Linda Tripp died a few days ago at age 70. I was going to ignore it, until I saw headlines everywhere about her being a “whistleblower.”
This is a terrible insult to actual whistleblowers–people who expose government wrongdoing at risk to their own careers or lives. Think Navy Captain Brett Crozier, who sacrificed his career after sounding the alarm about coronavirus on the aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt.
Or Li Wenliang, a physician at Wuhan Central Hospital. After warning his colleagues in December 2019 about a possible deadly outbreak of something later identified as COVID-19, he was arrested, silenced, and ultimately slain by the coronavirus.
What was Linda Tripp’s big accomplishment?
Tripp had a 24-year-old friend named Monica Lewinsky, a White House intern with whom President Bill Clinton was secretly having oral sex. After Lewinsky confided the affair in strictest confidence, Tripp began secretly recording their conversations about it. Tripp then gave the tapes to Independent Counsel Ken Starr—whose investigation had nothing to do with Lewinsky or her sex with Clinton. Tripp also gave the tapes to a literary agent.
The tapes—and Clinton’s desperate denial of the adulterous affair—drove the 1998 impeachment of the president. The scandal, legal bills, and sudden public notoriety disrupted Lewinsky’s life for many years (although it did give her dozens of business and media opportunities).
At age 23, Lewinsky was an adult who had accepted the opportunity to have sex with the most powerful person on earth. By her own 2004 account, there was no coercion or manipulation: “This was a mutual relationship, mutual on all levels, right from the way it started and all the way through.”
Who wouldn’t jump at the chance to sleep with the president? Clinton used terrible judgement trusting his career and marriage to a young woman, but Lewinsky knew exactly what to expect from their affair. It’s not as if Clinton promised that one day he’d leave his wife and marry Lewinsky.
Nevertheless, there was considerable outrage toward Clinton when the affair was revealed. It didn’t help when Clinton denied having “sexual relations” with Lewinsky, relying on the common but technical usage that oral sex is not “sexual relations” (which typically means intercourse). Most of the outrage was about a powerful man allegedly exploiting an innocent young woman.
And yet ultimately it was Clinton who turned out to be naïve and trusting, and Lewinsky emerging among the most powerful people in the world—able to almost bring down a presidency by confiding a few blowjobs to the wrong person.
That person—Tripp—is the one who actually betrayed Lewinsky, for no reason other than moral disapproval. Tripp disempowered Lewinsky to “save” her from a consensual adult relationship in which Lewinsky was getting exactly what she wanted.
Apparently, feminist empowerment didn’t include Lewinsky’s right to make choices of which some women’s advocates disapproved. And that brings us to the present.
Because in 2020 we can see the same thing: when women make choices some women’s advocates don’t like, advocates discredit those choices and blame the Patriarchy for women’s false consciousness in their decision-making.
Some women choose to be strippers? They’re submitting to male economic pressure. Some women watch porn? They’re identifying with the exploitative “male gaze.” Some women want non-monogamy? They’ve bought a male model of desire. Some women enjoy BDSM? They’re victims of male violence. Some college women get roaring drunk before and during fraternity parties? Men get them drunk.
Statements like these infantilize women, who are treated as if they don’t know what’s good for them. And they demonize sexuality, which is assumed to be dangerous for women, especially outside the safety of monogamous marriage.
Doesn’t this view of sex and women belong more in the 19th century than the 21st? Then whether this view is promoted by an old-fashioned man or a post-modern woman, let’s call it what it is: demeaning to all adults and to those who enjoy sex.
Without question, Lewinsky paid a high price for breaking her promise of confidentiality to her presidential lover. But I didn’t hear anyone at the time condemn her for that. She promised Clinton she wouldn’t tell, and she told. That’s been a formula for disaster since The Iliad and the Bible.
As the world’s literature has been predicting since people could read, when Lewinsky kissed and told, all hell broke loose over the couple. Both she and her blabbermouth faux “friend” should have been held accountable.
If you like this piece, I bet you’ll enjoy my article at www.MartyKlein.com/asking-political-candidates-about-sexual-policy-positions/