BALTIMORE POLICE Commissioner Donald D. Pomerleau did the cutest thing the other day. The poor old dear -- he's 65 and the oldest head of a major police department in the country -- got stuck with having to testify in a sex discrimination suit brought by four women on the force. When he took the stand, he admitted that he had once described women as balls of fluff during testimony in a discrimination suit two years ago. Then, after admitting this, he went on and told us God agreed with him (or else he was agreeing with God):
"All women are little balls fo fluff in the eyes of the Creator," Commissioner Pomerleau informed the court -- and it is worth emphasizing here that he was offering this testimony under oath. "It's an endearing term, a term I would use to describe my wife," he added.
Certainly calling something or someone a little ball of fluff is endearing, and I think it is wonderful that the commissioner, who has been married eight years, is still calling his wife endearing terms. Congratulations, commissioner, and best wishes for the future. You and I have something in common. I know exactly what you mean when you call someone a little ball of fluff. I have, on occasion, called my cat a ball of fluff and likewise, I must confess, my daughter, who is now 15 months old, even though neither of them really resembles a ball of fluff, although my cat does more than my daughter. It is simply an endearing term, sort of like "cute" and "poor old dear," and we shouldn't make too much of it.
But since the commissioner did, after all, offer his view of women in a public forum -- to wit a trial -- in which he and his department stand accused of discriminating against women police officers who claim that men who scored lower on tests got promoted ahead of them, there is some merit in looking at precisely what the commissioner means when he says women are little balls of fluff. His statement certainly reflects an attitude that might have some bearing on how the commissioner views the capabilities and performance of the 150 women now on the 3,000-person force. And lest any of you are about to stop reading here because you don't give a hoot what the Baltimore city police commissioner thinks about women, let me remind you that he says the Creator agrees with him, so you'd best pay attention and keep reading.
First off, what, precisely, is a little ball of fluff? It is, according to Webster's, "soft, light down, a loose, soft, downy mass of hair, feathers, cotton, dust, etc.; any light or trivial matter or talk;" in slang, it also means "a girl or young woman." Could the Baltimore police commission really mean that all women are soft, light, loose, downy masses? Of course not. Not even in Baltimore could they get a police commissioner so oblivious to the fact that soft and cuddly as most of us gals are, there are some who are -- dare I say this? -- fat, cumbersome, heavy on their feet and downright awkward. So that's not what he's saying at all. There is nothing physical about this.
The endearing term is symbolic of something else. What the commissioner is really saying when he says all women are little balls of fluff is that women are easily pushed around. It's okay to trample over their test scores and promote men ahead of them because they won't complain. After all, whoever heard of a little ball of fluff hitting the police department with a sex discrimination suit? There's absolutely no need for women in the department to do something like that, anyway, since being little balls of fluff they will end up getting married to a man who will take care of them.
So let's promote Joe to sergeant because he's a good tough cop with three kids and a wife who doesn't work. Besides, you can never be sure about women police officers, anyway. How can a little ball of fluff be a good, tough cop? And even if by some happenstance she should turn out to be okay working with domestic problems and juveniles -- women, of course, are good at that because of their nurturing instinct -- you can never be sure how they will handle authoritative positions such as sergeants and lieutenants and, God helps us, maybe someday even captain. Can a little ball of fluff command the respect of her men?
Well, we all know the answer to that question. And I suspect we all understand what the police commissioner was saying and I also suspect the police commissioner realizes now that he was saying a whole lot more about his attitude toward his women officers than he ever intended to say in public.
Now some people might raise questions about the leadership qualities of a police commissioner who views women that way, and some people might wonder whether Commissioner Pomerleau will make much of a contribution to president-elect Reagan's Administration of Justice Task Force. And those are legitimate questions, but if I were a resident of Baltimore, I'd be more concerned about something else. I'd be more concerned about having a city official in a sensitive job who, just like a woman, doesn't know when to stop talking in a courtroom, and just goes on and on, getting into more hot water by the minute. That's the kind of empty-headed behavior you expect from a ball of fluff.
Could this possibly mean that all police commissioners are little balls of fluff in the eyes of the Creator?