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Jewish World Review Sept. 12, 2000/ 11 Elul, 5760

Suzanne Fields

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Consumer Reports

Sex in the eye of the partisan -- WHO GETS the women's vote? That's the question towering over the stretch of the presidential campaign. Some late polls suggest that a gender gap -- men for the Republicans, women for the Democrats -- has become a permanent feature of the landscape, and that George W.'s early lead among women was an unnatural act.

Part of the answer may lie in what the meaning of "women'' is.

Married women vote differently from single women. (Now that Gloria Steinem is married, will she change her politics?) Rich women vote differently from poor women. Women who drive more SUVs vote differently from women who drive station wagons. The childless vote differently from mothers with a handful of children and grandmothers with grown children.

"Women of color'' traditionally vote differently from white women, but specific race and ethnicity play a part, too. Do beautiful women vote like plain women? The gorgeous Bo Derek stood out at the Republican convention and Christie Brinkley was a knock-out at the Democratic convention, but you could find lots of plain women in both Philadelphia and Los Angeles, though the stars mostly come out in Southern California.

When women talk about likability in a candidate they're probably responding to sex appeal, although it's not fashionable now to call it that. When the Women's Independent Forum asked pundits what to look for in the debates, women addressed something called the masculinity factor.

Kate O'Beirne, editor of National Review, recalls how Al Gore joined a discussion group of women, sponsored by the Oxygen network and described as a way for the candidate to "get in touch with his feminine side.'' It was a good thing he wore a concealing blazer over his knitted earth tones, she said, because "by the end of an hour and a half spent pandering and patronizing the female audience, he must have been lactating.'' Mary Matalin, the Republican half of Mr. and Mrs. James Carville, mocked Al for his remark that he has to practice at being "authentic.'' Authenticity practice, most people would say, is an oxymoron.

George W. won 49 percent of the women's vote when he first ran for governor against Ann Richards, and 60 percent when he won his second term. He won on issues and personality.

In a campaign when most everything is canned or scripted for a particular kind of political impact -- even how a candidate kisses his wife -- it's a relief to some of us to hear a spontaneous outburst of male anger. George W.'s contemptuous put-down of a reporter famous for his whining ways, was reminiscent of Harry Truman who said what he thought and peppered his speech with "damns'' and "hells,'' and who once shocked a demure lady Democrat by describing a foe's speech as "horse manure.'' When the lady suggested to the first lady that she ought to clean up her husband's language, Mrs. Truman replied: "My dear, You don't know how many years it took me get him to say `manure.' ''

Masculinity, like femininity, changes with the forms of fashion. Mrs. George Washington, more generous than some wives, cut a lock of her husband's hair for one of the president's admirers. Then, with a wifely flair, she cut a lock of her own hair and included it in the gift. Thomas Jefferson's would have suffered mightily today for his high-pitched voice. He hated public speaking, but he was a notable success with the ladies because he excelled with wit and intellect in the drawing room. William Henry Harrison tested his toughness and manhood against the expectations of his day with a two-hour inaugural address on a cold and blustery March day, standing bareheaded without gloves or overcoat. He died of pneumonia a month later. Ronald Reagan canceled the parade at his second inaugural when the temperature fell close to zero.

Perhaps the most macho president of all was Andrew Jackson, author of many "youthful indiscretions,'' including brawls, duels, cuttings and shootings, some in chivalrous defense of his wife Rachel's honor.

Of course, there was no women's vote then. The image of masculinity lay in the eyes of the partisan. Supporters of Jackson saw him as decisive, fearless and a down-to-earth leader. His enemies described him as reckless, wrong-headed and fuzzy. Sounds downright contemporary.


