Bettie Page and Monica Lewinsky offer curious parallels on how sex works in our political process.
Commentators on Betty Page sometimes say she had an innocent quality about her. I don’t know that I agree with that. I think she probably understood why guys wanted her to pose in the nude, and while playing bondage games. She would have had to have been borderline retarded not to know what was going on there, and the historical record gives no indication that she was.
I think the reason a lot of people look at Page’s photos and think “innocent” is that Page owned her sexuality. She was hot and sexy and she knew it, the thingsshe was doing when she posed were hot and sexy and she knew it and enjoyed it, and she was OK with it. It suited her just fine to be a woman whom men would happily photograph whether they had film in their cameras or not.
Page, by all accounts, wanted to be a movie star, but had absolutely no interest in politics. She absolutely did not seek out the role of national icon when she was called before the Kafauver Committee, a 1950s-era assortment of bluenoses determined to stem the rising tide of smut that was threatening to make America sexy. But that’s what happened to her, and to her everlasting credit, she didn’t wilt before all that official attention from 50s era asshole Estes Kefauver. He worked hard to get her to rat on her friends. But Page stood her ground and owned up to who she was and what she did. She was a lot stronger than any of the men who accused her. Page never claimed that she had been led, or seduced, or entrapped or enticed into her activities by some smooth-talking Lothario, she always accepted responsibility for her actions, which may well be part of the reason she’s admired as well as lusted after.
Now, let’s look at Monica Lewinsky. She was (and perhaps, is) a sexual adventurer, like Page, except that instead of modelling and posing and so forth, her adventuring was confined to thing itself, i.e., sex, something Page didn’t do, so far as we know, and considering how many people have been very interested in knowing, it’s probably fair to say, “something she didn’t do, period.”
There’s no doubt Lewinsky was attracted to politics and political men, but there’s considerable doubt as to whether or not she ever had any interest in becoming a sex celebrity before the fact. She was definitely interesting in fucking the President, but there’s no evidence she wanted to be KNOWN for fucking the President. The deed itself might be all the reward she was looking for, and in the absence of evidence to the contrary, we can reasonably assume that she did not. Remember, she never SOUGHT for her affair to become public, she just ran off at the mouth to a “sympathetic” co-worker, the backstabber Linda Tripp, who promptly spread the news to some Repubican gnomes, and the rest is as disgusting a bit of American history as you could ever want to experience.
But like Page, Lewinsky was strong. She owned her sexuality. She never claimed that Clinton had seduced her or led her on. She had seduced him, deliberately, starting with her deliberate thong exposure and moving on to the oral sex.
I admire that. The pressure to say she had been sexually harrassed, used, seduced, etc., must have been tremendous. That disgusting gnome Ken Starr was surely working to get her to say what was most to the Republicans’ political advantage, and what would have been to their advantage would have been for Lewinsky to say that Clinton had FORCED her to give him blowjobs, or at the very least, had awed/intimidated her into giving him one.
But she never did that. She stayed with the truth. She was strong. Like Betty Page was strong half a century ago.
I suspect that’s why both women are remembered with a certain sneaking fondness. They were sexual adventurers, but they stood by all that was best about being a sexual adventurer – they were sexy, bold and strong.
I also suspect that might partly explain the increased interest in Betty Page today. There’s a certain echo effect between her and Lewinsky. And in a time dominated by Republican women who would never DARE do anything their men wouldn’t approve of, like Laura Bush, or harridans who work through their men to obtain what they want, like Barbara Bush, we can use a few bold, daring, strong, adventurous women.
Moral conservatives see sexuality as a weakness. Their instinct is to attack it whenever it comes to public attention. They don’t even think about it. Arguably, many of them can’t. But the warped, perverted viciousness that characterizes their approach to human sexuality (basically, most moral conservatives would like to put people whose sexuality goes outside a very narrow range in cages for years - strangely, no one thinks this is strange) somehows brings an answering strength from some of those that moral conservatives attempt to victimize.