guilt on him. And that’s why they’re being harsher on him, because they think, I know what I’d do in his place.

Friday: Let’s go around the table. How do your men, anybody who’s got a particular man at this … my husband’s far tougher on Clinton than I am. Anybody else want to throw in their husband?

Nicole Miller: Oh, yeah, absolutely. My husband is far tougher on Clinton than I am, too.

Prose: Who does tell the truth about sex? I mean, is it worse to lie about your sex life than about some global event?

Jong: I hate the comparisons between this affair and Watergate. As if lying about having an affair or having a blowjob by a young woman were the same thing as creating conspiracy in the White House to go and tap people’s phones and steal records. It is nowhere near the same magnitude.

Benedict: Well, what this case reminds me of is not Watergate, but the Anita Hill-Clarence Thomas affair. And it’s interesting, because-because of Anita Hill’s celebrity and that issue, Paula Jones filed her sexual harassment case with some [legal precedent] behind her. And she had the public behind her at a certain point.

Roiphe: But I think that there has been a shift in the cultural climate since the time of the Anita Hill hearings. People are reacting against that kind of sexual policing.… And we’ve turned in the other direction. Now, this virile President is suddenly fulfilling this forbidden fantasy of this old-fashioned, taboo aggressive male. I think women are finding that appealing.

Benedict: And it’s also, it’s like every girl’s dream. You can be the President, but you can fuck the President, too.

Marx: And you get a dress.

Friday: We are clearly, madly, wildly interested in sex again. But that pendulum was so abrupt.

Roiphe: Why did the public opinion overwhelmingly support Anita Hill, whereas Monica Lewinsky nobody has any sympathy for?

Prose: Because none of it’s clean. I mean, I wanted Clarence Thomas out of there. You know, so I was willing to go with Anita Hill. Even though I thought, you know, What’s the big deal about someone making a joke about pubic hair on your Coke can … who cares about that? Whereas I don’t want Clinton out of there. So you know, bless little Monica …

Benedict: But Ken Starr went to the Attorney General to get permission to do this. If he had been denied permission, he wouldn’t have done it.

Friday: But don’t you think about Ken Starr that he’s a big sissy?

Prose: Maureen Dowd called him a creep. Which was wonderful.

Benedict: I’m not saying he’s a good guy. But he’s covered legally. Whatever the degrees are, he did go to the Attorney General and got permission.

Friday: But he never got laid.

Marx: Or got a blowjob.

Prose: I have a question. Which do we think is worse: giving someone a blowjob in the Oval Office, or getting one and lying about it, or going, wired, to a conversation with your best friend and hearing her talk and cry about her secrets and turning over the tapes to a prosecutor?

The group: No. 3.

Bowe: I was looking at picture of Monica Lewinsky on the front page of the paper today, and you know how sometimes you change your angle, something looks really different? And I-at certain angles, I just thought, Oh, she looks so sad. Like, poor girl. You know she never bargained for this.

Roiphe: The more the media hounds him, the more sympathy he gets. He just has to wait until people start thinking he’s being hounded, and all his secrets are being sought after by these crazy reporters. And if he waits, then people are going to start having more and more sympathy for him.

Friday: Don’t we all think that he could have chosen a better place? I mean, come on, I mean in the end, oral sex in the Oval Office … so many O’s-oral sex in the Oval Office is just bad timing, bad placing-

Benedict: But what fun!

Friday: It’s so voyeuristic, we’re so excited about-I mean, it’s just poor judgment maybe, Bill.

Roiphe: I think what people are outraged about is the way that [Monica Lewinsky] looks, which is interesting. Because we like to think of our Presidents as sort of godlike, and so if J.F.K. has an affair with Marilyn Monroe, it’s all in the realm of the demigods. Whereas the fact that Clinton has this taste for women … it’s like the average American girl who could be you. Maybe that’s why women may like him. I mean, the thing I kept hearing over and over again was Monica Lewinsky’s not that pretty.

Jong: My dental hygienist pointed out that she had third-stage gum disease.

Prose: Isn’t it interesting that Bill doesn’t go for women that look like Hillary?

Roiphe: He goes for the girls that he had a crush on when he was a 7-year-old boy in Arkansas.

Marx: He goes for anyone who walks by the door.

Friday: He likes Southern beauty-queen types. It’s what his mother said. Southern beauty queens have that big lips, big-hair look.

Marx: I keep thinking Hillary Clinton changed her hairstyle one million times, and the one way she didn’t try was the one way that works.

Bowe: His whole life about having to be in control and really intelligent all the time. And his wife is really intelligent and in control all the time. And the idea of just having stupid sex with some not-brilliant woman in the Oval Office, I can see the appeal in that.

Roiphe: But I think there’s moral confusion. I think that everyone isn’t sure whether adultery is not wrong. Or, you know, all of the polls, people keep saying, “Well, you know, is Clinton trying to behave with the same moral values as everyone else?” And most people say, “Yes, he’s trying.”

Friday, addressing Maguy LeCoze: How are they writing this and reading this in France right now?

LeCoze: Oh, they laugh about it. All our presidents since the 60’s, they all have sex affairs. I mean [Georges] Pompidou was in an orgy, everybody knew about it. Everybody was laughing about it. [Valéry] Giscard d’Estaing was exactly the same. He has been caught everywhere, and we all just like it and say, “Well, we have a president who is a real man.” Well, look at Pompidou, he had a daughter, he was visiting the big mistress and the daughter. So, I mean, all the presidents had it.

