Lipstick Feminists

By Austin, Elizabeth | The Washington Monthly, November 1998 | Go to article overview

Lipstick Feminists


Austin, Elizabeth, The Washington Monthly


Sexual power is a pistol loaded with only one bullet

I feel kind of sorry for Monica Lewinsky. It's not that I consider her a victim, by any stretch; when a young woman heads to Washington with the expressed intention of earning her presidential kneepads, she forfeits any future right to claims of sexual exploitation. But neither do I see Lewinsky as a post-feminist power girl, wielding her feminine wiles in a brazen bid for an easy G-15 rating. To me, she's just a painfully sentimental, pathologically vulnerable, sexually available young woman who honestly believed her expensive haircut and starry gaze were enough to bring the Leader of the Free World to his knees. If I weren't a feminist, I guess I'd call her a pathetic little slut.

That's a hard thing for me to admit, and a difficult word for me to use. But over the last few months, I've been horrified to hear a soprano chorus of "lipstick feminists" crow over the exploits of Monica the Power Babe. In one recent New York Times op-ed, headlined "Monica Lewinsky, Career Woman," Katie Roiphe complained that we lack a term for "the opposite of sexual harassment, when a person of less power uses her sexual attractiveness or a personal relationship with a person of greater power to get ahead." Frustrated by her stalled career, Roiphe reports, Lewinsky "used her personal power over the President to get results," threatening him with public exposure if he didn't land her a new job, pronto.

"There is nothing inherently wrong with Ms. Lewinsky's way of thinking, or with her attempt to translate her personal relationship with the President into professional advancement," comments Roiphe, who is apparently unfamiliar with the legal concept of blackmail. "It is a time-honored female tradition to use sexual power as a way to try to improve one's position in the world...."

That vision of the sexually unrestricted female as power broker has been getting a lot of play lately, and there's just enough truth in it to make it dangerous. God knows, we're all now painfully aware that powerful men can be rendered foolish and incompetent by sexual desire. And we've all seen second-rate Cleopatras convert their perilously high heels and profoundly deep decolletages into cars and condos--or at least, a promotion from bus girl to waitress.

But sexual power is a pistol loaded with only one bullet. Sure, Monica probably felt like Wonder Woman the first time the President beckoned her toward his gaping zipper. And when their sordid little liaison petered out, I'm certain she lay awake at night constructing elaborate scenarios in which L'Affaire Lewinsky would tumble the presidency, leaving her perched triumphantly atop the New York Times bestseller list. But look how it's all turned out: She's housebound and unemployable, while he still gets to decide which women are Secretary of State material and which are merely potential humidors. So how much real power did Monica ever wield?

The problem with Roiphe and the sisterhood of sluts is that they lack historical perspective. A couple of generations ago, the halls of government teemed with Lewinskys--called "monkey girls" (at least in Illinois), because they hung on to their jobs with their tails. Down in Springfield, the monkey girls observed a touching Sabbath ritual: Every Friday night, they'd line up at the railroad station to kiss their lawmaking lovers goodbye as they left to spend the weekend at home with their constituents--and their wives.

Back then, the definitions were clear--the men were studs, and their women were sluts. And when the monkey girls found themselves on the mossy side of 35 with neither resumes nor reputations, society's judgment was bleak: You made your bed, now lie in it.

That double standard became a rallying cry for the women's movement, which battled to redefine sex roles and insisted on women's equal right to sexual gratification. But when the sisters declared sluthood obsolete, they found themselves lacking the vocabulary to describe fetching young women who managed to snag jobs as statehouse typists and stenographers without submitting to the drudgery of secretarial school. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Lipstick Feminists
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.