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Honey, you're not a victim

July 25, 2006|Anne Taylor Fleming | ANNE TAYLOR FLEMING is the author, most recently, of "As If Love Were Enough."

ONCE AGAIN we have a full-grown woman -- in this case, a 19-year-old from Long Island -- claiming to be the innocent victim in a high-profile extramarital affair. When are women going to learn, I found myself thinking, as I watched Diana Bianchi toss her beautiful locks and confess to one of those pushy and obsequiously empathetic TV news reporters that she had stumbled into an affair with her employer, one Peter Cook, a.k.a. Mr. Christie Brinkley.

"I didn't expect him to take it to another level," she said, with a strangled giggle. "It" being a flirtation. "Another level" being sex.

Her mother has called Cook a predator who "preyed" on her baby. The family has retained an attorney, who has said Cook "abused" Bianchi. He also has mentioned the possibility of a civil suit.

Bianchi put my teeth on edge. I am offended by her giggles -- inappropriate in the face of the pain she has caused another woman -- and offended by her victim act. "He" didn't take it to another level alone. "They" took it to another level.

Yes, of course, I am tired of and offended by the lecherous husband act as well.

Cook has no doubt deeply wounded not only his wife but his kids -- who will now have to endure the peering, leering journalists, lawyers and other salivating birds of prey who swoop in on such a heartwreck. He deserves, and will no doubt get, all manner of public and private abuse as this painful tale spins through the tabloids and the courts.

But the fact that an allegedly mature married man in his 40s should know better than a nubile young thing is simply beside the point. Yes, he should have. He had more to lose and more people to hurt.

But don't tell me that in today's world -- a virtual cornucopia of sex talk, sex images and O.C. babes -- an 18-year-old (Bianchi's age when they began the affair, and the age at which young women in fatigues are dying in Iraq) can hide behind a claim of naivete or harassment.

Yes, harassment is a serious issue -- a job-for-sex swap that is repellent and one that the courts take seriously. But it's hard to see that at play here. This is a beautiful young toy-store clerk who Cook inveigled into working in his architectural office -- eventually at a salary of $50 an hour. She had to know he had an eye for her, especially after he lavished her with gifts.

Just once, it would be great to hear a young woman stand up and say, "I take total responsibility for my part in this," instead of ducking and dodging. That would be a great service. That's the path of true women's liberation, instead of this victim pose that is just a male-bashing perversion of what it means to be liberated.

The message to young women should be: Be careful, make your own decisions. Don't let anyone talk you into or trick you into having sex. You're a partner here. Act like one. Step up or back off -- or tell him to back off. You've got a voice, use it.

It would be refreshing if Bianchi could do that -- take responsibility -- and then just disappear and refuse to answer any more questions. But, of course, in a culture in which celebrity is the highest value and there is little distinction between fame and infamy, you'd better enjoy your limelight moment, even if it's a tawdry tabloid one. You want a book deal? Step right up. No question, celebrity trumps everything, certainly sisterhood.

Predictably enough, another bouncy young woman has surfaced with tales of Cook's seductive attentions. This one was also a teenager when she and the architect had their alleged dalliance 10 years ago, but it was before his marriage to Brinkley. Nonetheless, she is strutting her stuff and talking about his charming ways. Didn't we women get that message either (or rather, didn't we older women send it to younger women): You don't kiss and tell, that to do so is creepy and self-abasing?

No doubt, there will be more salacious details to come in the Brinkley-Cook case. It would be truly liberating, to say the least, if Bianchi, instead of looking into any more cameras or letting any more publicity-seeking lawyers threaten harassment suits on her behalf, would just be quiet and stop trying to pretend that she was a teenage victim in an aging adulterer's bed.

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