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Jewish World Review June 28, 2001/ 7 Tamuz 5761

Kathleen Parker

Kathleen Parker
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Consumer Reports

Social hangover: Mixing beer, girls, politics

http://www.jewishworldreview.com --
LIFE'S tough for good ol' boys, and it just got tougher in South Carolina where politicians are learning - if not teaching - that words matter.

In two separate incidents in recent weeks, some of the state's highest-profile leaders have been caught engaging in the sort of locker-room banter that used to pass for guy-talk but that now borders on sexual harassment. Both have made local headlines; both have shed light on the dainty line that divides forgivable, light-hearted humor and insensitive, inappropriate innuendo.

The first incident earlier this month revolved around a memo describing appropriate attire for female pages. Apparently, young women don't know anymore what constitutes "work wear" and show up sometimes looking like they're contestants on "The Dating Game." Some of them have been sent home to change for violating the state's dress code - no cleavage and no skirts higher than four inches above the knee.

Soon thereafter, another memo from the fictitious "Men's Caucus" surfaced, urging female pages to feel free to wear skimpy clothes and, optionally, to leave out the underwear. (Second-graders begin giggling here.)

That memo prompted Democrat Gov. Jim Hodges' speechwriter to remark that some members of the House were "cavemen," which, though factually true, prompted Republican House Speaker David Wilkins to demand an investigation of the speechwriter's remark. Not to be outdone, Hodges demanded an investigation into the identity of the "Men's Caucus" memo.

In other words, the past few weeks have confirmed that our nation is in pretty good shape. When public discourse devolves to the level of dueling memos over women's attire requiring the involvement of a governor and speaker, one can surmise that hunger and pestilence are under control.

Most normal people were beginning to lose interest in the largely ridiculous overreaction to a silly prank by the maturity-impaired when two other leading political operatives decided to remind Americans why South Carolina is often described as "too small to be a nation, too large to be an insane asylum."

At a Boys' State gathering of 800 rising high-school seniors, the chairmen of the two political parties engaged in a foot-eating contest over which party offered the best access to beer and women. First came Democrat Dick Harpootlian, who told the boys they could win $3,000 or $4,500 lottery scholarships - "That can buy a lot of beer and girls."

Later, he remarked that though Democrats and Republicans might have philosophical differences, they largely "agree on beer and girls." The boys reportedly thought this was humorous, which it probably was, and cheered.

Keep in mind, this conference was taking place at The Citadel. A young friend of mine in attendance, Lan Holloway, described the meeting as an odd blend of cheerleading and boot camp. Much of the boys' time was spent inventing cheers, he said, while bedtime and wake-up were announced with a bugle call.

Meanwhile, the boys did calisthenics in the Quad, marched to meetings, pledged allegiance "about every 13 seconds," amid frequent reminders that it's honorable to die for one's country. No doubt a little beer 'n girls humor came as a welcome relief.

But relief turned to disbelief when Republican Party chairman Henry McMaster, not to be outdone by his political nemesis, said that Democrats like beer and girls, but Republicans like "cold beer and hot girls." Whoa, Henry, calm down.

At this point, Holloway says he leaned over to the fellow next to him and whispered, "I'll bet he's going to regret saying that." Out of the mouth of one male babe comes greater wisdom than lately has occurred to these two seasoned politicians. The men - how do we say it? - made some bad choices.

I admit to a higher threshold than most for sex-related offense. I've been known to shrug off most of what passes for sexual harassment these days and am guilty of laughing at most bawdy jokes. In the context in which these remarks were offered, I probably would have laughed, too.

Nevertheless, under the harsh light of Monday morning, they were inappropriate. If there's any lesson we should be teaching our children, it is that there's a time and place for everything. At this time, when boys and girls are struggling with sexuality and mutual respect - at a gathering of young men in search of political role models - it was irresponsible to dismissively equate beer and girls.

When these good young boys become men, they can swill beer and make sexist remarks all they want, but never at work. That would have been a worthwhile lesson at Boys' State. Too bad no one knew how to teach it.


JWR contributor Kathleen Parker can be reached by clicking here.

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