AUSTIN, Texas -- In 1901, a Henry T. Finch, writing in The Independent, reported: "Women's participation in political life would involve the domestic calamity of a deserted home and the loss of the womanly qualities for which refined men adore women and marry them. ... Doctors tell us, too, that thousands of children would be harmed or killed before birth by the injurious effect of untimely political excitement on their mothers."

I'm trying to imagine an Al Gore speech that would provoke "untimely political excitement."

Actually, what I'm trying to do is remind y'all of the fine American tradition of everybody and his hamster feeling free to make vast, sweeping prescriptions for the entire female gender. We have just been through a modest little media orgy over both Karen Hughes' decision to resign from the White House and Sylvia Hewlett's book pointing out that it gets harder to have babies as we get older.

Everybody gets to have an opinion about Karen Hughes' resignation, as though we were somehow entitled to sit in judgment of her. Feminists supposedly feel (although I haven't been able to find one who does) that Hughes somehow "let down the side" by resigning, as though she had some obligation to prove she could handle a high-profile political career and mom-dom. Anti-feminists supposedly feel great vindication: This proves no one can do it and stay-at-home moms are best.

Sometimes I think the media just make stuff up. Every woman I've talked to around the country has said: "Good for Karen Hughes. She made her own decision." And since Karen Hughes is an especially sensible person, I'm sure it's the right decision for her.

The only other thing to add is, "How nice that she was able to make that choice." So many working women don't have that option. Wouldn't it be good if this society responded to the needs of its' hardest-working and most stressed-out citizens, working mothers, with some of the measures common in other rich democracies -- paid leave, reduced hours, career breaks, day-care, etc.

For some reason, I thought we were already past this one -- of course you can have it all, of course you have both a career and a family. You will, however, be tired for about 20 years. There is a critical need for structural changes in this society to accommodate working mothers, which is why we need more women in public office. Look at President Bush's new budget: It cuts money for job training for women trying to get off welfare, cuts money for child-care for women trying to get off welfare. That's moving backward.

Our second flappette is over the Hewlett book, "Creating a Life: Professional Women and the Quest for Children." How many women are actually on a quest to have children? Hewlett seems to have been -- she has four children, and in order to have the last, she went through five years of fertility treatment and produced the baby at 51. How nice that she had that choice. As a woman of a certain age (57), I certainly find that game of her. Any questions I may have about her sanity are being rigidly suppressed by my support of a sister to make her own choices.

The mystery here is why the book wound up on the cover of Time magazine, and on "Good Morning America," "60 Minutes," etc. Were there actually a lot of people out there who thought a woman could easily have a child in her 50s?

Peggy Orenstein, author of "Flux: Women on Sex, Work, Love and Kids in a Half-Changed World," said: "Where were the women at Time? Where the women at 'Good Morning America'? Where were the women at '60 Minutes'?" Her point being that women who are editors and news producers, as well as mothers and non-mothers, are in quite a good position to make news judgments about Hewlett's book. New or not new? Well researched or not?

Hewlett cites the notoriously bad 1986 Harvard-Yale study that claimed a woman's chances of marrying after 40 were less than that of being killed by terrorist. The study has been thoroughly discredited -- although it did lead to Kaye Northcott's immortal response, "Well, we'll just have to get cracking."

As Katha Pollitt points out, Hewlett's "study" fails to take into account those women --and men -- who say they want children but conduct their lives as though "have kids" were on to-do list between "learn Italian" and "exercise." They probably don't really want kids that much, don't you think?

Like "senioritis" and "the ticking biological clock," the media's promotion of this book seems to designed to induce panic in women, though I'm hard put to see about what. If you want to have kids, have kids. If you don't want to have kids, don't have kids. Don't do anything until you've lived long enough to make an intelligent choice. Don't leave the choice until too late. That's the advice from my hamster.

To find out more about Molly Ivins and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at COPYRIGHT 2002 CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.