Enough #PowerDifferential Mud Slinging at Bill Clinton!

Yes, President Bill Clinton was likely to have been a sex addict when he cavorted with Monica Lewinsky in the oval office some 20 years ago. He seemed to have had a voracious sexual appetite and no boundaries about what and where sexual conduct was appropriate. But according to Maureen Dowd in this weekend’s OpEd for the NY Times, he belongs in the #MeToo mix of sexual predators.

Yes, he should be thrown under the bus for failing to reject Monica Lewinsky’s advances, but not because their sex was nonconsensual and not because their sex resulted from the misuse of the “power differential” between the 22 year old intern and the 49 year old leader of the free world. Dowd simply misunderstands this issue.

Here’s the problem with Dowd’s thinking…..

According to all accounts I’ve read or watched, Bill Clinton did not induce sex with Monica Lewinsky. Quite the opposite. Lewinsky, an adult woman, is the one who made the advances toward Clinton.

When used to induce sex, the “power differential” produces a form of agreement called “acquiescence,” not “consent.” Lewinsky was not acquiescing. She was consenting. Here’s the difference:

  • Acquiesence is agreement under duress
  • Consent is freely given, knowledgeable and informed agreement #FGKIA

Lewinsky was not motivated by fear or threat of loss. So even though there indeed was a power imbalance between the two, it was she, with lesser power, going after him, with greater power, and with no fear that she would suffer a loss if she failed to do so. 

Here’s what the misuse of “power differential” actually looks like…

A corrections officer at a jail or prison cannot have sex with a prisoner. The very fact that the prisoner is incarcerated adds an element of fear to any sexual interaction between them. The prisoner is always at the mercy of the guard.

Harvey Weinstein was a powerful movie producer when he allegedly exposed himself and demanded sexual favors. His victims could only acquiesce…. agree out of fear about what he could or would do to their careers. They could not freely give knowledgeable and informed agreement.

Contrary to “power differential” misuse, when an adult woman throws herself at a powerful man (not because of fear), she is not being sexually assaulted unless he deceived her or forced her into doing so.

The dividing line between sex and sexual assault is difficult enough to understand without well-intended writers trying to make more of a situation than what’s warranted. And I believe Dowd does not recognize her failing.

While you can call Clinton a slut, a pervert, and an insult to the office of the Presidency, you can’t call him a sexual predator regarding his conduct with Monica Lewinsky. She didn’t fear his power would harm her if she didn’t engage in sex with him. And there was never mention of him deceiving or forcing her. 

Employers can and should prevent sexual assault and even the hint of the misuse of the “power differential.” 

The nuances of who does what to whom are far too intricate for any employer to want to burden themselves with deciphering. Just as Maureen Dowd does not distinguish who the instigator is between Lewinsky and Clinton, neither can many other onlookers. So the safest protection an employer can provide for both their own interests and the interests of their employees, is to write an employment agreement that states that sex with a person of a lesser pay grade can be cause for dismissal.

The only reasons for not doing so are that the decision makers want to protect their ability to use the power differential in sex, or they don’t want to get rid of employees who do. Next time you apply for a job, see if the employer provides “power differential” protection.

Our law makers should give serious thought to how they protect the sacrosanctness of the oval office in the future.

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