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Originally published Friday, January 21, 2005 at 12:00 AM

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The feminist disconnect on Condoleezza Rice

Someone send a map to the feminists: They ended up in Cambridge when they should have been in Washington, D. C. In the nation's capital...

Someone send a map to the feminists: They ended up in Cambridge when they should have been in Washington, D.C.

In the nation's capital this week, national-security adviser Condoleezza Rice faced confirmation hearings for her new role as secretary of state. Being the first black woman and the youngest woman ever nominated to what once was quintessentially a man's job, would seem like an occasion for champagne at NOW.

But there was nary a peep from women's groups on the milestone. Instead, the ladies were busy expressing fury at Harvard President Lawrence Summers. Speaking at the National Bureau of Economic Research, Summers suggested that the shortage of top women in the "traditionally male" fields of math and science might possibly be attributable to "innate differences" in aptitude between the genders.

Or it might not be, he added.

Never mind. Summers' critics raged about his message to the brilliant young women of Harvard: Give up now, because women can't cut it. And being absolute wusses, the women would have done so, wouldn't they? Well, no. Even if Summers had said what was attributed to him, most would have brushed it off and gone about their super-achieving without batting a feminine eyelash.

Meanwhile, the feminist refusal to offer even slight applause to Rice's achievements sends a far worse message: Women's progress doesn't count unless it is accomplished through bellyaching and political allegiance to the left. Nowhere is that message heard louder than in academia.

Summers is no stranger to contro-versies of political correctness on campus, of course. Not long after arriving at Harvard, he brought down a hailstorm of criticism when he suggested to Afro-American Studies supernova Cornel West that he should publish some academic work. Within days, the Black Studies Department, with such luminaries as Henry Louis Gates and William Julius Wilson, was threatening to decamp to Princeton en masse.

Condi herself faced criticism while provost at Stanford for her "autocratic" style and for making no allowances for racial and gender politics. So insistent was she on meritocratic promotion that in 1998, 15 professors filed a race and gender bias complaint against Stanford at the U.S. Labor Department.

It was that same political tension that animated Summers' critics this week in Cambridge. Among the attendees who stormed out of the intellectual bull session where Summers made his gender remarks was Nancy Hopkins, a biology professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Had she not walked out of the conference, she explained, she "would have either blacked out or thrown up."

Let's just skip over the question of who's reinforcing unfavorable stereotypes of women here. Hopkins evidently saw an opportunity for some headlines for the "cause." The same professor Hopkins led a faculty uprising at MIT and several Ivy League universities in 1991, alleging sexual discrimination in hiring and promotion. The issue became a cause célèbre for women's groups.

But back to the disconnect on Condi. NOW's Web site didn't even mention Rice's post, but ran a story applauding Sen. Barbara Boxer as a "courageous woman" for challenging voting irregularities in Ohio.

The group FeministUtopia lists Mad-eleine Albright among its famous, but Rice, Margaret Thatcher and Elizabeth Dole are nowhere. But then, the women's antiwar group Codepink argues that "if women ran the world, there would be no war," so perhaps we're supposed to consider Rice and Thatcher as some kind of sub-female.

It's now painfully clear that feminist groups aren't mainly concerned about the actual success earned by real women. (Among other things, that would involve noting that women can succeed without feminists' help.) Instead, the focus remains on the dogma of oppression and the insistence that any woman given real clout by a Republican administration is really just "showcasing."

The feminists complain that women aren't equally represented down the ranks in the administration, the same complaint that Summers addressed at Harvard. In fact, females now get about as many jobs in Republican administrations as under Democrats — and GOP women candidates have had a more winning record in some recent years than female Dems.

You only have to look a little bit over the horizon to see the changes coming in the current generation. Women now outnumber men in colleges, medical schools and even law schools.

Now, a woman is the new Henry Kissinger, going from chief of the National Security Council to running the State Department.

Women may or may not have innately different aptitudes than men. But if so, millions of women are already reshaping the professions and policymaking to suit their interests and strengths. And the handful of misanthropes who'll never stop trying to dismiss that success as tokenism are fading in our rearview mirror.

Collin Levey writes Fridays for editorial pages of The Times. E-mail her at clevey@seattletimes.com

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