Sexism or failure to communicate? CARROLL COUNTY

February 11, 1993

Carroll County Commissioner Elmer C. Lippy feels compelled to defend himself publicly against inferences that he is sexist. In recent weeks, the internal squabbling between the county's two male commissioners and the lone female commissioner has made headlines. Julia W. Gouge charged that Mr. Lippy and Donald I. Dell were not giving her fair treatment because she is a woman.

Does this mean Mr. Lippy is sexist? If you listen to Mr. Lippy, the disagreements the two male commissioners are having with Mrs. Gouge have more to do with personality clashes and a failure on everyone's part to communicate. The commissioners are strong-willed individuals who can't seem to agree on even mundane matters such as scheduling, staff assignments and meeting times. These disputes have nothing to do with whether the commissioners are male or female.

Certainly, Mr. Lippy has not been accused of doing what former Baltimore County delegate and judicial nominee John S. Arnick has been accused of doing -- making crude jokes and using gross, sexist language when discussing a serious public issue such as spouse abuse.

Mr. Lippy is an old-fashioned gentleman. A loquacious septuagenarian with a healthy self-deprecating sense of humor, he occasionally will put his foot in his mouth. But Mr. Lippy never intentionally uses language to offend others. On the contrary, the commissioner has made forceful public statements on several occasions condemning prejudice.

So what is all the fuss about? Mr. Lippy's defensiveness has to do with contemporary politics. Being labeled sexist today is akin to being called a liberal in the 1980s, a segregationist in the 1970s or a subversive in the 1950s. To be tagged with such a label is not good for one's political health. Mr. Lippy wants to ensure that the characterization doesn't stick to him.

Mrs. Gouge may think that her problems with her fellow commissioners stem from the fact that she is a woman. She is entitled to her view. But that doesn't make it so. If Mr. Lippy didn't get along with Mr. Dell, would that make him "anti-farmer"? The reason the commissioners don't mesh well doesn't originate with their gender; it is much more complicated. If they are to get along better, they must move beyond easy labels.

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