I'M HAVING A FANTASY: I have just been elected to Congress to fill the remaining months of a deceased member's term and the first task before me is to hire a staff. My top aide goes out and hires two handsome single men. My husband hits the ceiling. He remembers the Liz Ray-Wayne Hays scandal and all the other congressional escapades we've been hearing about in recent years, and he says, "No. You can't have any attractive, single men on the staff. It's dangerous. Either the men go or it's a divorce."
This fantasy is brought to you courtesy of a Washington Post story by T. R. Reid last week, in which he brings to Washington "l'affaire Hutchinson" -- which has had Charleston, W.Va., atwitter for weeks. There are, of course, two versions to this story. The first comes from Lawrence Conques, the erstwhile administrative assistant to John G. Hutchinson, a Democrat elected to complete the term of John M. Slack.
Conques was assigned to put the Hutchinson staff together. For the jobs of caseworker and secretary receptionist, he recommended two single women in their mid-20s who had experience on the Hill. At first, Hutchinson agreed to hire them but then, according to Conques, Mrs. Hutchinson put her foot down. "Either these girls had to go or it was a divorce," said Conques.
According to Rep. Hutchinson's version of the story, he and his wife agreed together that no young, single women would be hired. "We think the publicity and the carrying-on of some members of Congress have been inexcusable," Hutchinson told Reid. "My wife and I decided before we ever got to Washington that we would not hire any baby dolls."
To that end, Hutchinson wrote Conques a memo, detailing the guidelines for his office staff. Among them: women should be 35 to 40 years old, or older, and preferably married. No baby dolls, in other words.
Now l'affaire Hutchinson raises some intriguing questions, not the least of which are just who got appointed to Congress -- Mr. and Mrs., two for the price of one, or just Mr. -- and who trusts whom in that marriage? Beyond that, there seems to be the little matter of looks and how women are, once again, being judged on the basis of their looks. This time, it's doing them out of a job.
It seems that the Hutchinsons have decided that the way to get rid of sex on Capitol Hill is to get rid of the baby dolls. Just hire plain, older women who won't be such a temptation to men; the idea being, apparently, that a womanizing man is going to mend his ways if there aren't any baby dolls around.
But what does this Hutchinson hiring formula tell us about women? It tells us, first off, that young, attractive women have little else on their minds besides you-know-what. attractive young men, on the other hand, are go-getters, people to watch. Attractive young women are -- and for once this overworked term is not loosely used -- sex objects. The flip-side of this coin is that those 35-to-40-year old, preferably married, women are not going to ignite sparks in the office anymore. Apparently Rep. and Mrs. Hutchinson have decided that women in that age bracket have lost interest in sex.
Now no one would ever be caught dead hinting that married men in their mid-30s or 40s have gotten to such a point of diminished libido that they can't still be tempted, let alone chase. But it seems that the Hutchinsons have concluded that women who have reached that point in life are, sex-wise at least, over the hill. Think of it: sexually dead at the age of 40.
This should not take away too much from what the Hutchinsons are trying to do. It is rather irritating to discover that $14,000 of our tax money was going toward subsidizing Wayne Hays' sex life and that his certifiable baby doll, Liz Ray, was doing nothing for Hays' constituents and everything for Hays. And that was 1976, when $14,000 was still $14,000. So there is something rather refreshing, if naive, about a congressman coming to Washington and making a point of having a clean-living, morally pure office staff.
But Rep. and Mrs. Hutchinson have run afoul of their good intentions. There is such a thing as age discrimination and it can work both ways -- up and down. But beyond that, there is a reason why we have laws against age discrimination and sex discrimination and race discrimination. It's because we have this old-fashioned idea in this country that the fair basis for hiring people is not how they look, but how they can do the job.
If Rep. and Mrs. Hutchinson can set their stereotypes about women aside for awhile, they might realize that women applicants shouldn't be hired on the basis of their looks anymore than male applicants should be, and that hiring a competent staff is more useful in Washington than hiring a morally pure one, although the two need not be mutually exclusive. They might also discover that with single, attractive women in Washington, looks aren't everything.
A lot of them are competent, too.