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"If you're going to have women in the work force ...," Mitt Romney said during this week's presidential debate, while explaining the binder assembling he falsely claims to have initiated as part of his attempt to implement what he presented as his own novel lady-hire scheme, "you need to be more flexible."

I listened to him as though listening to a man discussing the domestication of the zebra. "If you're going to have women in the work force" … If you're compelled by circumstances beyond your control to attempt to harness a panicky and unpredictable African equid, then so be it. Perhaps as part of the war effort, horses being in short supply in the munitions factories.

"I need to be able to get home at 5 o'clock, so I can be there for making dinner for my kids ...," the woman Mr. Romney hired as his chief of staff when he became governor of Massachusetts explained to him, he claimed.

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"So, we said, 'Fine,' " Mr. Romney told the audience gathered at Hofstra University to hear the debate, and I imagine a lot of men and women watching had the same reaction I did. I wondered what parent with a full-time job that I assume starts at 9 a.m. would expect, not just to leave the office, but to be home by 5 o'clock.

None that I know. I wondered if, upon hearing that "fine," the newly hired chief of staff thought, "Well, I've got a live one here," and presented her employer with her remaining terms – a rider worthy of Van Halen. I honestly cannot think of anyone who would ask not merely for some accommodation to be made in the event of, say, a child's illness, but for a routinely truncated workday.

Regrettably, Mr. Romney's "binders full of women" comment, in which he clumsily referred to a laudable effort by a women's group to present women qualified for top-level government positions (an effort Mr. Romney attempted to take credit for), and the meme it birthed largely overshadowed his representation of what it means to hire a woman.

Apparently, to Mr. Romney, hiring a woman is, in spirit, an exaggerated take-your-child-to-work day, and anyone hearing that respect for women in the workplace demands a gallant acceptance of their innate desire to be home to cook dinner at 5 o'clock might almost be forgiven for thinking that this dinner-at-5-before-all-else thing explains why women in the United States still earn about 72 cents to the dollar earned by men.

Despite having graduated from law school in equal numbers for more than 20 years, women still make up only 16 to 19 per cent of the partners in law firms, but I guess they are all mothers and none has a slow cooker.

That Mr. Romney gave this answer in response to a question about how he would work to rectify women's inequality on the workplace is particularly troubling, but hardly surprising, or maybe it is.

It's hard to say, with a Mitt position. After all, his opinion of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 (the first piece of legislation passed by the Obama government), which grants plaintiffs more time to file suit in wage-discrimination cases, is still, like most of Mr. Romney's positions, a mystery.

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His running mate, Paul Ryan, voted against the act. Less than 24 hours after the debate, a top adviser in the campaign said that, while Mr. Romney was "opposed to the bill at the time," he would not seek to repeal it if elected president.

Later, the adviser retracted that statement, saying Mr. Romney had no position on the bill at the time and has refused since April to clarify.

I think most people would agree that the one job in America no woman wants is that of taking Mitt Romney's order at a busy diner. Somewhere, a waitress sighs, goes back to the kitchen and says: "He has retracted the cherry pie and, when asked if he wants coffee, said, 'That is an excellent question. I'd like to tell you about the time I ran the Olympics.' "

"In the economy I'm going to bring to play," Mr. Romney told the debate audience while explaining the magic of trickle-down affirmative action, employers "are going to be so anxious to get good workers, they're going to be anxious to hire women."

Yes, that anxious! And if, in this bright, shiny new economy, on whose specifics Mr. Romney also remains characteristically vague, you are a woman lucky enough to be employed in a Mitt Romney anecdote, you'll get to leave work at 4.

An hour earlier, if you need to marinate.

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