Kathleen Mason and two women legislators say they don't like the state Senate president calling them sows.
But Senate President Arnold Christensen, R-Sandy, said Thursday there was no harm intended and he can't quite understand what all the fuss is about.Mason, chairwoman of the Governor's Commission on the Status of Women, was angered when she learned that state lawmakers ignored the governor's recommendation and refused to fund her group when the state budget was written last month.
She was outraged when she learned what Christensen called the group during a public budget hearing Feb. 17.
Christensen referred to the group as the "SOW Commission," using the first letters of "Status of Women." He used the name while asking fellow lawmakers to refuse to fund the group.
"That was not intended to be derogatory," Christensen said in a telephone interview from Washington, D.C., where he is attending a conference. "That acronym has been used for years and years up there" at the Capitol.
But Mason believes the use of the term was evidence of a deeper problem.
"The view certain legislators have of women is not very complimentary, and this is an example of that," Mason said. "That's very derogatory.
On a tape of the meeting, Christensen can be heard clearly using the term while asking that lawmakers not grant the $26,000 Gov. Norm Bangerter recommended they give the commission.
Sen. Frances Farley, D-Salt Lake, was at the meeting. Many other Democrats, including Rep. Beverly White, D-Tooele, had left to attend a fund-raising dinner.
On the tape, Farley is heard asking Christensen what he is talking about. She then said she opposed the effort to take away the money.
"I oppose this for obvious reasons," she said. "I'm a woman."
Laughter is then heard on the tape, followed by Christensen saying, "This is the status of women. You have good status."
The committee then voted to cut funding. Only two committee members, Farley and Rep. Frank Pignanelli, D-Salt Lake, voted against the motion.
Farley said earlier this week she had difficulty hearing what Christensen said during the meeting. She was not aware he used the term "SOW" until someone told her after the meeting.
"That's really terrible," she said. "I've never heard anybody call the commission that."
Mason said the term has often been used by opponents of the group.
"You can report that the opponents of the group never contacted me," Christensen said. "I'm not aware of who's on what side of this issue."
White was particularly angry because she had agreed to remove a bill that would have given the commission $64,000 because of a compromise with the governor's office. Bangerter said he would support $26,000, enough for the group to hire a part-time employee.
During the Feb. 17th meeting, Christensen said the money should be removed because of "the failure of White's bill."
"If there was an agreement with the governor's office she (White) should have told me," Christensen said. "There were three days left in the session after that meeting."
White said the male-dominated Legislature is not sensitive to women's issues.
"They (lawmakers) just throw money away at male things," White said, notingthe same committee voted to give $25,000 to a golf tournament at Jeremy Ranch.
The commission has not received state money since 1977. Mason said the Legislature cut funds in 1978 partly because the group was identified with efforts to pass the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Since then, the commission has continued with a few donations and a lot of volunteer help. The group's members include many prominent local women, including Grethe Peterson, wife of University of Utah President Chase Peterson.
The group has accomplished much despite a lack of money. Members recently published a handbook on women and the law. They are also organizing a computer information network for women and they have opened a women's library at the State Capitol, where information on women and women's issues is available.