Bimbo stereotype is maddening offshoot of male body politic

ALICE STEINBACH

February 11, 1993|By ALICE STEINBACH

In the most recent installment of the ongoing series, Nannygate, we were presented with a bizarre, new twist in the plot.

It seems that although Judge Kimba Wood, last week's failed contender for the job of Attorney General, didn't have the "Zoe Baird problem," she nonetheless had a "problem."

Call it Bunnygate.

In this shocking new development we learn that Kimba Wood, who withdrew her name from consideration for the A.G. position, had a secret past.

We learned this when some unidentified sources at the White House -- responding to Wood's withdrawal -- took it upon themselves to leak some decades-old information from her personal files.

The New York Times broke the story, writing: "The White House officials said they had also discovered recently that Ms. Wood had briefly trained as a Playboy bunny years ago when she was a student in London and that they feared that that might become the source of jokes."

And wouldn't you know it? On the same day this news about Wood's past surfaced, there was old Ross Perot, up at some rally in Maine, describing Kimba Wood this way: "That woman who said she trained to be a Playboy bunny, but never worked as one? That's like saying you smoked and never inhaled."

So far, I am not amused.

In fact, I'm starting to get real tired of this ethical cleansing test that the White House seems to be applying, mostly, to women candidates for high level positions. Many male politicians, as we know all too well, could never pass such a test.

But there's something particularly infuriating about this Playboy bunny tale. For one thing, it is so clearly sexist.

What, one wonders, would the male equivalent be? Would, for instance, Ed Meese have been discredited if it was found out he trained to dance with the Chippendales?

The truth is: There is no exact counterpart to the sexist attitudes and innuendo that lie buried in the association of Kimba Wood with a Playboy bunny. It is a nasty, negative attitude, one that both demeans and trivializes women. And it is disturbing and saddening to confront so openly its continuing existence in politics.

For proof that such an attitude still exists, one need look no further than the recent appearance of Republican strategist Roger Ailes on the "Today" show.

When asked by Bryant Gumbel if he, Ailes, were bothered by the fact that Kimba Wood had spent more time interviewing for the Attorney General job with Hillary Clinton than with Bill Clinton, Mr. Ailes replied: "It bothered Hillary. Because Kimba's a lot prettier."

Excuse me? Have I gone mad or is the answer given by Ailes a total non sequitur? Or, to be more accurate: Is it a totally sexist non sequitur?

Question: Why do we let men in public life -- or those who advise men in public life -- get away with this kind of sexist stuff? Here, for instance, are a few views on women from politicians:

"Do you know why God created women? Because sheep can't type," said Texas state Sen. Kenneth Armbrister in 1989.

"The difference between rape and seduction is salesmanship," said Independence, Mo.'s, Mayor Bill Carpenter in 1990.

"[My wife] has a very major cause and a very major interest that is a very complex and consuming issue with her. And that's me," said Vice President Dan Quayle in 1989.

"The weather is like rape: If it's inevitable, just relax and enjoy it," said Clayton Williams, Republican candidate for governor of Texas, in 1990.

Of course, one could make the point that Clayton Williams probably can chalk up his political defeat by Ann Richards to the blatant, offensive sexism conveyed in such a remark.

On the other hand, the sexism embedded in associating Kimba Wood with the Playboy bunny stereotype is far more subtle. More complex, too.

Such a linking may seem innocuous enough at first glance. But a closer reading suggests it represents perhaps the ugliest of all sexist attitudes: the one that has to do with sexuality. With bimbo sexuality. A woman is a Playboy bunny, therefore, she's sexually available.

The guys in the White House probably understood this, in a dim sort of way. And it probably underlies their uneasy sense that Kimba Wood could become a joke.

The truth is, sexual innuendo is a fact of life for most women. Let's just hope the boys in charge of our country put away their Playboy magazines soon and grow up.

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