I CAN'T REMEMBER her name, or even what she looked like.I can remember that she was tall and she lived in a brick house with a screen door. I remember, too, that she had been described to me as having a good personality. I was young and in high school and I did not yet know that phrase meant I found out when I opened the screen door. It meant ugly.
I remember that we strolled down the walk from her house to the car where my friend and his date were waiting I sort of hung my head low, not really sure if the situation was funny or said. My friend took care of that. At some point when the girl I was with wasn't looking, he stuck his fingers into his mouth, pulled his lips wide and made a face. Three of us laughed. The girl I was with didn't know that the joke was on her, but in a moment she was laughing with us anyway.
I have always thought that that's the way it is with ugly women - the joke's on them. There's probably something worse than being an ugly woman, but offhand I can't think what it could be. It's probably something of a personal tragedy - a private horror of lonely weekends and half-heard snickers picked up as you walk by.
What brings this up at the moment is the case involving Charlotte Horowitz, a Washington woman who was expelled from medical school in Missouri. The case in an interesting one and it now revolves around the legal issue of whether the medical school should have employed due process in giving Horowitz the gate. That's the legal issue. The other issue is a bit complicated than that. It has to do with the ugliness.
The University of Missouri school of medicine says it expelled Horowitz for four reasons - reasons ranging from alleged lack of clinical ability, which is serious, to her personal hygiene, which is also serious.It was alleged in court documents that she showed at times with a yellowed lab coat, that she had dirt under her fingernails and that she was unsanitary. She says otherwise. She says in effect that she's ugly.
In fact , Horowitz's lawyer called witnesses to testify to his client's ugliness. One of them said that she was the joke of the medical school. He testified that people made jokes behind her back, that they didn't want anything to do with her. The court record goes on this way. It contains testimony that Horowitz is unkempt, overweight and unattractive.
The legal issue is an interesting one. Horowitz says she was told to leave the school without being afforded a hearing-due process. She was 33 years old at the time, due for graduation and had received top grades in most of her subjects. Her life was profoundly changed by the decision of the school and it seems to me tha at the very least the school owed her more of an explanation than a summons to the dean's office and a piece of paper telling her to be on her way.
That's the easy issue. What's not so easy to handle is what she has to say about how men respond to ugly women. When I read the original story about Horowitz in the Sunday paper. I was shocked by those descriptions of her as unkept, overweight, unattractive. What shocked me even more was that these descriptions were coming from witnesses called by her lawyer - witnesses friendly to her. What she was trying to prove was that being ugly was like being obnoxious - people hated you for it.
At first I had nothing but admiration for her. I thought that she valued the legal issue so smuch that she was willing to go before the court and says she was done in because of her looks. It's a rare woman, or man, who could say that. The thing is, I think she's got a point. I think that men really can't deal with ugly women I know I have trouble, and I know that an ugly woman doctor would upset me much more than an ugly man doctor.
So I called Horowitz and one of the things I wanted to know was what it was like to admit your ugliness in court papers. Most people, after all, never acknowledge that sort of thing. Like the girl in the car when I was in high school, they never know what the joke's about. So I asked Horowitz and what she said was that she didn't like the newspaper story one bit. She had not expected when she filed suit that the case would go to the Supreme Court and that she would wind up on page one. Besides, she differed with some of what was said about her.
"I don't consider myself that unattractive anyway," she said.
We talked a bit more, mostly about case and the book she planned to write and then we hung up the phone. I never got to see her, but I can tell you this much.
She's got a nice personality.