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Response to 'Women and Leadership'

I am pleased with the special report on "Women and Leadership," Feb. 15. In particular, I appreciate the article "Saudi Women Drive for Change" in a time when our relations with Saudi Arabia are in such political focus. The series of articles describe clearly the barriers women face when they try to enter traditional positions of leadership. However, I am disappointed in the article "Afrikaners Struggle for Stability Against a Flood of Change," in which the author presents the Breytenbach family in a way that suggests that women are peripheral. Discussion of the opinions of the family focuses on Friedrich Breytenbach, the father, with little attention given to Margaretha Breytenbach, the mother. The author repeatedly refers to Frederich as "Breytenbach" and Margaretha as "Mrs. Breytenbach," writing as though the father is the central member of the family and the mother is peripheral.

Caroline Masiello Richmond, Ind.

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In the opinion-page article "If Women Ran the War," the author degrades women by shrinking extremely complex issues into either/or positions. The author explains that one side of the debate argues that women are fundamentally incompatible with men; the other "right-to-fight" side argues that women and men have negligible differences, which do not impede their ability to fight or participate in "hardball" politics. She concludes that these two stances are irreconcilable. Put next to each other in such a contrived fashion, the arguments appear simplistic and unsatisfactory. She fails to explain them fully and thus cripples her own argument.

I am not willing to say that the Gulf war was the fault of men, and I am also not willing to say what would happen "if women ran the war." It is more interesting to ask what would happen if people acted like human beings instead of according to stereotypes.

Men and women may have distinctive characteristics, but they need not have monopolies on them.

Kristiana Helmick Northfield, Minn.

Whether "women are fundamentally different from men" or "are alike 'save for' biology and socialization," everyone agrees that they are human beings, and almost everyone agrees that they are entitled to the vote equally with men. Yet where the votes count, women don't. Though more than half the electorate, women make up only 2 percent of the Senate and less than 7 percent of the House. Special-interest PACs gave incumbents nine times as much money as they gave challengers. This, along with other perks such as franking privileges, resulted in no progress at all for women in the 1990 election.

In simple justice, for fairness in representation, and hopefully for more effective government, our system of financing elections must be radically changed. So too should our attitudes toward women - worldwide.

Louis R. Ward Sault Ste. Marie, Mich.

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Regrettably, the two articles on women in Congress, "Why Most Public Officials Are Still Men" and "Nancy Pelosi: a Practical Feminist in a Political Framework," are long on stereotypes and short on information and inspiration, both of which women need if we are to increase our voices in the day-to-day business of the nation. True, there are only 29 women serving in the House and two in the Senate, but these women are exceedingly well-positioned to raise the consciousness of their colleagues, out of all proportion to their numbers. For example, two women - Democrat Barbara Kennelly and Republican Nancy Johnson, both of Connecticut - sit on the House Ways and Means Committee, arguably the most powerful collection of legislators in Congress. That Representative Pelosi has "never lost some of the best qualities of being a woman " (whatever that means), perpetuates sexist stereotypes and is, frankly, irrelevant. Women can and do succeed here because they are good at their jobs. How they look, what they wear, and - sorry men - their marital status have little to do with it.

Kathryn Stern Ceja Washington

The chart "Women in the House" omits Rep. Jan Meyers (R) of Kansas. She represents the state's third congressional district and was first elected to the House in 1984. You may be interested to know that Kansas is the only state with a woman governor, Democrat Joan Finney, and a woman in both chambers of Congress: Republican Sen. Nancy Kassebaum and Representative Meyers. Steve Wolgast, Topeka, Kan

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