“I didn’t know about Chappaquiddick and the rape case until yesterday,” says Miriam Perez, a 25-year-old editor at Feministing.com. She admires Kennedy’s accomplishments, but is perplexed. “Like every person, he’s human and there are lots of flaws involved,” she says. “But a big feminist tenet is: The personal is political. So I don’t feel it’s fair to fully ignore it in this case.”
Perhaps, along with the hagiographic Kennedy myth, we can bury this outdated tradition of excusing the reprehensible treatment of women by the same male legislators who otherwise advocate for our rights politically. It’s degrading. It’s like making excuses for the husband who beats you up but pays the bills on time. It may be 2009, but the bulk of the talking heads who covered this funeral were older white males, and among the few women — eminent historian Doris Kearns Goodwin among them — it’s still shocking to hear them, nearly to a one, reduce Kennedy’s bad behavior to rakish abandon or poor judgement. Why shouldn’t we hold our elected male officials — especially those who so assiduously court the female vote — to a standard of personal decency in their treatment of women? Why do we still assume that this is an either/or proposition?