Pyle: Ladies, leave your man at home
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She finally just had to tell her husband to stay home.

It was 1980, or so, and I was a young reporter covering the campaigns for seats in the Kansas Legislature.

While both my memory and Google fail me on a name, I recall that the Democratic nominee — in a state Senate district where Democrats had a chance — was a woman. Accomplished, professional, not running for an office already held by her husband or father.

A woman seeking public office, other than perhaps a seat on the local school board, was still a little bit unusual then. But this candidate wasn't playing on her gender. And her opponent, a perfect gentleman of a dairy farmer, wasn't making any big deal of it either.

The problem was her husband. The normal rough and tumble of politics, when directed at his wife, was something he couldn't handle. The suggestions by her opponent and the local Republican chairman that his candidate spouse might be too liberal, not politically experienced enough, taking money from the teachers unions, or whatever it was they threw at her, simply enraged him.

How dare they impugn his wife's character like that? And he let me know it was largely my fault for not calling out her rivals for the despicable liars that they were.

The candidate, though, took it all in stride. She gave as good as she got, ran a good campaign and lost. She didn't blame the press. She spent a fair amount of time quietly apologizing for her husband, gallant and chivalrous though he was, for having such a thin skin.

All this came to mind a few years later when I read somewhere that the primary problem encountered by the Israeli Defense Force in trying to integrate women into its combat units was not that the female warriors couldn't keep up. It was that the male soldiers were distracted by worry that their opposite-gender comrades might be wounded or killed.

And again Wednesday evening, when a panel discussion sponsored by the Salt Lake City Mayor's Office and the local Rape Recovery Center asked the question, "Who is fueling the war on women's health care and safety, and why?"

Thad Hall, a poly sci prof at the University of Utah, said election analysis shows that when major parties field female candidates, those women are statistically just as likely to win as men. The shortage of women in public office, then, results from too few women entering the races.

Utah state Rep. Rebecca Chavez-Houck, D-Salt Lake City, lamented the small — and shrinking — number of women in the Legislature, and pointed to a bipartisan organization called Real Women Run as an effort to reverse that trend.

Of course, the feared "war on women" — mostly cutting off access to contraception and/or abortion, along with the shameful delay of Congress in renewing the Violence Against Women Act — is not likely to be ended just by electing more women to office.

Remember, the bill that would have ended real sex education in Utah public schools, and the bill that did give us the nation's longest abortion waiting period, were backed by (Republican) women lawmakers.

Still, the fact that these issues get discussed with so few women in the room just highlights the truth that many of those women who are there seem to fear the changing gender roles as much as any man — or more so, according to some polls.

But, in some cases, these female candidates may have to heed the words of singer Beyonce, the winner of People magazine's election for The World's Most Beautiful Woman: "Ladies, leave your man at home."

George Pyle, a Tribune editorial writer, is generally just fine with being left at home.

gpyle@sltrib.com

@debatestate