Suzanne Fields

So many books and surveys, so little time, and many are still wrestling with Freud's simple question, "What do women want?" The books and surveys are so loaded with contradictory opinions that no sociologist's "cohort" is likely to come up with a definitive answer.

Some women insist that the only thing for an educated woman to do is to work outside her home. Others defend the mom whose satisfaction comes from being with her children. Still others insist that mix and match is the best formula, for staying home when the kids are young.

My grandson, age 8, asked me the other day what his great-grandmother -- my mother -- "did." I wasn't sure what he meant. "Did, did, did," he repeated. "You mean as in 'work'?" I asked. "Yes, work."

Well, I told him, she spent a lot of time with her son and daughter and grandchildren when they were growing up. "She often picked up your mother at school when I couldn't, and she always had freshly baked cookies with her. She enjoyed making your great-grandfather happy." Such a granny sounded exotic to the young man, not at all like the mommies he knew, whose work determined their children's "play dates" and after-school activities.

The frame of reference for "did" has changed just as the word "gender" has replaced the word "sex." (It's still difficult to imagine Marilyn Monroe as a "genderpot.") I recalled this exchange with my grandson on reading interpretations of the political "gender gap" by the presidential candidates and their spouses. The woman who sounds most like my mother is Ann Romney. When Fox News Sunday's Chris Wallace asked her about life on the campaign trail, she talked about how she wants to be with her husband to support him when he's being kicked all the time: "I feel sorry for the guy." That sounded both genuine and disarming.

Hillary Clinton and John Edwards are the candidates trying hardest to exploit "gender politics," and they're the most disingenuous. "Today, too many women are separated from the opportunities of our country because of their gender," says John Edwards. Does he know that women now hold half of all the management jobs in America? Hillary Clinton insists that the Bush administration denies freedom to "women around the world." Does she include the women of Afghanistan and Iraq?

Arthur Brooks of the American Enterprise Institute argues in The Wall Street Journal that this is a hot issue because a successful Democratic nominee must win a large majority of the female vote, which next year will make up the majority of everything. John Kerry counted on the gender gap his three Democratic predecessors enjoyed, and was sorely disappointed when the women's vote tilted only slightly his way.

Suzanne Fields

Suzanne Fields is currently working on a book that will revisit John Milton's 'Paradise Lost.'

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