“Twenty years ago, major news outlets reported allegations that then-President Bill Clinton had a sexual relationship with a 22-year-old White House intern.
Looking back, the Clinton-Lewinsky affair heralded a sea change in political discourse by normalizing public discussion of s*x acts. Today, it is hard to believe that esteemed presidents, from Thomas Jefferson to John F. Kennedy, were sheltered from public judgment by a code of decorum that conveniently regarded the subject of s*x as beneath the dignity of political discussion. That all changed in the Clinton days when terms like “oral s*x” and “semen stain” were catapulted from the domain of hushed whispers to front-page news.
The New Sexual Revolution
Fast forward to today, and once again the man sitting in the Oval Office is dogged by allegations of sexual misconduct. As a scholar who has examined public reaction to political s*x scandals since the Clinton days, this is hardly where I expected we’d find ourselves in 2018. Twenty years ago, it seemed plausible that difficult conversations spurred by revelation of the Clinton-Lewinsky affair – about issues ranging from sexual harassment to the nature of sexual consent – would lead to lasting changes in the way women and men conducted themselves in the workplace, and well beyond.
But how far have we really come?
Sexual Harassment Remains Prevalent
The election to the presidency of a man who boasts of “pussy-grabbing” is an indication that we still have a long way to go.
Today, sexual harassment remains commonplace, despite legal protections and the introduction of anti-harassment training in many workplaces. Surveys report that between 25 percent to 85 percent of women say they have been s******y harassed at work. Even the most conservative of these findings indicate a widespread problem. For women in certain employment sectors – including male-dominated industries like construction or service jobs where workers rely on tips to earn a living wage – rates of sexual harassment and sexual assault are likely to be far higher.
The persistence of workplace sexual harassment is a powerful reminder that gender-based subordination pervades modern life. But that doesn’t mean nothing has changed since the Clinton era. Looking back, three differences between now and then deserve our attention.