We all know the "which of these objects does not belong" test. You're shown four items and asked to choose which is anomalous -- for instance, a cow, a sheep, a dog and an MX missile. Now, I've devised a test from the current issue of Esquire. The cover announces: "Free! Special Commemorative Bimbo Poster Inside!" The women portrayed (actually, they're look-alike models) are Jessica Hahn, Fawn Hall, Tammy Faye Bakker and Donna Rice. Which one does not belong?
Strictly speaking, two of them don't. Tammy Faye Bakker may be an overly made-up shopaholic, but we know nothing about her to suggest that she's a "woman of easy morals," William Safire's definition of a bimbo, to which I would add the winning quality of naive stupidity. As for two other women on the list, Jessica Hahn and Donna Rice, there seems to be little doubt that they're walking in shoes that fit.
Hahn, you will recall, is the former church worker who had a brief sexual encounter with Jim Bakker, the erotic evangelist, because, in effect, she was instructed to. In a Playboy interview, she declared "I am not a bimbo" and insisted that she was a virgin when she met Bakker. Whatever she may have surrendered in that encounter she gained in housing. As of this writing, she's living in the Playboy mansion.
Donna Rice likewise claims she is not a bimbo. Maybe. But she owes her fame to the time she spent with Gary Hart -- an overnight boat trip and a weekend in Washington. Responding to questions from a protective Barbara Walters, Rice said she neither knew Hart was married nor, when she met him, that he was the same Gary Hart who had been a presidential candidate in 1984. This makes her dumb as a clam. Combine sex with ignorance, shake well and you get a bimbo, Phi Beta Kappa key notwithstanding.
But what about Fawn Hall? Where does Esquire get off calling her a bimbo? Hall is many things I don't approve of -- archconservative and loyal to a Constitutional fault -- but she was really nothing more than Oliver North's secretary. If she is a bimbo, then so are Della Street, Perry Mason's secretary, and Rosemary Woods, Richard Nixon's.
But Hall worked closely with the relatively young and presumably virile North. "The good Lord gave her the gift of beauty," North told the Iran-contra committee -- but there is no evidence that Hall shared that gift with North. Even if she had, this would hardly qualify Hall as a bimbo, but it does raise an interesting question. Would North have rated some pejorative term if he -- a married man, after all -- actually had done what some in Washington snickered he might have? The answer, of course, is no.
One aim of the feminist movement is to erase the double standard by which men and women are judged sexually. If Esquire is any indication, feminism has failed entirely. Hall is called a bimbo because she's beautiful and because her loyalty to her boss is presumed to be romantically based. Never mind that she's as ideologically driven as North. Never mind that her onetime boyfriend was Adolfo Calero, the son of a leading Nicaraguan anticommunist. Never mind any of that. To Esquire, she's a bimbo.
But why pick on Esquire? Look at the way The Washington Post treated the murder and rape of Shannon Anne McMillan this fall. Here's how The Post characterized the 22-year-old legal secretary: "McMillan, described by friends as an attractive but troubled young woman from a broken home, drifted into
and out of relationships with several
men after moving to the Washington area from Texas four years ago."
How many men? The Post names two. How many romantic-sexual relationships should a 22-year-old woman have? The Post did not say, although it implied that McMillan exceeded the norm for this circulation area. The Post did say, though, that, according to McMillan's friends, she embarked on "an often- misguided search for love, stability and a sense of self-worth." Why, how dare she?!
Now, let's see. By the age of 22, I had "drifted into and out of relationships" with more than several women on what, I suppose, was "an often-misguided search" for love, stability and self-worth. But I doubt The Post would have cited those escapades as being the essential characterization of me. Had I been done in by a weirdo in my often-misguided youth, the local paper would not have mentioned my earlier relationships. I would have been just another murder victim.
But not McMillan. Like a rape victim whose reputation is questioned in court, she has been made to seem guilty of contributory negligence in her own death. When, in contrast, a suspect was charged with her murder, we were told only that he was a married 21-year-old Marine and former Camp David sentry. Apparently, he never sought love, and his self-worth was, I suppose, manifest. He was a Marine, after all.
Recent years have seen a retrenchment of feminism, some of it healthy. But along with some necessary rethinking has come a reversion to good old-fashioned sexism. In different ways, The Washington Post and Esquire provide examples of men making smug assessments of women they would never make of men. Fawn Hall is no bimbo, and women who seek love are no different from men who seek the same thing. Esquire ought to cite itself for a Dubious Achievement Award. As for The Post, it just ought to do better. ::