Why Women Finally Are Winning

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This has been declared the "Year of the Woman," the others having for millenniums belonged to the men. From Geraldine Ferraro in the East to Dianne Feinstein in the West, with plenty more in between, female candidates are challenging the principle that it takes a real manto bounce checks and deliver monologues on C-SPAN. Some observers are already heralding the feminist revolution in which, after centuries of producing the babies that male politicians are required to kiss and attempting to humanize such characters as George Bush and Michael Dukakis, women will finally seize power for themselves. But the optimists are forgetting what might be called Murphy's Law of feminist struggle -- if the very word Murphy hadn't become so politically charged in the past few weeks -- which goes like this: When women get to take over some field of human endeavor, it is usually because that field has been downgraded to the level of broom pushing.

Clerical work is the classic example -- a once prestigious occupation for males that was rendered female and unremunerative in one fell swoop roughly 70 years ago. Even child rearing may be a case in point. The courts started favoring mothers in child-custody suits soon after the turn of the century, which was about the time child labor was outlawed. Women got to keep the kids, in other words, just as they ceased to be moneymakers and became the tiny parasites clamoring for Nintendo that we know so well today.

The same principle applies to religion: by the time women climbed into the pulpit, the real action in the religion business had shifted to televangelists in their TV studios. Or the military: just as women finally got to participate in combat-like roles, the old heroic concept of war was replaced by televised fireworks and the mass bulldozing of enemy infantry.

The list goes on. Women poured into the legal profession only to find that Dan Quayle, Esq., had got there ahead of them, and was campaigning for Malthusian measures to shrink the profession. Or they elbowed their way into male-only clubs -- where they found the huge leather armchairs empty and the air strangely clear of cigar smoke. The men had already run off to the woods, half naked, to pound on drums with Robert Bly.

Most analysts hesitate, of course, to attribute the Year of the Woman to the mounting worthlessness of political endeavor. More commonly, they point to the restiveness of the female electorate, for which we can thank those great feminist organizers -- Clarence Thomas and William Kennedy Smith. We all recall the Hill-Thomas hearings and the ineradicable image of 14 white men forcing one petite black woman to recount porn-movie plots over and over while they endeavored to keep from licking their lips.

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