Let me introduce myself. I’m from Virginia, and I’m over 50, ergo, no bimbo. And being from the state of George Washington’s cherry tree, I’m no liar, either. Just listen to my quiet, halting voice and take one look at my limpid eyes, my prominent cheekbones, reduced hair and restrained makeup (no lipstick, even; these pale lips are for whistle-blowing, not kissing). So much for Kathleen Willey, the best actor to come out of Virginia since the sibling act of Warren Beatty and Shirley MacLaine.
As for me, there were times I wanted to slap a man and I held back, not because he was … well, after all, the President and you don’t slap the President of the United States, although you might slap the President of, say, Finland or the Dominican Republic. No, my inhibitions are the result of restraining orders hard-wired into my sexual response program. It goes back to Rebuff Training, second only to toilet training in traumatic impact.
It was a late afternoon in my youth, time for the Sex talk. “Every time a man looks at you,” my mother told me, “he wants one thing.” (This was before campaign contributions.) This bit of folk wisdom, shattering to a budding romantic, was, of course, the standard line for frightening your daughter into staying a virgin … for life, if possible, but at least until marriage.
The follow-up, to add insult to injury, was that there was a good way and a bad way to handle unwanted attentions, and slapping was the bad way. In a nutshell, nice girls didn’t slap boys. They deflected unwelcome advances with … humor. You didn’t wound the man’s pride, or back him into a corner, but “let him down gently” with a joke, or a titter, a brush-off handled with a shrug and a “don’t be silly” as you slipped out of the fumbling grope, or slid sideways through the front door, firmly shutting it or, if you were really expert, continued the conversation as if nothing happened.
This was a big disappointment: I had seen many satisfying scenes in movies where chaste women were always defending their virtue-it was the only bargaining chip they had-with a resounding slap on the stunned male cheek, and I had looked forward to getting in a few thwacks. Also, if we’re talking about protecting the male ego, I thought the giggle defense might be more hurtful to this delicate mechanism than an outright karate chop or its verbal equivalent.
But it wasn’t all that hard among the boys of my acquaintance. After all, they were being taught to restrain their libidos and treat a girl with respect. Oh, yes, they might occasionally accuse me of being a tease, a form of blackmail that made me wince, but not put out, since the last thing I wanted was to be thought fast, cheap or out of control. And, besides, not much was at stake; the guy had taken me to a movie or for a beer at most.
Then I went out into the great wide world, where they played hardball and where my delicate skills at braking an assault were about as firm as the dogwood trees of Atlanta under William Tecumseh Sherman’s march.
In Paris, I watched Jean Seberg in Breathless slapping the bejeezus out of Jean-Paul Belmondo, even though they were sleeping together. She wasn’t a nice girl, but I loved her sang-froid.
Then one day I met Jacques in the Luxembourg Gardens. Jacques was a flâneur -a word he taught me. Dressed always in a jacket and tie, whatever the weather, he spent about 10 hours a day walking. He had no office to go to-he said he was a “dealer in art”-so we’d spend a few chaste hours a week together, exploring out-of-the-way parks, talking about art and literature, going to museums.
Then he asked me to go to dinner in Montmartre. We took a taxi there, he wined and dined me charmingly, and in the taxi back, he made his move. I eluded him, sweetly, fumblingly (“Ah, non, non, Jacques, tee-hee”). I didn’t see much of him after that.
But then, several years later, I was living in New York and walking on Madison Avenue when I looked up and there in front of me was Jacques. We embraced. ” Tiens ! Tiens !” and chatted. He was here trying to move some art. But he was suddenly short of money. Could I lend him a hundred dollars? I blinked but, too startled to refuse, wrote him a check.
That was that. No word or sign again for several years. Then once again on Madison Avenue, I ran into him. Brief conversation. “How about that hundred dollars?” ( “Jacques! Tu vas me rembourser ces cent dollars?” ) I said in my best jocular-teasing manner. He looked at me in bafflement.
“Quels cent dollars?”
It was my turn to look baffled. But after we parted and I was walking away, I realized I had now paid for my dinner in Montmartre. And the taxi. And whatever slight humiliation he had suffered in wounded male pride.
What’s amazing to me about Kathleen Willey is that, of all the women who’ve come forward with tales of harassment, she’s the one who’s garnered the widest consensus among women. Unlike Anita Hill, Ms. Willey wasn’t victimized at work and had few qualifications for the prominence to which her husband’s campaign contributions had promoted her. She’s classier and more prepossessing than her predecessors, which should warn us that she’s also more artful in presenting her case. Yet conservatives who discredited Anita Hill find her “credible” while feminists who’ve been divided on the bimbettes identify with the upscale Ms. Willey. I seem to be practically alone among women in finding her 60 Minutes interview almost laughable, certainly more self-serving than convincing, as she and a professionally credulous Ed Bradley, looking wide-eyed and shocked! shocked! put on a smarmily ratings-conscious performance.
Yes, President Bill Clinton’s an oaf in office, a chronic sexual predator who abuses his power.
But just as clearly, Ms. Willey and her predecessors weren’t work-slaves in a contaminated environment where they had no choice but to slap or succumb. Her ability to handle the putative gropings of the touchy-feely Commander in Chief (with whom she clearly had a familiar, teasing relationship) is evidenced by the fact that she was willing to expose herself to possible repeats in her quest for jobs, and, when denied the ambassadorial post she thought she deserved, she saw a chance to cash in with a $300,000 book contract. I’m much more sympathetic to the plaintiffs in the Gene McKinney case, who got nothing for their pains but a slap in the face when the smooth-talking sergeant major was exonerated.
Nor do I buy the current line that women should use their sexual assets to get ahead in a professional world still ruled by men. If I may resort to an adage that went out with concepts like privacy and discretion, Two wrongs don’t make a right. What hope is there for women to be taken seriously if we resort to “cleavage power”? This was a term used by a television researcher calling me to do a show one of the networks was preparing on just this theme, but when I didn’t agree with the premise-that men have their networking, which excludes women, therefore women should use sex for advancement-I was dropped from the roster.
There are countless women who suffer from harassment and abiding inequalities, but I somehow suspect that those women-the long-suffering and truly damaged-aren’t the ones who come forward. It’s the same old story: Scandals, like revolutions, are never started by the deeply wronged and inveterately weak but by those smart and ruthless enough to exploit the situation and enjoy their day in the media sun.
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