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EQUALITY WATCH : 'Lovely Ladies'

September 23, 1990

Sometimes there's a fine line between courtly condescension and patronizing politesse, but Sen. Strom Thurmond of South Carolina tripped across it the other day. Maybe he didn't mean to.

From his elevated perch in a hearing room in Washington, the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee was oozing charm and listening to testimony on the Supreme Court nomination of David H. Souter. So when it came his turn to question a witness, it must have come as a shock to him that the minute he closed his mouth, it got so quiet you could hear a hatpin drop.

All he said was: "Mr. Chairman, we've got a lovely group of ladies here. We thank you for your presence. I have no questions."

The misguided gallantry was directed at five women who were there to say that they did not trust the nominee on an issue they consider a woman's ultimate right: to decide, without government hindrance, whether to bear a child.

It was directed at five women who have spent most of their adult lives scrapping for the right to think for themselves, the right to be called women--not "lovely ladies"--and the right to other sharp departures from male domination.

One of the women bristled openly about the remark, as if to suggest that they were also insisting on the right not to be patronized.

Women won't tolerate not being taken seriously and tend not to mind their manners when they think they're being trifled with.

It's sure hard to blame them for that.

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