It's like listening to a bird-watcher claiming to have sighted a singularly rare species.
"Yeah, there was a women at the residential building on 61st Street. I saw her coming out one time," says Giuseppe "Pino" Ferrari, head doorman at Bristol Plaza on East 65th Street in Manhattan.
It was an oft-repeated refrain on several visits to New York: "I've seen one once." "Oh yeah, I heard they had a gal on 60th Street." There was even talk that the Plaza Hotel had once hired a female doorman, but calls there yielded only puzzled responses from the human-resources staff.
Indeed, each time a lead was checked out, the result was the same - men in uniforms standing outside apartment and hotel doors. In fact, most people questioned for this story were taken by surprise, never having considered that this profession is nearly exclusively male.
"Why aren't there any women? Hmm. That's a good question," says Bill Meyerson, communications director for Local 32B-32J of the Service Employees International Union in New York. The union represents 26,000 apartment workers, the vast majority of whom are doormen.
"I think, like many other areas of employment patterns, this is a job that historically has been male-dominated," Mr. Meyerson says. "It may be that it involved security functions and lifting. And the whole etiquette surrounding the job has played a role in why there are no women."
Meyerson quickly points out that his union has fought hard against discrimination and would continue to do so if someone were to encounter it.
Even the Washington-based American Hotel and Motel Association could not explain the gender disparity. "That's the way it's been," says Catherine Potter, communications director for the association.
Maybe, some labor-watchers concede, women are just not all that interested. Not that it's unlike many "facilitator" jobs they already do. The typical job description for doormen calls for the employee to wear a uniform, sort packages, announce visitors, sometimes carry luggage, and yes, open the door. Even so, many doormen say women aren't cut out for the life.
"It's a hard job for women," says William Navarro, a doorman at the Barbizon Hotel here. "One, you have to stand up the whole time. Two, the luggage is too heavy."
"The basis of this job is opening doors for people, which is traditionally what men do," says Andie Mullin, president of the Massachusetts Chapter of the National Organization of Women. Tradition still has a firm grasp on hiring practices."
Not only do some men say they would feel uncomfortable having a women hold the door for them, they say it's "unnatural" for a woman to handle bags and load cars.
"A man would feel very funny handing off a heavy weight to a woman. You're supposed to do that yourself," says Sammy Latifi, a former doorman and now security guard for an apartment on 61st Street.
Ms. Mullin says she takes issue with the fact that women seem closed out of a fairly lucrative profession.
In New York, doormen recently reached an agreement for a new contract that increases their weekly pay to $618 a week. A 401(k) plan is being established and free annual medical exams for children over age 3.
"It's a perfect job for women in welfare-to-work programs," says Mullin. "However, they funnel women into low-wage jobs ... that have no benefits."
What about arguments that there are women FedEx and UPS employees, firefighters, and police officers?
"Maybe men would feel safer coming in at night if there were a man at the door," says Jun Sevilla, another Manhattan doorman. "But women can be energetic, so I'm not really sure why."
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society