The word from Washington is that they are looking for a woman.

Well, who isn't these days?

Looking for a Woman has become an All-American game played by boards of directors across the land.

So, few of us are surprised that they are now looking for one for the Supreme Court. But there is a difference between looking and actually finding. Indeed, sometimes it seems that the microscopes of the mighty simply can't focus on 53 percent of the population.

From where I sit, up here in the bleachers, the real name of the new game is: How to Look for a Woman Without Often Hiring One.

The rules go something like this. Any candidate, company or even college these days has to prove that it is a certified Friend of Females. In order to do this, those in charge must make a Serious Commitment to the advancement of the sex.

In public life this is, of course, done during election time. The Serious Commitment in this case was one sentence: "I am announcing today that one of the first Supreme Court vacancies in my administration will be filled by the most qualified woman I can possibly find."

A statement of Serious Commitment generally will be greeted with applause. But it must contain the essential clause, "the most qualified woman I can possibly find." This is what is known as The Loophole.

The Loophole only goes into operation when in fact there is a job opening. At that point, someone is bound to remind the public, that no woman should make it because she is a woman. This is known as the Warning Sign.

Last week, the current Warning Sign came from Justice Stewart himself. It would be an "insult to the court," he said, "to appoint somebody just because he or she was not a white male."

This Warning Sign is generally interpreted to mean that women 1) are most likely inferior and 2) could only be appointed if we reached down below the ranks of brilliant men to pull one up by her hank of hair.

Here is, I hasten to add, the essential strategy of this game. In the past, women were simply excluded because they were women. Now there is a new bylaw. They can still be excluded because they are women, but they also, with the aid of affirmative action, can be appointed because they are women.

This attitude brilliantly overlooks the qualifications of men. As Cissy Farenthold once put it, "Equality will be here the day that mediocre women take their place beside mediocre men." Chief Justice Burger, for example.

But our candidate will not be compared with Burger. She will be compared with Brandeis, Holmes, Hand. Thus any serious female candidate must be wildly overqualified. It is, I hasten to add, hard to be overqualified for the Supreme Court. None of us wants equal mediocrities on the bench. But that is beside the point of this game.

Once the search is on, it is rarely difficult actually to locate women. There are, for example, about 700 women judges in the country. If the search was limited only to judges, there would almost inevitably be an excellent candidate.

So, there will be names on the list. Surely, three or four will make the first cut and at least one will make the second cut. They ususally do.

This is what's known as Throwing the Bone, or the Token Gesture. There are women in this country who have been in the finals for so many jobs that they are going to retire their resumes to the Women's Runner-Up Hall of fame.

The Token Gesture allows those in charge to release the list, thus assuring us all that, women are being considered.

The game has several possible endings. They can, against the odds, actually appoint "a woman, "because she is a woman." Or they can appoint a male "because he was most qualified."

They can also appoint a woman who is against women's rights. This is known among hard-core players as the Reagan Finesse. You quiet the opposition and keep the status quo.

Any way, the winners will go on to play another day. After all, when the president was asked if he was specifically Looking for a Woman, he answered, "Always."

Always Looking, that is.