I know you know the story of the Lone Ranger and Tonto and how they run into a bunch of hostile Indians. The Lone Ranger says, "We're in a lot of trouble," to which Tonto replies, "What do you mean 'we,' white man?" In the updated version, U.N. ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick could play the part of Tonto.

In extremis, Kirkpatrick has discovered feminism. In a speech in New York, she alerted the world to what it already knew: There are "classical male sexists" in the Reagan administration. Some of them, Kirkpatrick charges, may be responsible for denying her a high-level foreign policy post. It is these sexists, Kirkpatrick thinks, who told Newsweek magazine that she is "too temperamental to hold higher office."

The New York speech is just part of the longest Sadie Hawkins Day in American history. For more than a month now, Kirkpatrick has been wooing Ronald Reagan for the sort of job that she thinks she deserves by dint of education and intellect. Off the record, on the record and in Talmudic variations of the two, Kirkpatrick has spread the word that unless she gets such a job, she will return to her teaching post at Georgetown University.

The White House has not stirred. I am leaving, Kirkpatrick declares, and the president says he would love to have her on his staff, but there's no opening. I'm not kidding, she sings out, but from upstairs in the White House comes only the sound of someone pumping iron. "This is it!" she exclaims, but the Oval Office is silent. This lady has some powerful enemies.

And well she should. Kirkpatrick is an ideologue of certain and hard views. It is not for nothing that she's the darling of the Republican right wing. She drips contempt for the Third World and its pretensions. She loathes the Soviet Union and its system. She distinguishes between authoritarian and totalitarian regimes -- intellectual sophistry that's been used to argue that any regime that's anti-communist is better than any regime that's not. She is, in short, a forceful and powerful intellectual force in American conservatism (neo or otherwise) who could be opposed or championed for a thousand reasons, the very least of them being that she is -- as she says others characterize her -- a woman.

But if that's the case, it's not hard to believe. Sexual discrimination and sexual stereotyping are far from rare -- especially in the clubby, nearly all- male circles in which Kirkpatrick moves. It's commonplace for women to be in the Senate, in the House, in the Cabinet, but not in the highest reaches of the foreign policy establishment. That is still by and large a male preserve. The one situation not envisioned for the Situation Room is the need for a lock on the bathroom door.

So Kirkpatrick says the boys have it in for her. I, for one, believe it. But where has she been, lo, these last four years? Where was her voice when others were saying that the Reagan administration was nothing but a (male chauvinist) pigpen. Where was the voice of Kirkpatrick when the administration went to war against the Equal Rights Amendment or when it moved to vitiate the law banning sexual discrimination in physical education. I don't remember her saying very much then.

No. Instead, Kirkpatrick is one of those who recall their sexual identification when it can do them some good. Once before, when she was locked in a bureaucratic death struggle with Alexander Haig, she remembered she was a woman and that Haig had the lean and hungry look of a male sexist -- classic or otherwise. Kirkpatrick won that fight and until recently had not mentioned the matter of sexual discrimination. At the Republican National Convention in Dallas, where feminist-stomping was the favorite sport, she saw no sexism. The blood in her eye was for liberal Democrats.

So this year's Tonto award goes to Jeane Kirkpatrick -- a woman who apparently thinks her triumphs are all her own, but whose troubles are the result of sexual discrimination. That, in fact, may be the case, but it would be easier to be sympathetic if she did not discover sexism only when it's directed at her. The rest of the time, like the Tonto of the old joke, she has a different name for these "classical male sexists." She calls them kemo sabe.