WASHINGTON -- Will women vote for Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton only because she's a woman? That question keeps getting bounced around, and I've recently revised my answer from "no" to "yes."
That is, yes, women will vote for Mrs. Clinton because she's a woman - if men target her as a woman. Translation: Gentlemen, if you don't want another Clinton in the White House, do not say unkind things about her persona, demeanor, appearance, even if bull's-eye true. Not even in your own kitchen with your own wife.
Women have radar for anti-woman sentiments - and all guys have them to some degree. And no one has benefited more from being a victim than Mrs. Clinton.
The truth is, Mrs. Clinton might not be a senator from New York if not for her victimization as first spouse. It may be arguable that Mrs. Clinton is a good-enough senator - that's not the point - but it is inarguable that she won the office in 2000 because women rallied around her. Overall, women voted for Mrs. Clinton over Republican Rep. Rick Lazio 60 percent to 39 percent. In upstate New York, typically a Republican stronghold, women voted for her 55 percent to 43 percent.
And that rally had as much to do with Clinton the Victim as Clinton the Candidate. Throughout their White House years, the worse Bill behaved, the better Hillary looked. All women could relate to her position and could admire her classy handling of the situation.
Polls during the campaign indicated that women identified with Mrs. Clinton's struggles and "saw some of themselves in her," according to Clinton pollster Mark Penn.
Today we have a different Hillary Clinton. Now a consummate politician in her own right, Mrs. Clinton has a record and a position (or two or three) on national issues that transcend her domestic life. Criticism of her policies isn't just appropriate but necessary. But she should lose for legitimate reasons, not because men find her unappealing.
When Mrs. Clinton's campaign played the victim card after a debate in which the other top Democratic candidates "piled on," it misspent her gender equity. The men weren't piling on because she's a woman, but because she's the leading candidate, as Mrs. Clinton subsequently acknowledged.
Let men criticize Clinton personally, and a funny thing happens. Contaminating the air is a slight whiff of misogyny that women recognize and recoil against. When men speak derogatorily about Mrs. Clinton's looks, all women feel a bit wounded.
Women may attack each other - I've been known to observe the shrillness of Hillary's voice - but when a man does it, something female kicks in among even the least girly of us. What women have in common with Hillary Clinton will always exceed what they have in common with men. Two women can disagree on the most controversial issues at the table, but when they head to the ladies' room, inevitably together, they see eyeball to eyeball real fast over the most basic, and ultimately most important, matters.
Hair, for instance. But also, seriously, children, family, life, love and those mysterious creatures - men. Women may cut each other's throats for a man's affections, but most will also come to a sister's aid when men behave badly.
Similarly, what men have in common with Bill Clinton exceeds what they have in common with women - even if they are contemptuous of his narcissism and lack of self-control.
Many of us witnessed this in our own kitchens during the Monica Lewinsky scandal. The deeper Kenneth Starr cut into Bill Clinton's very private life, the more men felt sympathy for and aligned themselves with the president. In the locker room, schadenfreude has its limits.
Will women vote for Hillary just because she's a woman? Only if men attack Hillary as a woman.
Kathleen Parker's syndicated column appears Thursdays in The Sun. Her e-mail is email@example.com.