The B word

For women in the public eye, there's no end to the verbal abuse

I've been trying to recall if, in the distant days of my journalistic training, I ever received any guidance on what to do when the speaker of the U.S. House calls the first lady "a bitch." I know it wasn't covered in Reporting 101, and I don't think we addressed it in Theories of Communication either.

There are many things on which I have never felt compelled to have an opinion. Interspecies dating. The metric system. Is God punishing us? But such is the state of our times that it is apparently impossible not to have an opinion about what Mrs. Gingrich said Mr. Gingrich called Mrs. Clinton.

The first part is a no-brainer: Connie Chung and CBS never should have put the quote on the air. Some of us in this business have been willing to go to jail to protect sources who give us information off the record. Every time any journalist anywhere screws a source like that, it makes it harder for the rest of us to do our jobs.

Reporters have a special obligation to protect those who are not media sophisticates but just average folks who for one reason or another wind up in the spotlight. Political reporters call such nonpoliticians "civilians," and just because a civilian doesn't know some state-of-the-art term--such as "This is strictly off the record"--doesn't mean you have any right to violate her intent.

(As we all know, when two girls are having a good gossip and the first one says, "I can't tell you what Newtie said about her," it means she's just dying to have the second one beg, "Oh, tell me, do tell me." But that's beside the point.)

But now that the "bitch" comment is out there, and we all have to develop an opinion about it (I say "have to" because in the gigantic opinion-manufacturing industry, there is a tremendous demand for same), let us attempt to parse this thorny issue.

According to Kathleen Gingrich, the foundation for Newt Gingrich's conclusion that Hillary Rodham Clinton is a bitch is "He was in a meeting with her, and she came in and just took over." We can reasonably assume that this meeting was about the Clinton health-care reform proposal because that's the only topic on which Clinton has met with congresspersons. Further, since Clinton was the chair of the health-care reform task force, we can also assume she was there to brief ol' Newtie, et al, on the task-force proposal. In other words, she was supposed to be running the meeting.

Does the fact that a woman takes over a meeting she is supposed to be chairing make her a bitch? I assume we all conclude not.

So how is Clinton, having been called a bitch for doing something both proper and sensible, supposed to respond? Name-calling is undignified and futile. Besides, as Barbara Ehrenreich points out, there is no equivalent insult for males. To call a man a bastard or an SOB is to insult his parentage, not him.

To be called a bitch by Newt Gingrich is, of course, something one should immediately add to one's resume under the section "Honors." I can see it on Hillary Clinton's resume now:

"Named one of 20 most outstanding young lawyers in America by the Bar Association.

"Received many awards for years of devoted volunteer work on behalf of children.

"Was once called a bitch by Newt Gingrich."
But the truth is that women cringe when called that charming name. Our first impulse is protest: "Oh no, I'm really not like that at all. I love children, I'm kind to animals, and I work so hard not to hurt people's feelings."

And then, inevitably, we wonder what's wrong with us (not the asshole who called us the name), and worry about how we can "soften our image" and assure people that we really are kind and gentle and all the stuff we're supposed to be. We wear pink, curl our hair, and go to great lengths so people won't think we are--God forbid--lesbian. Same old trying-to-please trap.

For women in the public eye, there is no end to the censure, second-guessing, nit-picking, and crude abuse. Can you imagine trying to please someone whose ideas on gender are as daffy as Newt Gingrich's? If you have not seen the full quote from Gingrich about women in trenches and cavemen-piglets hunting giraffes (giraffes?!), you really must go back and look it up. This poor man is not only hopelessly muddled about gender; he seems to have gotten his ideas about anthropology from "The Flintstones."

Every woman--yes, every woman--who runs for office, tries for a promotion, speaks out in opposition, prosecutes O.J. Simpson, disciplines a student, points out a man's error, takes over a company, complains about bad service, or (so help me, this is true) puts a male caller on hold is at high risk of being called a bitch.

It may hurt, but none of us has yet considered it sufficient reason to stop living. Grow up, Newt. Get over it.

Mexico has a short-term liquidity crisis, and the only thing preventing it from becoming an economic disaster is the Clinton administration's promise of $40 billion in loan guarantees.

As former U.S. Trade Representative Carla Hills put it, using FDR's old Lend-Lease image: if your neighbor's house is burning, of course you lend him your hose. Otherwise, your own house could go next as the fire moves through the neighborhood.

Enter the political geeks from D.C. The minute word spread that Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole suggested that the loan guarantees be made contingent on Mexico's changing its banking system, you could hear the moan all along the border: "Oooooooooh, nooooooo!" Lesser political lights have also popped up to say the loan guarantees should be contingent on changes in Mexico's immigration policies or drug policies or political reforms or labor standards. When will we ever learn?

Anyone who has spent time in Mexico or read Mexican history knows what a prescription for catastrophe such suggestions are. Mexico's current economic pickle is actually a reflection of its long-term political problems, and if you want to pour high-test gasoline on that particular fire, just try this kind of high-handed butting in.

Molly Ivins is a columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Copyright 1995 Creators Syndicate, Inc.

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