TV's Ellerbee Talks to Women on Women

Times Staff Writer

Linda Ellerbee, newscaster, author and single mother, held back a grin Sunday as she read aloud the synopsis of a seminar on "The Art of Juggling Work and Home," offered at a women's conference the preceding weekend at the Irvine Hilton:

"Participants will learn skills and insights into balancing work, home and family; coping with child care and managing personal time. Come and learn how you can do it all and still keep your sanity!"

"Wrong!" Ellerbee said, as about 700 women burst into laughter. "Now comes the best part--they couldn't get anybody to teach it!"

Too often, women "get into the habit of thinking they can do it all," said Ellerbee. A native Texan, the 42-year-old Ellerbee now lives in New York City with her two teen-age children.

Perhaps best known for her wry wrap-ups of the week's events on NBC's "Today Show"--which she left last year for ABC--Ellerbee was in Irvine on Sunday to address the luncheon crowd at the American Assn. of University Women, California division's annual conference. Known for her outspokenness and sometimes caustic humor, Ellerbee displayed both qualities during her talk Sunday, in which she lambasted the television news industry's treatment of women.

"Have you ever noticed, in proportion to the population, how come we have so many more blondes and Orientals on television?" Ellerbee said. "Those are the two common sexual fantasies of middle-class white men, and they hire you. . . . I may not look like a lot of the women on television, but I look like a lot of the women who watch it . . . and who put it together."

And the fact that there are many women now in television should not obscure the fact that they are still noticeably lacking "in the control room and in the board room," Ellerbee said.

Her own show, the prime-time "Our World," will probably be canceled by ABC this year, she said.

Women should not try to imitate men by keeping work entirely separate from other parts of their lives, Ellerbee said. "We know what a sick child is to a woman, or a lost love. We know you can't separate this and that. . . . We also know the cost of not doing that . . . drugs, heart attacks, ulcers, drinking. 'Are you a social drinker?' ' Nooo , all my drinking is work-related.' "

Ellerbee urged the audience to use a word now considered "unattractive" and declare themselves "feminists."

"Whisper it if it makes you feel better, and get your son to say it," Ellerbee said. "Teach them what it means: It means justice for all. . . . It doesn't mean turning the tables on men. It means treating men as if they had good sense rather than manipulating them. That way, nobody has to dance backwards all their lives."

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