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Women may be creating a leadership crisis in the United States.

As the nation grapples with the Ollie Norths, Ivan Boeskys and Jim Wrights in its midst, the old dichotomy of public morality vs. private values is again in the forefront and it is more than coincidence that this is happening at a time when the power of women as voters, opinion shapers and political leaders is on the rise.

Barbara C. Crosby, an associate of the Reflective Leadership Center at the University of Minnesota's Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs, contends that false distinctions between private and public domains has denied women leadership roles in American society.

However, it can as easily be argued that responses to the gender gap and the increasing role of women in politics already are breaking down these distinctions.

In an article on women and leadership in Social Policy, a quarterly review of the Union for Experimenting Colleges and Universities, Ms. Crosby argues that the notion there is a private sphere that is woman's natural habitat and a public sphere that is man's is so pervasive in our society that it prevents women from assuming leadership roles.

"The idea that a woman's place is in the home persists in men's minds, women's hearts and government welfare policies," she states.

In Ms. Crosby's blending of public and private spheres, women's work in and for the family, volunteer work in the community or neighborhood would be recognized as public roles, and the help they need to enlarge their public life, equitable pay, child care, transportation, would be more readily supplied by the "public" sector.

While the perception of private/public distinctions prevails, she says, in reality the situation is blurred. Government and society intrude on family life and family life is imposing on the "public" world. It would be easier to deal with government involvement with private issues of child abuse and domestic violence and public issues of child care and two-career families if we did not carry the excess baggage of outmoded notions of the public and private domain.

But the real benefit would be a shared leadership. A more accurate definition of public and private sectors would result in the need for men to share more leadership and power with women in the areas men have dominated, and conversely, the need for women to share more power and leadership with men in areas women have controlled.

This, she believes, will see the meshing of public and private morality. "Leaders might realize that they cannot construct one private life for public consumption and live another." Another effect might be to see women as more attractive political candidates "since to date they have been less likely to abandon the ethical standards of their family life in taking on community roles."

Since the beginning of the women's movement, which emphasized the personal as well as the political, women have been challenging the notion that there can be different public and private standards. If this philosophy prevails with the increasing empowerment of women, business and government may have to clean up their act.

A gun designed for women

Women are being offered a different kind of power from gun manufacturer Smith & Wesson, which is marketing the Lady Smith, a .38-caliber revolver designed for the "physiological requirements of women."

According to a story in the Nation magazine, the manufacturer's market research indicates that 15.6 million women between ages 25 and 40 have shown interest in owning a handgun. Seventy percent are professionals, with a median household income of $55,000.

The company's advertising campaign is running into difficulty, however. The Nation reports that most of the major women's magazines have refused to carry Smith & Wesson advertisements, which don't even mention the weapon.

The ad resembles a public service message advising women how to behave in risky situations, how to avoid danger and how to discourage burglars. Readers are invited to call a toll-free number for more information.

Nation reports that Better Homes & Gardens, Self, Woman's Day, Glamour, Mademoiselle, Cosmopolitan, McCalls' and Working Mother magazines turned down the ads. The company is looking at cable TV, radio and direct mail advertising.

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