Come to the aid of embattled, despised minority...


October 12, 1991|By THEO LIPPMAN JR.

I LIKE TO come to the aid of embattled, despised minority groups. So here's a word in defense of men, especially men senators.

First the indictment: Rep. Pat Schroeder said, "the boys don't really get it on this issue. They really don't understand what sexual harassment is, and it's not important to them." Sen. Barbara Mikulski said, "the U.S. Senate appears not to take the charge of sexual harassment seriously." Rep. Nancy Pelosi said, "They are men. They can't possibly know what it is like to receive verbal harassment."

Are these women serious? Do they really believe that the Senate cannot do its duty to women because it has 98 men and only two women?

If that were true, we would have a real self-government problem, since few women ever become senators. Or try to. Eight ran as major party nominees in 1990, and that was a record high. Only six women have ever been elected to the Senate.

There's an old political saying, "If you can't stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen." The corollary is, "If you stay out of the kitchen, don't complain about the cooking." I believe women politicians who believe that male senators can't deal with their issues fairly and wisely have an obligation to run themselves or to support only other women candidates.

They don't do that more often, I believe, because they are generally satisfied with the job men senators do. Women get their way as voters. Men senators are sensitive to women's issues. It was a 98-man Senate that passed the Civil Rights Bill, with its Title VII outlawing of sexual discrimination in the first place, back in 1964.

(And, by the way, it was a white male Supreme Court justice who wrote for himself, seven other male justices and one female justice the opinion that greatly expanded the 1964 law to equate unwelcome sexual advances, even when there is neither coercion or economic loss, with unlawful discrimination.)

The fact is, men senators can be oversensitive to women. The proof of that was the Senate's unanimous decision last Tuesday to postpone its scheduled vote on the nomination of Judge Clarence Thomas to be a Supreme Court justice.

Several -- eight, maybe more -- male senators who were at that moment ready to vote for Judge Thomas told colleagues they would not because women would think they were insensitive if there were no hearings. A couple were so sensitized that they were prepared to vote against Judge Thomas' nomination on the basis of unsubstantiated charges of sexual harassment. (Surely no women would regard the others, who insisted on proven charges, as evil or sexist. Or would they?)

Final word: You would not know it by reading the choice of women to be quoted in the newspapers (and I read all the best newspapers), but in various tracking polls all week, after the charges against Thomas were made public and debated at length, women who favored his confirmation outnumbered women who opposed it by nearly two to one.

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