L. Neil Smith's
THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 128, July 2, 2001
Don't Make Fun of Feminists
by Gail Jarvis
Special to TLE
Government bodies are often wasteful and have a tendency to intrude upon our rights, those we have left. On the other hand, they occasionally provide us with comic relief and the present buffoonery at the South Carolina House of Representatives is a perfect example. But before I describe these incidents let me assure you that I am not making this up.
The current sideshow has the Women's Caucus pitted against the young female House pages or, more particularly, the pages' choice of clothing. The Women's Caucus considers the pages' outfits to be "skimpy" and demanded that the page supervisor issue a stern memo discouraging such attire.
The memo contained these directives; "No low-cut blouses or shirts that show your cleavage, and tops that are too tight will not be allowed. Skirts that are more than 4 inches above the knee will not be allowed. If you are not sure whether to wear something to work or not, then don't wear it. You will be sent home to change." Indeed, two female pages were sent home for "way-too-short skirts and a-little-too-low-cut blouses."
Naturally the pages were offended and wanted to tell their side of the story. But House pages are forbidden to make public statements or speak with reporters. However, one young lady decided to violate the prohibition in order to defend herself and her sister pages. She tried to explain that fashions for young women are different from fashions for professional and older women. She said, "Pages wear the clothes they have. We're in college. You can't go out and buy real nice suits."
But this Women's Caucus is hard to please. A few years ago they complained that only male pages were allowed at the Statehouse. This prevented female college students from learning about state politics. But the presence of female pages apparently hasn't pacified the Women' s Caucus. I don't know what their problem is. None of the men are complaining.
Well, human nature being what it is, some members of the House couldn't let the actions by the Women's Caucus go unanswered. So another memo regarding dress code appeared. This anonymous memo purported to be from the "Men's Caucus", an organization no one had heard of before. And, obviously, a caucus exclusively for males would not be allowed. Caucuses are only permitted for females, minorities and other groups; mostly groups that males oppress.
The "Men's Caucus" memo contained these directives: "Pages will receive additional merit pay for economizing and saving valuable materials used in blouse construction. Hose are clearly optional. Undergarments are also optional. Dresses should be no longer than 4 inches above the knee. The terms "babe," "honey," "sugar" and "little missy" should be accepted as compliments and terms of endearment. Any future memos from the Women's Caucus concerning attire can hereby be completed ignored."
Obviously, this memo, admittedly a little crude and sophomoric, was a tongue-in-cheek attempt at humor but the reaction from the Women's Caucus may be summed up in four words; "We are not amused!"
Nor was the Governor amused. After being bombarded with complaints from members of the Women's Caucus, he issued this public statement. "I find the contents of this anonymous memorandum despicable. Moreover, I am concerned that the circulation of this memorandum might have created a hostile and offensive working environment for female employees of the House of Representatives in violation of state and federal law."
Then the Governor asked the State Human Affairs Commission to investigate the matter and to request the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to conduct an outside inquiry.
Apparently the Governor's actions energized do-gooders in and around the Capitol and brought them into the fray; much to the delight of the news media.
The Director of the S.C. Commission on Women claimed that the "men's memo" was "sexual harassment, period." She added, "...it can't be ignored. We ignored it for too long."
The Associate Director of the Women's Studies program at the University of South Carolina was enraged by the "men's caucus" memo. She claimed, "It implied that the Legislature belonged to the men."
The House Democratic Caucus publicly demanded that the guilty parties confess. Of course, they assumed that no Democrat could possibly commit such a sexist act. Also a political website was created listing possible suspects involved in the writing of the memo.
A member of the Women's Caucus called for an investigation by the House Ethics Committee, which has the resources of the State Law Enforcement Division at its disposal.
The Governor's speechwriter fired off an unauthorized memo calling male members of the House "cavemen." This caused the State Human Affairs Commission to ask the federal government to investigate the speechwriter's "cavemen" memo.
The chagrined Governor suspended his speechwriter for three days without pay.
To make matters worse, these cartoonish events took place during the annual Girls' State Week at the Capitol with 460 high-school girls attending to see how state government works. I suspect they learned things that won't be found in their textbooks.
As I write this, the page fracas is in its fourth week and showing no signs of a let-up. The State Human Affairs Commission and the EEOC are conducting their investigations. The do-gooders are still posturing and publicly mouthing their pious recriminations. A member of the Women's Caucus is calling for modest uniforms for female pages, paid for by State funds of course. And one representative has asked the State to implement "workplace sensitivity training for House members and staff."
Well, you've got to love this ongoing carnival. But while we may be amused we know this is just another example of "Our tax dollars at work." The matter will eventually be resolved and we'll have to look elsewhere for entertainment.
However, there might be other unanticipated problems at the Statehouse especially with communications. For example, when a new legislative procedure manual is distributed to House members, the transmittal memo should avoid language such as "Please don't bend your pages over." Also, when two members are involved in a telephone discussion regarding the details of a proposed law it would be highly inappropriate to ask, "Which page are you on?"
But we shouldn't anticipate problems. The current conflict is enough to hold our attention and it does offer at least one plus. It distracts representatives from their efforts to propose more laws and more bureaucratic regulations.