The Sexes: Hormones in the White House

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"I wouldn't see anything wrong with a woman President," Democrat Patsy Mink said after her 1964 election to Congress. Dr. Edgar Berman, Hubert Humphrey's personal physician and confidant, sees plenty wrong with a female Chief Executive. When he said so to the Congresswoman from Hawaii at a meeting of the Democratic Party's Committee on National Priorities, he set Washington abuzz and feminists afire.

Dr. Berman argued that women are limited in their leadership potential by physiological and psychological factors, especially during the menstrual cycle and menopause. "Suppose," he speculated, "that we had a menopausal woman President who had to make the decision of the Bay of Pigs or the Russian contretemps with Cuba at the time?" She might be "subject to the curious mental aberrations of that age group.'"

Old Bugaboo. Mrs. Mink, 42, turned in her fury to Humphrey, who, she assumed, had appointed Berman to the committee (actually, it was Fred Harris, former Democratic National Committee chairman). Demanding Herman's ouster, she called him a "bigot," guilty of "the basest sort of prejudice against women . . . His use of the menstrual cycle and menopause to ridicule women and to caricature all women as neurotic and emotionally unbalanced was as indefensible and astonishing as those who still believe, let alone dare state, that the Negro is physiologically inferior." Betty (The Feminine Mystique) Friedan, former president of the National Organization for Women, labeled the doctor's viewpoint "medieval."

Representative Shirley Chisholm sent her own letter to Humphrey asking for the doctor's resignation. Journalist Gloria Steinem echoed the demand with a petition. Even Dr. Herman's wife got in on the act: when asked about his statements, she replied, "If he really said that, I would disagree with him."

Humphrey denied any responsibility for appointing Dr. Berman and bucked the issue back to his friend. Medical colleagues suggested that Berman was overstating an old bugaboo and that he stick to surgery instead of straying into gynecology. Said Yale's Dr. Nathan Kase: "I don't think menopause is necessarily as common a disruption as, let's say, a headache." Whatever hormonal imbalances occur can be treated with medication, much like diabetes. But Berman, an early heart-transplant experimenter, soon drew blood again. He termed the Mink letter to Humphrey "a typical example of an ordinarily controlled woman under the raging hormonal imbalance of the periodical lunar cycle."

Nonetheless, Dr. Berman's cycle as a member of the Committee on National Priorities had ended. Lamenting that "the whole world seems to be uptight," he resigned, still insisting that women "are different."