Newswomen opened the door on the 'boys-will-be-boys' games men in power play

ALICE STEINBACH

January 30, 1992|By ALICE STEINBACH

Just in case you missed it, here's a late-breaking item from my Washington, D.C., "Boys Will Be Boys" file:

Last Saturday night, the 79th annual Alfalfa Club party for powerful-men-only -- women are not welcome at this exclusive private club -- attracted more than 500 of the country's top movers and shakers. And what a guest list it was!

President Bush was there. And so was Vice President Quayle, Chief Justice William Rehnquist, Secretary of State James Baker and a whole host of senators -- including Alan Simpson, Lloyd Bentsen and Sam Nunn -- congressmen and corporate big shots.

They turned out, these heavy hitters, in full bipartisan force to enjoy the fellowship -- emphasis on the word "fellow" -- of one another as they ate, drank and did stand-up comedy routines. Actually, the Alfalfans are known for their humor. But since that joke from a few dinners back -- the one about panties and

Sen. Barbara Mikulski -- leaked out, it's been hard to get Alfalfans to go on record about what's been said.

You could call it Chauvinism Lite, I suppose, when a bunch of guys sits around boozing and telling stories -- all in good fun, of course -- about a fellow senator's panties.

No word yet on whether or not this hilarious routine was matched at last Saturday's dinner, but it has been reported that our Skull and Bones president -- who also belongs to two other males-only clubs, the Alibi Club and the Bohemian Club -- enjoyed himself thoroughly.

Of course, some of us had been hoping that after the Anita Hill-Clarence Thomas debacle, there'd be at least a few old boys at the top who might question the wisdom of attending this males-only version of a toga party. And some of us had hoped that since the Alfalfans canceled the bash last year, deeming it "inappropriate" during the Persian Gulf War, they might cancel it this year, on the grounds that it's "inappropriate" to exclude people solely on the basis of gender.

(Although, come to think of it, even if they included all the female senators, they'd only be adding two names to the guest list. Which, incidentally, is exactly the number of women we had in the Senate in 1960 -- more than 30 years ago.)

That American politics are still mostly a man's world is common ** knowledge. But it was made visibly -- and painfully -- clear during the televised hearings concerning Anita Hill's allegations toward Clarence Thomas. "Where are the women?" became the question of the hour as the cameras panned back and forth across the all-male committee. For many, the hearings simply underscored the fact that political power, in large part, still resides in a select group of men.

Still, there is one old boys club that has been infiltrated quite successfully over the last 30 years: the press corps. And in the opinion of many, the increasing number of women reporters has altered the way politicians -- both male and female -- are covered.

Political analyst Ann F. Lewis, for instance, suggests the rise in the number of women covering politics was one of several factors that might help explain why we now know more about the personal lives of political candidates. "There used to be a gentleman's agreement that a lot of information out there didn't get reported," says Ms. Lewis, "but as women reporters got on the press bus and as women voters started making independent voting decisions that agreement broke down. And so did the wall which separated the personal from the political."

And that's good for the country, says Ms. Lewis, a former political director of the Democratic National Committee: "We used to live in a world that agreed how powerful men acted in private was no one else's business. But today many of us have concluded that how powerful people, usually males, act in private toward their families, usually female, is in fact a valid indication as to whether we can trust them with power."

I agree that the more we know about a candidate, the better. But not everyone feels that way.

Many voters, of course, feel strongly that a candidate's private life has nothing to do with his political ability to lead. And many are critical of the press for its role in disseminating such information.

But the fact is that it is not up to the press to decide what we should know or what is relevant for us to know. Whatever can be verified about a candidate should be printed. Then it is up to each individual to sort through all of the information and decide for himself or herself what is relevant and what is not.

Some will find a candidate's infidelity unimportant; others will not. Just as some find a candidate's views on certain issues important or not.

Voting is about choice. And it's not what we know about the candidate's personal and political lives that will prevent us from making the best possible choice.

It's what we don't know.

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