Last week, a bold Monday morning quarterback led off this section with a letter denouncing federal workers who pop gum while they work.

She said she is a contract administrator whose frequent visits to government buildings are marred by the sound of gum-popping.

She said it was unprofessional and distracting and should -- like smoking -- be banned.

Well, her letter drew lots of response, including comments from women who felt they were special targets and suggested that male federal workers have problems as well.

Here are some reactions, male and female:

The gum-popping letter touched a raw nerve. I agree that the practice is repugnant. And let's not mince words in a misguided effort to avoid offending a certain class of citizenry: The gum-popping is practiced almost universally by low-income, less educated women, black and white, in or out of government.

Why women? I don't know. Why low income? Perhaps because of a lack of positive role models, but I really don't know. The task at hand is to change their work place behavior. This will be difficult: The reason might be found in a favorite line I recall from a John Collier story: "Like all vulgarians, he was very sensitive to any hint that he appeared low."

These women gum-poppers will yawn at the sinking of a U.S. ship in the Persian Gulf, but they'll scratch your eyes out at the suggestion they are low class. What to do? Again, I don't know, but I suggest that, for a start, personnel offices issue blanket memos condemning the practice without naming names.

Peer pressure might then take over, ending all the gum-popping and clicking, which is worse than the Chinese water torture. N.B., Northern Virginia

. . . I agree that gum-poppers should be herded into the same room so the rest of us could work without distractions. While we are at it, however, couldn't we also segregate the people who wear headsets that, contrary to what they think, are noisy and nerve-wracking?

Carrying that one step further, could we have a common room (I like that term) where men could go and tell dirty, and offensive, stories in booming voices without bothering those of us who don't appreciate them?

Believe it or not, most of us come to work to work, not to be distracted, offended or sound-blasted while trying to do a decent job. "Laboring" at the Labor Department

. . . Although your anti-gum-popping correspondent identified herself as a woman, I can't help but feel that her comments, perhaps unintentionally, were sexist, being directed at women.

Let's look at the other side of the coin.

Our male supervisor hates gum-popping, radios and whistlers. He has made his displeasure known, sometimes publicly embarrassing subordinates. As to him, oh, he is perfect! He thinks he is God's gift to women, calls women "honey" or "darling" or "dear," and can't end a conversation with a woman without touching her somewhere. Several women have suggested that he keep hands off and show more respect. He laughs it off as if it were a cute part of his personality.

Let's make a deal! All gum-poppers will cease activities immediately. In return, let the men who view all women as "girl toys" keep your hands to yourselves.

P.S. His breath could use some work too!

M.E., Arlington