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Women _ can't live without 'em

I took a quick vote after Russell Gardiner walked out of a nearly all-female office after a liberal spreading of his views of the place of women in society. There were two votes for a firing squad, one for bludgeoning to death and one for shredding him into little tiny male-chauvinist pork rinds, stuffing them into his snakeskin boots and giving the whole thing a Viking's funeral aboard his avocado-green 1972 Plymouth Fury muscle car.

And those were the ones who had managed to regain the power of speech.

None of that bothers Gardiner, a divorced 44-year-old Lecanto barber-stylist who thinks women with good jobs and high incomes run a risk of losing their femininity and attractiveness and to run the possibility of "turning real men off."

Gardiner, additionally, thinks women should be allowed to have "traditional" jobs, "like typists ... but not policeman or fireman or astronaut."

In 1984, Gardiner says with genuine dismay in his voice, "a woman tried to get elected to the next-highest office in the land, the vice presidency. Now, one doesn't have to think too hard to see which office she would have desired next if she had been elected."

As a female colleague across the room began gritting her teeth audibly, I listened to Gardiner say he wishes things could "be the way they wereback when I was a boy when women wanted to be mothers and wives because that's what they were trained to be. Now they want to be bosses. They've become the men they were supposed to have married."

Gardiner swears he has a love life, although he sidesteps requests for details.

"I can tell you that as many women buy my book as men do," he said, "and many a woman has told me, "Russell, I can't tell you how much I've missed knowing a real man until I met you."'

Yes, for all of you who have been breathlessly putting the last touches on your beehive before you slip into something fetching to welcome that guy of yours back from his hard day on the job to which you never should or would aspire _ there is a book.

Gardiner's self-published book, The Wall, which has sold an amazing 800 copies in the four years since he published it and is about to be rereleased in an updated version, still is available from the trunk of his car, by mail or anywhere else he can sell one.

The wall referred to, incidentally, is the one between the sexes that Gardiner feels has been created by women in the work force.

It hasn't been easy.

"I hired one woman typist from an ad in the paper, and she called and asked to meet me. She met me in a parking lot with another woman who said, "I just wanted to meet the SOB who wrote this."'

Women, he reasons, also need to soften up in the home environment.

"Women of today run too fast to get caught by men, and this is a problem. If women aren't chased, leered at, stared at, gawked at and haven't caused other women to be jealous of them, they need to stop and take a closer look at themselves, the way they dress, act, walk, talk and their attitude toward men."

So if this is what Gardiner is saying, who is listening?

Well, people who tune in to between 50 and 100 radio talk shows on which he has appeared in person or by telephone and viewers who saw him on the Oprah Winfrey show last year.

Many of them might boo and moan as the audience on the Winfrey show did when Gardiner's statements caused one acknowledged sexist to complain about being seated next to him and brought one woman in the audience to say, "I could not spend five minutes alone in a room with you."

That's funny, several women I know have mentioned spending time alone with Gardiner ... especially the two female reporters he mistook for my secretaries and informed that they were probably not qualified to take a message.

They were almost insistent about it, in fact.

Know this. Gardiner is not just a guy hyping a book. Plenty of people make brash tongue-in-cheek statements for their shock value.

But Gardiner continues to gather data from a variety of sources and, if it appears to _ or can be made to appear to _ support his thesis, adopts it into his written and spoken platform.

He is ready to speak or write at short notice.

He is sincere, which, depending on where you stand, is either his most endearing or his scariest quality.

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