Commentators who yell "hypocrisy!" at the feminist silence over Gary Condit's adultery with Chandra Levy are missing the point. Politically correct feminists have always been silent about adultery ... except when it can be used as weapon of convenience. The real hypocrisy occurs when they condemn Republican transgressions, not when they ignore Democratic ones.
Adultery may be the only important aspect of marriage that PC feminists have not subjected to intense ideological analysis. Divorce, the economics of housework, domestic violence, stay-at-home moms and deadbeat dads all have been dissected under a microscope.
But go to the NOW Web site and do a search under "adultery." Only four of 3,240 searched documents will contain that word. All four of the returned documents decry the U.S. military code against adultery because, NOW argues, the code embodies gender bias.
Go to the Feminist Majority Web site and you will see 15 results, all of which condemn the treatment of adulterous women in Afghanistan or Egypt. The group calls the double standard in adultery laws "gender apartheid."
To those unfamiliar with PC feminist theory — or to those who persist in not taking it seriously — this oversight seems inexplicable. After all, adultery is a large contributing factor in divorce, which is often cited as a major cause of poverty in women. Adultery is intimately linked to other prominent feminist concerns, such as domestic violence, paternity claims and deadbeat dads. Why are they silent on this significant aspect of human sexuality when they are verbose on every other one?
The standard explanation employed by PC feminists who are backed into a corner on the issue, as they were with Clinton, is absurd. They claim that adultery is sex between consenting adults, so it is a personal matter. Adultery is either beneath their political notice or it is in bad taste for them to comment upon.
By this same logic, they should be silent about a wide range of issues, from heterosexual dating practices to marital relations, from pornography to prostitution. Yet these issues are shouted from feminist rooftops. Why? Because the concept of "the personal is political" underlies all of political correctness. Only adultery has a veil of privacy drawn across its face.
NOW's refusal to invade Clinton's "privacy" by commenting on his adulteries — some of which may have been sexual assaults — even puzzled some voices within feminism.
Writing in the Presidential Sex Crisis III, Barbara Ehrenreich observed: "Patricia Schroeder and Bella Abzug came up with tortured, self-canceling meditations on sexual harassment vs. good, wholesome, consensual sexual relationships. The National Organization for Women issued a touching call for public officials to pledge they would reject 'the aphrodisiac of power' and forswear sexual contact with their office help." Ehrenreich wondered why NOW did not realize that "the very essence of adultery is the breaking of pledges once made in good faith to nice, trusting women like themselves."
Ehrenreich is an old-fashioned '60s liberal and, like many in that school, she does not seem to grasp the ultimate meaning of gender feminist theory on marriage. Namely, traditional marriage — with its heterosexual, monogamous nature — is, in and of itself, a violation of "good faith to nice, trusting women." Traditional marriage is viewed as the very source of women's oppression and as the wellspring of patriarchy.
Given this hostility toward marriage, it is not surprising that PC feminists do not condemn adulterous (Democractic) men. When men cheat, feminists see it as the norm because marriage itself is a "cheat." When women stray, feminists no more condemn them than they would blame the unjustly imprisoned for making a jailbreak.
Consider the April/May 1999 issue of Ms. magazine that discussed adultery in four articles:
"Subversive Desire" by Bell Hooks states, "Adultery is needed and accepted because today's couples, young and old alike, are cynical about love and more convinced than ever that relationships are primarily about passion and power."
In "Outside the Box," Blanche McCrary Boyd defines adultery as "a legal concept, not a moral one" — a matter of contract. She shrugs off Clinton's indiscretions with the comment: "I would assume that most people have done something at least as racy as Bill Clinton's game with his cigar. If not, get busy."
Jaishri Abichandani describes arranged marriages within Indian culture in "Sleeping Arrangements." In a statement that seems to cover both arranged marriages and freely chosen ones, she concludes, "I don't know if I would commit adultery, but I'd certainly consider it."
In the fourth article, Jennifer Belle suggests that monogamy is "sexual Republicanism." Were she to marry, Belle explains that she would remain faithful. But, if her husband cheated, she would either forgive him or "hack off his penis."
Given the unsophisticated level of commentary offered by the leading feminist periodical is it any wonder that NOW has nothing useful to say about Condit's conduct? The gamut of the Ms.-advice on adultery runs from "accept it" to "get busy," from "I don't know" to sexual mutilation.
PC feminists view traditional marriage as the enemy. In their worldview, adultery by men merely reveals that institution as a sham. Why does anyone expect such feminists to condemn adultery?
McElroy is the editor of www.ifeminists.com. She also edited Freedom, Feminism, and the State (Independent Institute, 1999) and Sexual Correctness: The Gender Feminist Attack on Women (McFarland, 1996). She lives with her husband in Canada.