They don’t understand why the Americans are so difficult about sex when he’s doing a very good job. On the other hand-

Friday: The hand that isn’t occupied.

Marx: Both his hands are free, I think.

Jong: But you know there’s another possible scenario here, if you want to look at it as a novelist. Here’s a cute, sexy, young President, he’s known to have had a lot of sexual affairs. He might stimulate the fantasies of all the young women who work in the office. And particularly the ones who are a bit father-obsessed and obsessed with older men and feel neglected. So, it’s possible that Clinton has had many more such attacks than we even think. And that Hillary and his whole staff are bored because this happens every day, they get letters.

Shellogg: And do you think it’s tremendously selfish? Selfish and demanding, having oral sex and not reciprocating? I mean … she didn’t say, “Well, you know he satisfied me.”

Friday: He should be impeached for being so selfish.

Prose: Do we want a President who has sex or a President who has no sex? Or only married sex?

Jong: I want him alive from the waist down.

Roiphe: When Bill Clinton-in that initial 60 Minutes [interview] in 1992, where he talked about Gennifer Flowers-everyone saw in it what they wanted to see. Some people thought he admitted it. Some people thought he denied it. It was this gray area, and everyone could believe whatever it was they wanted to believe. We want ambiguity. We want to think Clinton has Monica Lewinsky, but we don’t want to know Clinton has Monica Lewinsky.

Prose: Don’t we want Bill and Hillary to be happily married in some way?

Friday: I feel it’s a strong marriage.

Roiphe: I think [Hillary] would actually be more effective if she showed a little weakness. There’s something a little steely, and people are suspicious because she seems very political. I think people would immediately forgive her if she faltered for one minute. You know, if she went on Good Morning America and just seemed a little bit upset.

Friday: I don’t think it’s coldblooded. I think they really care for each other. But I think they have to have some kind of other agenda, unlike say, mine. Because I’d be so humiliated. I’d be gone, and I would tell you, [my husband] would be gone. But they are different. And it’s made me very much aware of the fact that couples have different agreements.

Jong: I had the sense that she has so much power over his mind that she almost doesn’t care who has power temporarily over his cock. And I can certainly understand that. I mean, I’ve been in this position with a man who is a womanizer, and he said, “But it’s only you I love.” And it really is generally true, and they have tremendous loyalty, even though their cocks might not be loyal.

Prose: Susan, what do you think about that marriage? The Hillary-Bill marriage?

Shellogg: I think that she wears the pants. And I think that we’re lucky that he’s not into-maybe he is, I don’t know. But I was a professional dominatrix for five years in New York and had several celebrity people coming to see me who really called the shots for other people in this town. And some of the things they requested, dressing up in diapers and being a transvestite.… I think we should be glad that he has oral-you know, basic desires.

Bowe: The one thing that I’ve had a little fantasy of is the conversation between Hillary and Bill where she just says, “O.K., I know you’re going to fuck everybody, but don’t fuck anyone with a big mouth. Don’t fuck anyone with a big mouth. Just please don’t bring us down by showing bad judgment,” and he fucked up.

Shellogg: Humiliation is a great turn-on for a lot of men in power. A big, big turn-on. Maybe this whole thing is really making him feel tremendous.

Prose: What about Monica’s 21-year-old-ness? How does that affect our sympathy for her?

Jong: Well, when I was 23, I went down on a man who had a first-edition of [John Keat's] Endymion. That was just the thing that turned me on. So I guess for Monica Lewinsky, Clinton is the equivalent of someone who owns a first edition of Endymion.

LeCoze: I thought that everybody was saying, Oh, poor little girl. She’s 21 at the beginning. And then we discover that she had an affair for five years with somebody else!

Prose: Do we think Bill Clinton’s attractive?

Miller: He is the most incredibly charming man.

Marx: I’ve met him a few times, and I have the distinction of being the only woman he’s never looked at lasciviously. He’s quite cute and getting cuter all the time.

Roiphe: He’s the kind of man that wants five Big Macs.

Shellogg: What do you think will happen to Hillary? I mean, she’ll just fade out quietly or write a book? Or people will forget about her six months from now?

LeCoze: She’s going to get a lot of attention from many more men than she would have in her life.

Friday: She can rent out her mouth.

Jong: But, you know, men do like to get close to the mouth that has been close to power. Think of the fantasy in the man’s mind as she’s going down on him and he’s thinking, Oh my God.

Benedict: “Do for me what you did to the President. Do that.”

Shellogg: The question for me is, did Monica swallow or did she spit out?

Jong: Oh, imagine swallowing the Presidential come.

Marx: I think she probably, you know, spit it into a test tube.

Roiphe: For a long time, we’ve been saying, “If you compliment a woman in your office, you can be fired.” You know we’ve been kind of creating this atmosphere where men feel like they have to, like, constantly think about their casual expressions of sexual interest. And then suddenly the President gets caught getting a blowjob from a 21-year-old, and everyone says, “Hey, this is fine.”

Jong: I think if we were old-fashioned women, we would be saying she should be burned as a witch, basically. And I think it’s a tribute to how far we’ve come that we’re not trashing Monica Lewinsky. Actually, I think Monica Lewinsky has a very tough time in store for her.

Prose: So-we talked about this before-but we all think we’d be capable of keeping it a secret if we were having sex with the President?

Marx: I would create a Web site.

Friday: Clinton’s fantasies have to be wilder than ever after this, because his fantasies have to be, What if we get caught … His next blowjob is going to be the most exciting one he’s ever had.