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I'm "With Her," But It's Complicated

I'm "With Her," But It's Complicated


Hillary Clinton's candidacy is one for history books, but some feminists would like her to further address sexual assault allegations made against Bill Clinton.

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On November 8, most pragmatic liberals with a conscience will be voting for Hillary Clinton, even if only to prevent the possibility of a Donald Trump dictatorship.

Many women are thrilled to finally have the option of electing a female president, but for some, voting for Clinton is complicated. It's not because of her emails or Benghazi or any Fox News-generated controversy.

Some women hate that she has dismissed allegations of sexual assault made against her husband as unbelievable. It's especially hard to square with assertions she now makes that sexual assault survivors "have a right to be believed," that they shouldn't let anyone "silence" their "voice."

That's the prevailing attitude of the day. While rapists may still receive light sentences, women who come forward to accuse powerful men of sexual assault or harassment are often taken more seriously than they once were, as has been the case with recent allegations against Roger Ailes and Bill Cosby.

Juanita Broaddrick, who claims Clinton raped her in 1978, stayed silent for decades, telling Dateline in 1999, "I didn't think anyone would believe me in the world." In many ways she was right. Bill Clinton escaped allegations of abuse made by women with high public approval ratings. He settled a case with Paula Jones, who sued over alleged sexual harassment. Despite his lie under oath about not having sex with a White House intern, leading Republicans in Congress to file impeachment charges, his credibility is still strong enough to warrant a prime-time speaking gig at the Democratic National Convention.

Let me be clear: Bill Clinton's infidelity does not reflect on Hillary Clinton. He's free to make mistakes without them being listed on her resume. I would be lying, though, if I said the multiple sexual assault allegations against our future "first gentleman" didn't trouble me.

Can anyone imagine Michelle Obama accused of sexual assault? How about Barbara Bush? The "worst" the media has been able to dig up on Melania Trump is that she posed nude during her modeling career and had to apologize for plagiarizing the current first lady. The fact that few question Bill Clinton's fitness as first gentleman shows the extreme double standards to which women are held.

While campaigning for Barack Obama in 2007, Michelle Obama illustrated those double standards, delivering some scathing antifeminist remarks while making the case against her husband's then-opponent, Hillary Clinton. "One of the things, the important aspects of this race, is role modeling what good families should look like," she said during a Women for Obama event. "And my view is that if you can't run your own house, you certainly can't run the White House." A news clip of those comments is now being shared again on social media as an attack on Hillary Clinton.

However, the implicit question of why Hillary Clinton remains married to Bill Clinton is both a feminist and an antifeminist question. A woman may marry whomever she chooses. We don't know why she stayed married to him, whether it was for political reasons, unconditional love, or some other reason.

The right wing knows what it's picking at. There is no doubt that as the campaign progresses, Hillary Clinton will have to address her husband's past. Trump, who has himself been accused of sexual assault, has promised to take Hillary Clinton to task for being an "enabler." We should take Trump at his word on that pledge. After all, he is known for both his hypocrisy and his knack for finding opponents' weaknesses and exploiting them. He's said the attack will come during a presidential debate, when everyone is watching.

He even gave the rhetoric a test during the primary season, and immediately afterward the press quoted the likes of feminist Lena Dunham, saying she'd have to look further into the sexual assault allegations against Bill Clinton. The headline in The New York Times was "'90s Scandals Threaten to Erode Hillary Clinton's Strength With Women." For his part, Trump bragged repeatedly that he'd found Hillary Clinton's Achilles' heel, this cloud of suspicion about whether she helped silence women who were abused.

One woman at a New Hampshire primary event questioned Hillary Clinton directly about the women whose stories were disbelieved during the '90s. Clinton answered that sexual assault survivors have "the right to be believed until they are disbelieved based on evidence." Due to the private nature of sexual assault and harassment, evidence is often a victim's word against her attacker. That's the case with many of the allegations against Bill Clinton.

It's easy for voters to be dismissive of old accusations, deeming them bygones of the political '90s. Some younger voters may not consider Bill Clinton anything other than Hillary Clinton's husband. But for those of us who remember the days when sexual harassment was seen as a joke, it may be harder to move on, at least not without explanation.

We now find ourselves in a unique predicament: If we are "with her," does that mean we're against those women who weren't believed? How can we not be "with her" when failure to support her would thwart women's progress more generally?

Whenever opponents have sought to discredit Hillary Clinton, her gender has been front and center. "Life's a Bitch, Don't Vote for One" read a button at the Republican National Convention. The tone of the Trump campaign led to a 10-year-old boy yelling during a recent rally, "Take that bitch down!" The characterization of Clinton as untrustworthy is perhaps as old as the Bible itself: Hillary Clinton as Eve trying to trick the American people. No feminist wants to be lumped in with the Trump crowd.

We're grateful to Clinton for putting the cracks in the highest of ceilings, for never giving up despite decades of public and, at times, sexist scrutiny. This is why her victory is groundbreaking, as Michelle Obama suggested in that beautiful speech at the Democratic National Convention: "And because of Hillary Clinton, my daughters -- and all our sons and daughters -- now take for granted that a woman can be president of the United States."

If elected, Hillary Clinton would be the first female president. While the mandates of equality require us to treat her "just like any other candidate," we must not forget that she isn't. Unlike anyone who has been elected president, Hillary Clinton is a woman, and until she actually becomes president we cannot, as Michelle Obama reminded us, take that fact for granted.

Still, if I could ask Hillary Clinton one question, I wouldn't ask her about emails or Benghazi or even that night in the Situation Room, her eyes wide, mouth covered by her hand, as Navy SEALS took out Osama bin Laden. I would ask her if she ever worries that Bill Clinton sexually assaulted women.

I would ask her if when Madeleine Albright said, "There's a special place in hell for women who don't help other women," she felt a lump rise in her throat, thinking of her husband's accusers.

I would ask her if by supporting her, we might as women help break the cycle of sexism in which we are all sometimes complicit: upholding the status quo, defending the patriarchy, duped into believing that any action we take isn't undermined by its shackles.

While many things have changed since the 1990s, one truth still remains: The only one to ever truly feel the repercussions of a man's actions will likely be a woman.

ELIZABETH DALEYis an Advocate contributor. You can follow her on Twitter @FakePretty.

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I'm "With Her," But It's Complicated

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