WT: NOW chapter set to bolt over Lewinsky scandal

Maher, Steve (SD-MS) SMAHER at GI.COM
Tue Feb 24 12:44:00 MST 1998

>From CAS list
NOW chapter set to bolt over Clinton scandal
By Jennifer Harper
A local chapter of the National Organization for Women is ready to
desert the main group over the White House sex-and-lies scandal.
Convinced that NOW's national leaders have gone too easy on President
Clinton's relationship with intern Monica Lewinsky, Dulles (Va.) Area
NOW may close up shop as a public gesture of criticism.
     "Our leaders can't be selective on the issue of sexual harassment,"
said Marie-Jose Ragab, who has been president of the Northern Virginia
chapter for the past 10 years. "In the past, they have spoken out
against sexual harassment, most of the time against Republican figures."

     Miss Ragab said she has seen NOW's president, Patricia Ireland, and
its former president, Eleanor Smeal, "go on national television and
imply that the current scandal is not sexual harassment. This is going
too far, and there's a lack of credibility."
     The Dulles chapter met last Thursday, and after much
soul-searching, its members decided they would either shut down
completely or become a "dissident" chapter.
     "It is emotionally very difficult," Miss Ragab said. "Many women
perceive Mr. Clinton as being very receptive to issues which are
important to us. But we can't pretend that the NOW reaction has been
     Whatever happens, Miss Ragab said, "We are doing this for ourselves
and to remain faithful to our beliefs."
     Mrs. Ireland said on ABC's "This Week" on Feb. 1 that Mr. Clinton
had not reacted "in a forthright, complete way that the American public
can believe," and that public officials should not use "the aphrodisiac
of power" to gain sexual favors.
     Then Mrs. Ireland added, "If the president had a sexual relation
with Monica Lewinsky, it was consensual. That is a distinction that I
think people opposed to women's rights are trying to blur."
     If Mr. Clinton has a pattern of extramarital sexual activity, Mrs.
Ireland added, "it appears to be a pattern of consensual sex."
     Observers wondered why NOW, which had vigorously and vocally
supported Anita Hill eight years ago, was nearly hostile toward Paula
Jones as her sexual-harassment claims against Mr. Clinton meandered in
and out of the media.
     "NOW will not be rushed to judgment, not by right-wing attempts to
undermine us, not by Mrs. Jones' lawyers or the media trying to create a
NOW vs. Jones scenario," Mrs. Ireland said late last year.
     The attitude riled Joseph Cammarata, then Mrs. Jones' co-counsel,
as the case headed toward the Supreme Court in January.
     "Where are the women's groups? The women's groups are silent," he
said at the time. "I feel sorry for the women's groups. These groups, in
my view, are unprincipled and hypocritical."
     Dulles Area NOW plans to meet again later this week to decide
whether it should dissolve the organization or split off.
     National NOW spokeswoman Mira Weinstein said she was unaware of
discord at the Dulles chapter and added that each chapter elects its
leaders independently. "Sometimes there are resignations for any number
of reasons," she said. "Sometimes a day job gets overwhelming, sometimes
a child becomes ill."
     Some wonder if NOW is even in touch with such homebound concerns.
     "Who does NOW represent? What do they represent?" asked Emily
Brundage of the Committee for Mother and Child Rights. "Do they present
opportunities for stay-at-home mothers or mothers with custody? NOW
leaders are staying silent when they shouldn't."
     After 30 years, the organization has evolved from a small,
determined group of feminists into a formidable political force with
250,000 members and $9.5 million in revenues from membership dues and
contributions. NOW has lost some media clout, however.
     After the group opposed the Promise Keepers march last fall, Time
magazine called Mrs. Ireland a "loser" and described the group as "more
irrelevant than ever." Investor's Business Daily categorized NOW as
"tiresome," while the Chicago Sun-Times opined that Mrs. Ireland
displayed "monumental intolerance."
     "NOW departed from the mainstream a long time ago," Barbara Ledeen,
president of the conservative Independent Women's Forum, told The
Washington Times recently.
     Patrick Reilly, a researcher with the Capital Research Center who
compiled an extensive report on NOW last fall, said the group is still
"strong and resolute about their goals." He noted that it has worked
hard to promote litigation against corporations accused of sexual
harassment in the workplace.
     "Certainly Mr. Clinton's alleged behavior in the scandal would be
in the same category," Mr. Reilly said. "But the fact that he is a
political ally prevents NOW from saying anything about it."
     Meanwhile, Dulles Area NOW is proceeding slowly, but surely.
     "If we become dissident, we will be very vocal," said Miss Ragab.
"We will call for new leadership."


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