NOW THAT Paula Jones has filed her lawsuit accusing Bill Clinton of sexual harassment, America once again is tossing around the word "bimbo," using it to describe Ms. Jones in a pejorative way, usually in defense of the president.
I can't imagine anyone hasn't heard about the case. Ms. Jones contends that when Mr. Clinton was Arkansas governor and she was on the state payroll, she was brought to meet him in a hotel room, where he dropped his pants and propositioned her. Ms. Jones said she refused and left, but that hasn't kept people from referring to her as a bimbo, though some people who say they knew her as a "party girl" might think the term is apt.
So the word bimbo is back, just as it was used to describe Tonya Harding, Gennifer Flowers, or Donna Rice (remember Gary Hart and the good ship "Monkey Business"?).
For a country that is being accused more and more of embracing attitudes that are politically correct, this kind of linguistic behavior strikes me as a serious lapse, and one that isn't positive. It seems that the nation has come to accept the term bimbo without considering the connotations it has.
Perhaps it's best to define exactly what a bimbo is. "Webster's New World Dictionary" lists three slang definitions, of which the third is most pertinent to the current usage: "a sexually promiscuous woman."
The second definition -- "a silly or stupid person: used especially of a woman" -- often seems to be implicit when people speak of bimbos, too.
After talking with people about what they consider the essence of, well, call it bimbosity, I think you also need to add that the popular notion of a bimbo involves someone who dresses provocatively, usually in tight, revealing clothing.
Nowadays, I can't think of anyone who uses the first definition, deemed old slang by the dictionary: "a guy, fellow." In fact, the whole notion of a bimbo seems to be quite gender-specific. There seems to be no male equivalent. Would you, for example, think of Joey Buttafuoco as a male bimbo? How about Fabio? See what I mean?
Sure, men have been called hunks, but that term seems pretty passive when compared to what we mean when we refer to a woman as a bimbo.
Think for a moment of the TV commercial that portrays women leering at a bare-chested construction worker. The guy, I'm told, is a hunk. But he's not dealing in sexuality; he's just taken off his shirt because he's perspiring.
On the other hand, do you think the women doing the leering are bimbos? Maybe yes, maybe no, right?
Then there is the term "stud," which certainly carries a sexual connotation. Yet it isn't the same kind of pejorative that bimbo is. I can't imagine any women considering bimbo a positive description, but there are plenty of men who would welcome being called a stud.
And we better forget about the word womanizer, which has such an elite connotation to it you almost picture someone in a pin-striped suit and wing-tips.
Think of it this way: JFK was a womanizer; Judith Exner was a bimbo. Note the difference.
All of which makes me wonder exactly how far we have come toward gender equality. The word bimbo reinforces the stereotype of a woman using sexuality to promote herself. That there is no equivalent male term is significant, but not as important as the fact that we seem willing to use the word bimbo unquestioningly.
Women use it, too, including some women who pride themselves on promoting feminist equality. That is perhaps the ultimate irony, for it pretty effectively undercuts the notion of women being held to the same standards as men, and vice versa.
Some of the newer feminist writers surely would criticize the notion of women ever being bimbos. Among this group, dubbed the "do-me feminists" by Esquire magazine, are those who believe women finally are acting sexually demanding in much the same way men traditionally have. They would find the notion of sexually promiscuous behavior to be just fine, without any of the negative connotations that the word bimbo conjures up.
But society seems ill at ease with the idea of a woman who leers at men, dresses to enhance her sexuality, or even enjoys the pleasures of the flesh. Hence the continued use of the word bimbo in a way that can only be considered demeaning, not only to the woman being labeled, but to women in general. Thinking about it that way, we can be certain the double standard is alive and well, despite all the efforts by women -- and men -- to try to level the playing field for both genders.
What is perhaps surprising, however, is the rancor Ms. Jones has stirred through her lawsuit. People across a broad spectrum have come to Mr. Clinton's defense. Even Gennifer Flowers, who claims to have had a longtime affair with Mr. Clinton, says Ms. Jones' story doesn't ring true.
Based on that, Ms. Jones might be the only person I can think of who could be accused of giving bimbos a bad name.
L Mike Sweeney is editorial page editor of the Greenwich Time.