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It's bizarre, almost funny in a sad sort of way, the nation's reaction to a professional woman with a solid reputation who claims her boss talked trash to her. This involves a judge and a law professor, both respected, both characterized by supporters as honest, squaring off in a classic battle of did-so, did-not. And all under the white lights of television.

The loudest spontaneous lament was for the damage such charges would do to the man, not the damage perhaps already done to the woman.I don't know what happened between Clarence Thomas and Anita Hill; I'm not sure I want to. But it doesn't matter. The issue has been raised and must be put to rest, in fairness to her, to him, to all American working women.

I'm not any more predisposed to believe her than I am him. I don't know either of these people. Neither do most members of Congress.

Maybe Thomas once upon a time ignored or spurned Ms. Hill, injuring her vanity and inspiring a viciously timed lie. Maybe she wants attention, the cover of Time, or to be the representative for that blue jean company that hires political femme fatales for their 15 minutes of fame.

Or maybe something did happen, something just as pathetic and unnecessary as she has alleged; maybe Thomas foisted his grotesque fantasies on her and revealed himself at the least a boor.

The question asked again and again during the unruly debate that followed public airing of the charges was this: If Judge Thomas mistreated Anita Hill, why was she silent for so long?

It seems to me that what's happened in the last few days flatly answers that question, at least.

Women don't tell because what has happened to Ms. Hill would happen to them. They would be ridiculed, spurned, fired, doubted, denounced and labeled as fanatics. If they won the battle, they might lose the war. If they won a lawsuit, they might never get a job anywhere else. A woman who sues becomes "a woman who sues," forevermore.

The saddest thing about this situation is our cynical reaction. Instead of concern, there are jokes. Instead of open minds, there are political battle lines. No matter the truth, this is a sad, sad story.

I've heard a lot of defenders asking what "man" in his right mind would want a Supreme Court nomination after what's happened to Thomas. There will always be people hungry for power, regardless of the obstacles and rash publicity, the good senators can rest assured. There will always be willing nominees.

The better question is: What woman in her right mind would come forward and accuse a man of anything now?