Flagrant Feminism Thrives at Time

It comes as no surprise that Time magazine finds the President to be sexy. In the November 16, 1992 issue, then-Senior Writer Walter Shapiro saluted the appeal of the President-Elect: "At a moment when the American libido seems to oscillate between Puritanism and rampant exhibitionism, how significant is it that for the first time in 30 years the nation has elected a President with sex appeal?...Cheryl Russell, editor of The Boomer Report, a monthly newsletter on consumer trends, captures a new dimension in the national psyche when she confides, 'Every woman I know is having sex dreams about Bill Clinton. We're finally getting a President our own age who we can imagine having sex with.'"

But it did come as a surprise when Time contributor Nina Burleigh, who covered the White House in 1993 and 1994, confirmed it in the new Mirabella magazine, and trumped that with a bold declaration to The Washington Post [see box].

Burleigh told of playing hearts with Clinton on a flight to Jasper, Arkansas, when she caught the President checking out her legs: "There was a time when the hormones of indignant feminism raged in my veins. An open gaze like that, at least from a man of lesser stature, would have annoyed me." But power is an aphrodisiac: "If he had asked me to continue the game of hearts back at the Jasper Holiday Inn, I would have been happy to go back there and see what happened." She didn't apply "girl power" and proposition him: "There I was, walking away from a close encounter with the President of the United States, stupefied and vaguely hoping that he'd send an aide over to my hotel room to ask me up for a drink. What is it in some of us, that powerful men make us pliant and willing with a mere glance?"

Burleigh told The Washington Post this flirtation last year did not reflect her reporting in 1993 and 1994. But certainly her political views did. In the April 11, 1994 Time, Burleigh was the first news magazine writer to identify the "professional Clinton hater" in an article titled "Clintonophobia: Just who are these Clinton haters and why do they loathe Bill and Hillary with such passion?" In paragraph 11, she also became the first news magazine writer to mention Paula Jones, whose press conference was arranged by "the Arkansas branch of Clinton haters." (Burleigh writes in Mirabella of Jones: "I suspect she had been more willing than she was willing to let on.")

Burleigh's waning feminism in the presence of ogling power brokers contradicts the ideological wishes of Time writer Ginia Bellafante, whose June 29 cover story "Is Feminism Dead?" complained that "feminism today is wed to the culture of celebrity and self-obsession." Bellafante claimed "political allegiance is only part of the story" for feminist forgiveness of Clinton's behavior, since "complicated, often mundane issues of modern life get little attention and the narcissistic ramblings of a few media-anointed spokeswomen get far too much." She wondered where the left-wing fervor went: "If feminism is, as Gloria Steinem has said for decades, 'a revolution and not a public relations movement,' why has it come to feel like so much spin?"

Bellafante thinks the media are reactionary. In a Time online chat, she complained women don't see themselves as feminists because "people have bought into the media-generated myth that feminists are unkempt man-haters." When asked about the future of feminism, Bellafante wished for a new revolution while referring to whiny authors like Elizabeth Wurtzel: "Well, hopefully, no one will give big money book contracts to people with nothing to say and things will move in a more positive, substantial, politicized direction." - Tim Graham