Aram Bakshian Jr., former deputy assistant and chief speechwriter to President Reagan, yesterday defended his comments describing rape as "a cherished fantasy" among women, saying Rep. Pat Schroeder (D-Colo.) and other women detractors were suffering from "post-feminist depression."
"I'm going to be found with a hatpin in my back in an alley before this is all over," he said.
Schroeder strongly criticized Bakshian on the floor of the House Wednesday, calling the former Reagan adviser's comments in a recent book review "shocking, sickening and unbelievable." Earlier, she issued a statement calling the review "bizarre, pathetic drivel." The article, which Bakshian wrote for the conservative biweekly magazine National Review before he resigned from his White House post two weeks ago, is titled "Two Cheers for Rape" and is a review of "Endless Rapture: Rape, Romance and the Female Imagination" by Helen Hazen.
Book critics routinely air controversial opinions. However, it is unusual for a writer so recently a top White House aide to write so freely on a sensitive subject and even rarer for such actions to be cited by a member of Congress.
Bakshian said yesterday the author was the sister-in-law of a friend of his and he agreed to do the review as a favor. Aware that his views would be controversial ("I think it was predictable that certain people would be annoyed by it"), he timed the review to appear after he was no longer a White House employe.
"Rape, especially," Bakshian wrote, "seems to strike a deep distinctive chord in millions of female readers, a cherished fantasy that is not confined to air-headed bits of fluff or frustrated dowds." He added that the book's thesis was penned, "thank God, by a woman who says things I have long suspected but would never have dared publish."
"What I said," Bakshian repeated yesterday, "was that the way rape is handled in those books strikes a responsive chord in millions of readers who are women. Obviously not all women read that tripe."
Bakshian's comments come on the heels of former White House staffer Barbara Honegger's claim that the Reagan administration is insensitive to women's issues, and follow Reagan's own remarks last month before the International Federation of Business and Professional Women's Clubs in which the president tried to smooth the already ruffled feathers of his audience by declaring that "if it weren't for women, us men would be still walking around in skin suits, carrying clubs." Yesterday, Bakshian dismissed the attack by Schroeder as "much ado about nothing," although he is aware of Reagan's current campaign to woo women voters.
Bakshian--a self-described traditionalist who says the 17th and 18th centuries were "more interesting" than now--said yesterday he does not personify Reagan's problems with women, "although there are a number of people who would like to characterize me as that."
A 39-year-old bachelor partial to tweed suits and English pipes, Bakshian left his $68,400 a year job Sept. 1 to write a syndicated column for The Washington Times. He worried yesterday that his comments in the book review might "cause embarrassment" to Reagan, but admitted that "I'm sort of a relic of the past."
Relaxing in his Northwest Washington home, Bakshian defended Reagan's "cave man" comment last month as "a valid historical observation," said feminism is an outdated "fad" and downplayed the so-called "gender gap."
A conservative Republican who held speechwriting jobs in both the Nixon and Ford administrations, Bakshian is a critic and essayist and has worked as a consultant to former treasury secretary William Simon. He was named special assistant to the president for humanities in March 1981 and took over the speechwriting office in October of that year.
Bakshian said his comments on rape were not intended as an endorsement of violent crime. "I am not now nor have I ever been a rapist or a rapee. The only sort of rape I think is acceptable is mutual rape. There seems to be a lot of marriages based on that."
He said feminism was "last decade's fad," and added that "women were told they were supposed to be unhappy. They were told they were second-class citizens, that children were disgusting, that childbearing was a nasty chore. If you were told all that on a down day, it might be enough to send you around the bend."
Bakshian also characterized those in the women's movement in the last decade as "upper-middle-class housewives" who were "going through a mid-life crisis."
He said Reagan represents "a return to stability," in which the country will have "time to catch our breath and get the furniture back in order and to think things out before we go out on another emotional binge."
He said the current time "is not a particularly romantic age. I do think there was probably a happier, more stable time. At the same time, people want freedom and there's no stopping them."
Bakshian applauded the Reagan administration's policies on women, saying, "Good heavens, this is an administration that even found a place for Barbara Honegger. I think that was walking the extra mile."
He also agreed with Reagan's off-the-cuff "cave man" remark. "What he was saying is something sociologists and historians have long maintained. Women are a civilizing influence. There's no question of that. What created tribal man and domesticity was family, and women are the reason for that." Women as childbearers, he said, "are the model of any civilized social structure. I don't think there's anything wrong with that."
Bakshian, a member of the all-male Cosmos Club, is regarded as an eligible bachelor in Washington's social circles. "Almost all the girls I've liked or gone with," he noted yesterday, "have had a career."
Bakshian said at least part of the book review was intended as tongue-in-cheek.
"On a more personal note," he wrote in the book review, "I was heartened to discover that hero-seducers in Miss Hazen's favorite form of fiction generally have grey eyes and sneer a lot. The revelation comes to me rather late in life, but this means that I may have what it takes after all. Thank you, Miss Hazen, and applicants may write care of this periodical."
Bakshian said yesterday he was merely joking. "I mean, have you ever seen the average National Review reader? Male or female, you don't really want to set up blind dates with people like that."
He says he doesn't sneer and that his eyes are "muddy green," rather than gray.
Puffing on his Ben Wade pipe and preparing for a television interview, Bakshian said he genuinely likes women.
"The real question is, will women still like me?"