The variety of possible reactions to the issue of Kennedy's philandering – when and if it becomes an issue – is as great as the range of personal values, and that range, we all known, is at this moment in history, enormous. Feminists are no exception. I was interested in the reactions of feminists because this type of behavior is so classically degrading to women, because it points to the nexus of power and machismo that feminists usually pounce upon, and because, at the very least, it suggests there will be no women in positions of true power in a Kennedy administration. I don't believe that this type of behavior comports with the respect necessary to work comfortable and constructively with a woman in other than a vastly subordinate or very distant position. I quickly found out, however, that feminists are just as disparate in their attitudes toward what looks to me like stereotypically sexist behavior as is the public at large. My question, in a small, informal, survey, was this: "What effect, if any, does Edward Kennedy's reputation as a philanderer have upon your estimation of him as a presidential candidate?" The only common factors in the answers were, first, that most of those interviewed hadn't really thought about the matter clearly (they were, in other words, thinking on their feet), and second, that I had thrown them a hot potato, a question that had to be answered very cautiously and, in most cases anonymously (with the result that I made the whole survey anonymous). Otherwise, the answers I got covered the full range of possibilities. Some women said things like: "His reputation doesn't bother me at all. If Kennedy likes sex, that's fine with me. I don't care what kind it is or how he goes about it." Others said the opposite: "It bothers me a great deal. IT cannot be neglected. IT suggests that he has no regard for women and that the only reason he will act on our behalf is if it is politically expedient."
I found the wariness that underlay all the answers very understandable, for I feel it myself. Using my own feeling as a guide, I suspect it derives from an inhibition against making a judgment that smacks of either moral righteousness or moral turpitude. In the Bible Belt, it would take courage to say that philandering is of no importance. But in New York the danger lies in saying that it matters. Whichever stand one takes, a public statement is prey to attack from one side or the other. Those who thought that the issue was important also seemed to hold back out of the time-honored feeling that it is unfair, or indecent, or tawdry, or inflammatory to raise such a matter in the political realm. From some – they were all professionals – I even got the feeling that they didn't want to jeopardize their hard-won status as "one of the boys." To do so by openly declaring that the philandering issue bothered them would make them look foolish; it would make them look like silly, unworldly women.
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