A Brief Explanation of the New Etiquette

PETER JAY

October 21, 1991|By PETER JAY

One lesson of the case of Clarence Thomas

(before the tumult dies and we forget)

Is that there have been fundamental changes

in the once-familiar rules of etiquette.

Men who used to harass distaff colleagues

by talking dirty to them while on break

Are now on notice that such boorish byplay

can land them with a splash in Doo-Doo Lake.

Ladies' language, though, is far less fettered.

It's free (at last!) from every old constraint.

The Cosmo Girl can utter &$#*! in public

a tone that would have made her mother faint.

It used to be that anti-social actions

were to our law and culture most taboo.

But now the most emotion-laden fusses

5) are over what we say, not what we do.

Oh, to be sure, there are a few exceptions,

which news accounts portentously relate.

It's still considered wrong to wed your sibling,

and it's quite beyond the pale to rape your date.

But it's just about as bad to utter phrases

that our cultural commissioners want to scrap.

You can find yourself called sexist in an instant,

and once that's done it's tough to beat the rap.

For example, girls are now to be called ''women.''

The reason is to demonstrate respect.

And if you were to say a lady's ''pretty,''

your attitude would NOT be called correct.

But it's proper to indulge exotic practices --

Like, whatever turns you on is A-OK.

As long as while you're at it you wear latex,

you will be, um, unmolested as you play.

But words called ''homophobic'' are verboten.

Don't say ''dyke'' or ''faggot'' -- Shame and Fie!

Out-of-fashion language must be silenced.

The rules are new, but we must all comply.

The Thomas case was one of sex harassment, though what that is is subject to debate.

Like art, the experts know it when they see it.

The rest of us can't always keep it straight.

The senators who vetted Clarence Thomassaid their only goal was finding out the truth.

But they also wanted, surely, to get air time,and be famous from Fort Worth up to Duluth.

How to do that? Well, it seemed it should be easy.

Keep the hearings closely focused in on sex.

Keep 'em simple, and above all keep 'em sleazy.

(But never, never mention bouncing checks.)

So in they marched -- first Chairman Biden,

then orange-headed Strom, and Silent Ted.

The staffs had done some prudent leaking.

News-sharks circled, waiting to be fed.

When the judge was once again right there before them,

they grilled him as they'd grilled Professor Hill.

The nation, all tuned in, was sure to love it.

But the polls instead detected quite a chill.

We may not, said the public, all be expertson the ins and outs of politics and law,But we have a certain basic sense of fairness,and the way this was conducted rubs us raw.

Now it's done, it's hard to pick the winners.

Everywhere you look there's mud and slime.

Mr. Thomas and Ms. Hill have both been sullied,

but it's the Senate, most folks feel, that was the crime.

Peter Jay's column appears on alternate Mondays.

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