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TV REVIEW : 'Gender'--From a Liberal View

January 23, 1991|MARTIN ZIMMERMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

"Gender: The Enduring Paradox," which launches "Smithsonian World's" sixth season tonight at 8 on Channels 15 and 28, is an exercise in politically correct thinking.

A look at the significance of gender in American society from the formation of sexual roles in early childhood to the ideas of masculinity and femininity that shape and inform our adult experiences, "Gender" is an unabashed call for a "democracy of gender"--an appeal that we should all appreciate and share the gender-distinctive traits of the opposite sex. The show is a paean to the shibboleths of contemporary feminism and liberalism; there is no counterbalance, no dissenting opinion.

Nonetheless, "Gender" offers some pretty interesting stuff and tackles a number of important issues, among them each sex's perception of the other and the effect of the women's movement.

Producer-director Sandra Wentworth Bradley gives voice to an intriguing collection of poets, writers and academicians of both sexes. Their various opinions are interspersed with and reinforced by a now pompous, now profound mix of imagery, literature, drama and narration that alternates between irritating and insightful.

"Gender" also devotes a fair portion of its hour to showcasing the contrasting--and "politically" acceptable--attitudes of a few select other cultures.

One example: an anthropologist rhapsodizes that in many American Indian societies there "is more of a recognition that people differ in their gender roles" and that this "is something to be valued. It's part of the spiritual order of the universe." His definition of "valued" seems to be that not only should we respect these differences but that we should adopt the characteristics of the other gender. His point is "proven" by a segment featuring a Sioux poet who is berdache --a male who is androgynous in feeling, behavior and viewpoint. It's a given that this is a better way to live.

Oh, well, let the lefties have their fun. The most radical, profound insight "Gender" has to offer is based on the Golden Rule: "There," its narrator says at two different points, "but for a roll of the genetic dice" go you or I.

Not bad advice from an ancient male-dominated society. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Even if they are female. Or liberal.

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