09/07/00: 'Sex and death' on the college campus
09/05/00: Joe Lieberman as a 'Menorah Man'
08/31/00: Rising suns of the conventions
08/17/00: Changing icons: From Loretta Young to Hillary Clinton
08/14/00: The Creator returns to the public square
08/10/00: Bursting with pride, but caution too
08/07/00: Brains, beauty and beastly politics
08/03/00: A candidate with a superego
07/31/00: The sizzling Lynne Cheney
07/27/00: The party of the aging Playboys
07/24/00 Hillary drives the Jewish wagon into a ditch
07/20/00 Conservatives gone fishin'
07/17/00: Snoop Doggy Dogg was a founding father, wasn't he?
07/13/00: When a teenager doesn't need a prime minister
07/10/00: Abortion as cruel and unusual punishment
07/06/00: Surviving 'survivor' TV
07/03/00: Independence Day with Norman Rockwell
06/29/00: Here comes 'something old'
06/26/00: Waiting too long for the baby
06/22/00: Good teachers, curious students and oxymorons
06/19/00: Wanted: Some ants for Gore's pants
06/15/00: Like father, like daughter
06/12/00: Culture wars and conservative warriors
06/08/00: Return of the housewife
06/05/00: Hillary and Al -- playing against type
05/31/00: The sexual revolution confronts the SUV
05/25/00: Waiting for the movie
05/22/00: Pistol packin' mamas
05/18/00: Journalists and the 'new time' religion
05/15/00: There's nothing like a (military) dame
05/11/00: 'The Human Stain' on campus
05/09/00: We've come a long way, Betty Friedan
05/04/00: From George Washington to Mansa Masu
05/01/00: Gore's ruthless doublespeak
04/28/00: Doing it Castro's way
04/24/00: Women's studies beget narrow minds
04/17/00: The slippery slope of anti-Semitism
04/13/00: A villain larger than life
04/10/00: When mourning becomes an economic tragedy
04/03/00: The last permissible bigotry
03/30/00: Seeking the political Oscar
03/23/00: The gaying of America
03/20/00: Pointy-eared quadrupeds on campus
03/16/00: The shocking art of the establishment
03/13/00: Sawdust on the campaign trail
03/10/00: Campaign rhetoric of manhood
03/06/00: The Amphetamine of the People
03/02/00: Elegy for Amadou
02/29/00: With only a million, what's a poor girl to do?
02/24/00: The changing politics of change
02/16/00: Tip from Hillary: 'Let 'em eat eggs'
02/10/00: No seances with Eleanor
02/07/00: Campaigning like our founding fathers
02/03/00: When neo-Nazis have short memories
01/31/00: George W. -- 'Ladies man' and 'man's man'
01/27/00: Dead white males and live white politicians
01/25/00: Smarting over presidential smarts
01/21/00: A post-modern song for `The Sopranos'
01/19/00: When personality is a long-distance plus
01/13/00: French lessons in amour --- and marriage
01/10/00: Reaching for the Big Golden Apple
01/07/00: Liddy Dole as the face of feminism
01/04/00: Hillary: From victim to victor
12/30/99: 'Dream catchers' for the millennium
12/27/99: In search of a candidate with strength and eloquence
12/21/99: The president as First Lady
12/16/99: Columbine with blurred hindsight
12/09/99: Homeless deserve discriminating attention
12/07/99: Casual censors and deadly know-nothings
12/02/99: Why mom didn't make general: A reality tale
11/30/99: Potholes on the road to the Promised Land
11/25/99: A feast for the spirit and the stomach
11/23/99: Fathers need to say 'I (can) do'
11/18/99: Adventures of a conservative pundit
11/15/99: Traveling with Jefferson on the information highway
11/11/99: Wanted: 'Foliage of forbiddinness' for the oval office
11/09/99: Eggs, art and rotten commerce
11/05/99: Al Gore, 'Alpha Male'. Bow wow.
11/01/99: Gay love
10/28/99: Lose one Dole, lose two
10/26/99: Rebels with a violent cause
10/21/99: Reforming parents, reforming schools
10/19/99: The male mystique -- he shops
10/13/99:The campaign of the Teletubbies
10/08/99: Money is in the eye of the art dealer
10/01/99: Lincoln's 'Almost Chosen People'
09/29/99: Introducing Bill and Hillary Bickerson
09/27/99: Must we wait for the next massacre?
09/24/99: Miss America meets Miss'd America
09/21/99: Princeton's 'professor death'
09/16/99: The Cisneros lesson
09/13/99: No clemency for personal politics
09/08/99: M-M-M is for manhood
08/30/99: Blocking the schoolhouse door
08/27/99: No kick from cocaine
08/23/99: Movies don't kill people
08/19/99: A rude awakening
08/16/99: Dubyah and that 'language' thing
08/09/99: Chauvinist sows -- oink oink

©1999, Suzanne Fields. Distributed by Los Angeles Times Syndicate