To quote "Adelaide's Lament" from "Guys and Dolls," "You can feed her all day with the vitamin A and the bromofizz/ But the medicine never gets anywhere near where the trouble is." That's the sense one gets from the recent tone-challenged courting of women voters.
On the Sunday talk shows, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner called "ridiculous" Republican Mitt Romney's assertion that most of the jobs lost during the Obama years were women's jobs. The statement may have been true, but it ignored the bloodletting of mostly male-held jobs in the gruesome last months of George W. Bush.
Meanwhile, Democrats were finishing the week trying to recover from an offensive remark by a high-profile adviser. Hilary Rosen said that Mitt's wife, Ann Romney, "never worked a day in her life." Ann raised five boys. Of course, her husband's fortune bought many a domestic service, freeing untold hours of housekeeping. But anyone who has actively overseen the care, education and social development of children knows it's about much more than mopping the kitchen floor. Many stay-at-home wives are up to their triceps bathing children when their "Mad Men" providers are on their second cocktails.
As an apologetic Rosen tried to explain, Ann Romney's lot differed dramatically from that of women raising kids and clearing tables at Arby's. Point taken. How single mothers do it is beyond me. They have no time for civic participation, for normal cooking or doing their nails. At the end of the day, they collapse in front of a TV show exalting a surgically altered celebrity.
But Rosen is herself a top-paid lobbyist and can also hire others. For all the working-class melodrama of her delivery, Rosen's remark was a stab in the sensitivities of educated women who stay home with their children rather than use their degrees to make money elsewhere. It is oblivious to where the trouble is.
We're talking about women with the luxury of options. They have some control over the balance between work at home and work outside. What they don't have is time, and time for them takes several forms.
• Biological time. Medical technology can stretch the childbearing years, but the easiest and healthiest time to give birth is in one's 20s and 30s. These are also the career-building years.
• Career time. Of course, women can take a quick parental leave - and if they have the money, hire nannies to cover their toddlers. But they can never get back the time they could have spent having lunch with their 3-year-old and passing on their values.
• Female beauty time. All cultures value female beauty, but our Hollywood-ized version boots women out of Eden after the second blush of youth. It's unfair, but comely women more often get the promotions, even in gray corporate offices. And look at the daytime cable news anchors. The man is a mature voice of experience, and the woman, as the industry saying goes, is a "blonde half his age."
I talk to women-with-options all the time. Those who stay at home often speak sadly of lost opportunities and pain over a perceived lower status of not having a "real" job. They may feel guilt at not having used their education in the larger world. I remind them that given today's life expectancies, they have time to have children and then later build careers. But when they worry about advancing in a profession they won't enter until age 40, I don't know what to say.
Even under the most comfortable circumstances, time is not on women's side. For women, paying jobs are but one piece of a much bigger puzzle. Getting a job is often the easy part.