CAN IT BE that Norman Mailer is already campaigning for the job of White House chief of staff in the next administration? The New York writer has always had political inclinations, and his new role model seems to be the present White House chief of staff, Donald Regan.

You will recall that at the time of the Geneva summit meeting last November, Mr. Regan told us that women are incapable of understanding the big issues -- missiles, throw-weights, human rights -- and want only information on Mrs. Gorbachev's jewelry and Mrs. Reagan's hair. The comment caused a furor, and Mr. Regan quickly backtracked. But Mr. Mailer, not one to learn from mistakes or avoid a conflict, presses on.

This week in New York, at the 48th International Congress of PEN, an organization of writers from all over the world, Mr. Mailer -- who is president of the organization's American branch -- answered a complaint that too few women were asked to be panelists at the meeting. Only 16 of the 117 scheduled panelists were women. The explanation is simple, Mr. Mailer said: "There are more men who are deeply interested in intellectual matters than women. . . . (If we put more women on the panel) all we'd be doing is lowering the level of discussion."

So that's the story. Strange that all these years we've been wrong about women writers of great distinction. Obviously their work must have been written by doting brothers, flacks hired by indulgent fathers or suitors eager to do them a favor. If you don't think so, just ask Norman Mailer. Mr. Mailer of course has over the years often revealed himself to be less than "deeply interested in intellectual matters" and in fact capable of much discussion that could not conceivably be lowered to another level. But give him his strut. Mr. Mailer has introduced a new concept to the world of literature. We call it Pen and Oink.