THERE IS THIS MOVIE called "All About Eve" in which George Sanders plays a newspaper columnist who is forever saying things like "I'll ruin you in my column." I love it, and I have often dreamed of saying just that to rude bus drivers and spastic barbers and especially the cop who nailed me in the Duke Ellington Bridge speed trap, I've been able to ruin with my column is my sleep. The other day, for instance, I started off thinking I would love to ruin a certain hotel and would up concluding, instead, that women often treat other women in ways that men wouldn't dare.
This begins at a hotel where my wife and I recently vacationed and how this particular hotel had the nerve, the brass, the gall - consummate and otherwise - to add a 15 per cent tip to a tab after it had been signed. My wife had not left a tip because she had been ignored by the waitress, because she had to go to the bar to fetch her own drink and thought. Under the circumstances, that what the waitress deserved for taking the edge off a beautiful sunset was what we used to call a good stiffing. This is what the young woman got.
Now there are lots of principles involved here and I started to enumerate them in a letter to the hotel. I wrote about how you should not have to tip someone who has ignored you and how a hotel should not add to a tab after it has been signed and I had all of that in my head - all this gross indignation and urge-to-ruin-in-my-colum - when a friend of mine got off a plane from Chicago, see thing at the way she had been treated by a stewardess. There it was again - women treating women the way they would not treat men.
So I put down my letter, observed life around me and talked to some women. They all said I was on to something. When it comes to shabby treatment, they said, it takes another woman. Sometimes the difference between the way a woman will treat a man and the way she will treat a woman is subtle, sometimes a matter of what you might call vibes, but sometimes it is outrageous. Some women say they guard against this. They let other women know right off that they will not be trifled with, that they take this equality business seriously, that they are a bit mad on the subject and likely to do almost anything - yell, scream, hold their breath or bring suit.
There are, of course, a lot of factors at work here, some of it having to do with that well-known, if nonexistent, chemistry that exists between certain women - that business about cats and claws and that sort of stuff. Some of it, I suppose, is based on how some women think they are in competition with all other women for men or power or whatever, but some of it, I fear, is based on would want to call it. Even back when I was a waiter, it was a known fact or a true fact (I forget which is which) that women are not big tippers. In fact, a woman was more likely to stiff you than a military officer and I once saw a table full of women stay tow hours in a jazz joint and leave the waiter nothing but a handshake.
Something like that might be at work with stewardesses, also. If you are stewardess the one thing you could say about a woman passenger is that thre is far less chance that a half-hour of casual conversation while perched on her arm rest will result in either marriage or an affair in Hawaii. Some things you just know.
But neither economics nor love accounts for what happens in a social situation where women meet women they either don't know at all or know slightly. It turns out that there is nothing like a woman when it comes to snubbing another woman, when it comes to walking through a room glassy-eyed, able to see only men, explaining later, of course, that that was the night a contact lens was lost. No wonder you were not seen.
Now I understand this. Like the business with the waitresses and with the stewardesses it also makes some sense. Women also recognize that there is less chance that another woman at a party will be as important or influential as a man and in a lot of places, even Washington, power or influence is considered interesting. In this town politics and government dominate and men dominate politics and government. The woman, like the Buick parked outside, are there because the man of the house got an invitation.
Men recognize these factors, too. They know that the woman to their left is less likely to be an undersecretary of state than the man at their right, but if they act on that hunch, they are being male chauvinist pigs - typical male chauvinist pigs, as the saying goes. Men cannot do what women do and they cannot do it, probably, for the same reason that only Jews can talk about looking Jewish or blacks can use thw workd nigger on an other black. It has to do with crdentials - with having the ones that can certify you are not a bigot. If you do not have the proper credentials, if you are a man, you must approach every woman as a Madame Curie incarnate.
I'm not complaining. Prejudice is prejudice regardless of credentials if the end result is blind discrimination - seeing all women as wives or bad tippers or whatever and it makes no difference that the person doing the seeing is a woman herself. Some of them haven't learned a thing in the last 10 years.
Some of them are the last of the male chauvinist pigs.