Author Norman Mailer today explained the dearth of women panelists at the 48th International PEN Congress by declaring, "There are more men who are deeply interested in intellectual matters than women."

Noting that the panels at the conference were geared less to poets and writers than to theorists and critics, Mailer -- president of the congress -- said, "If there are not enough women who would be suited to these panels, why put them on? All we'd be doing is lowering the level of discussion."

The six-times married author of "Prisoner of Sex" was questioned about the issue after a group of women writers protested that only 16 of the 117 scheduled panelists are women.

The group, which included Grace Paley, Gail Sheehy and Betty Friedan, said in a statement, "We are outraged at PEN's failure to invite more women writers from all parts of the world."

The group demanded a "public explanation . . . for this failure" from Mailer, who has had famous scrapes with women over just such issues in the past.

In addition to his comment about women intellectuals, Mailer said the scarcity of women panelists was because nine women writers declined invitations to appear and because of the dearth of "developed women writers" in Latin America.

The women were given 20 minutes to discuss their grievances at a PEN session Friday.