Faint Praise for Women

SCIENTISTS studying Venus with the Magellan spacecraft have come up with a novel idea - naming 100 craters on the planet for famous women. If the International Astronomical Union approves, honorees will include Gertrude Stein, Rachel Carson, Pearl Buck, Margaret Mead, Clare Booth Luce, Lillian Hellman, and Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots. Already a field of three craters, each between five miles and eight miles wide, has been tentatively named for Miss Stein. The scientists' gesture is a compliment of sorts - the outer-space equivalent of statues in the park. And since Venus is the only planet bearing a woman's name, it constitutes a fitting tribute.

Still, craters - even huge ones - represent nature's basement. Nature's penthouses - mountains - are apparently reserved for men. Mt. McKinley, Mt. Adams, Mt. Washington, the presidential range at Mt. Rushmore - all honor lofty pinnacles of male success.

Do craters serve as the most accurate symbol of where women still stand today? By any measure, women remain below the level of men in pay scales, in political representation, in corporate management. But craters on Venus do offer one advantage: There's not a glass ceiling in sight. The sky, as they say, is the limit.

Given Venus's distance from Earth, however, and the dense cloud cover that makes its surface invisible, the craters will never become tourist attractions, complete with brass plaques and busloads of eager schoolchildren on field trips. The stellar achievements of these great women are destined to remain out of sight.

To paraphrase Gertrude Stein, a crater is a crater is a crater.

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