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PARKER: Too soon for a pioneer to hang up her column

I confess to feeling only slightly more rational than "Misery's" Kathy Bates.

I want to strap Ellen Goodman into a chair and make her keep writing columns.

Goodman, whose prose has graced newspaper pages for more than four decades, allegedly wrote her last column Jan. 1 — a proper end to a new beginning. I use "allegedly" in the hope that she was only kidding.

No one who has labored under the cudgel of relentless deadlines begrudges Goodman her hard-earned respite. Retirement seems too old a word for one so young in spirit. Too end-of-road when so much lies ahead for a woman much burdened with talent and wisdom.

Like many regular visitors to the nation's op-ed pages, I've "known" Ellen Goodman most of my adult life. Hers was a friendly face on a page that primarily featured stern men during a time when women's opinions were valued only insofar as they pertained to recipes and cleansers.

On matters worldly, women were deemed not up to snuff. Or, on the flip side, human concerns related to home and family — traditionally "women's issues" — were considered relatively unimportant, unworthy of the "thinking" pages of higher — read: masculine — brows.

How things have changed, and not just a little bit because of the trailblazing work of one Ellen Goodman.

Ellen's moment in American journalism happened to correspond with the movement that liberated women. It was, and is, profoundly odd that what freed women from the tyranny of low expectations and limited opportunity was viewed by so many as a "women's movement" rather than a human rights imperative that also relieved men from the burden of manliness.

I say this with an involuntary smirk of irony, for I have found plenty to criticize in that so-called women's movement — hence my book, "Save the Males" — and frequently have been at odds with Ellen. In countless newspapers, we have been paired as opposites on op-ed pages by editors who insist on a left and a right version of life.

I am also a fan of manliness — at least of the Judeo-Christian variety — and harbor great suspicion toward men who declare themselves "feminists." Nothing quite invites despair as the sight of a 20-year-old usher bearing a lapel pin reading "Vagina Larry" at one of Eve Ensler's annual soliloquies of self-worship, "The Vagina Diatribes." I mean, "Monologues."

Suffice to say, I do not confuse myself with the Kathy Bates of "Fried Green Tomatoes."

Alas, life is not a matter of left and right, but of something in between, and this is where Ellen has spent most of her time. Instead of drawing lines in the sand, she crafted sand castles of wit and charm. Her gift was proffering poignancy without pique in a snark-free zone.

Even if one disagreed with her conclusions, Ellen offered reasoned arguments that often pierced the armor of our own defenses. She was a skillful wordsmith, yes, but more than that, she was a consummate columnist. It is not so hard to write a column for a few weeks or even a year. The trick is writing quality columns year after year. For decades, Ellen managed to draw readers in, take them for a spin through her thoughts and leave them wishing the ride hadn't ended so soon. That is called magic.

As a fellow columnist, I am indebted to Ellen for clearing some of journalism's underbrush and marking the trail with good humor. As a woman, I'm grateful to her for helping us recognize women's issues as universal concerns. As a human being, I'm sorry to see her cursor go dim.

Today, we accept the gifts of the women's movement without much notice. We expect to see women in equal numbers to men in most endeavors, though I still would argue that the sexes are not always interchangeable.

We also expect to see women on the op-ed pages, though there are still fewer than men. Here is how far we've come: Sixteen years ago when I first became syndicated, editors would bark at the noble salesperson, "We don't need Parker; we got Goodman."

One woman was as good as another, in other words.

We know that just ain't so, but we didn't always. For this, we can thank Ellen Goodman, too.

Best of luck in your second act, Ellen. If I may be permitted one final burst of Batesian inspiration, break a leg.

E-mail nationally syndicated columnist Kathleen Parker at kathleenparker@washpost.com.