Estelle Ramey is the women's-rights activist who several years ago took on Hubert Humphrey's physician and political adviser, Edgar Berman, in a debate after he'd said that women weren't fit for high office. It was called "The Battle of the Raging Hormones." Since then she's been studying the male sex hormone testosterone, to discover why men have more heart attacks and less resistance to the effects of stress than women do.
On the weekends, though, what she does is as little as possible. Let's say she avoids stress of any kind. "I hate to use the word 'vegetating,' because it's more than that. I can be doing things that involve taking a good look at myself occasionally without worrying about other people looking at me at the same time.
"I suppose we all have the impression, when you are very young, if you don't have a date on Saturday night, life isn't worth living," she said. "When you get to be my age" -- she's 65 -- "if you do have a social engagement on a Saturday night you moan and groan, and you do it. It's almost like the seven stages of man."
Long ago she reached the point where Washington cocktail parties interested her less and less. She regards attending cocktail parties every night of the week, as some politicians do, as "more deserving of awe than getting the Nobel Prize."
"What I value most, as it turns out, are the quieter times I can spend at home with my husband, family and occasional friend -- and alone. I find that I spend much of my working time never alone," said Ramey, who is an endocrinologist at Georgetown University. "I read about loneliness; that's not the case with me. Everyone wants a piece of you. On the weekend I put together the pieces."
She swims laps in her swimming pool, taking some of her own medical advice. Or, if her son brings the grandchildren over, she'll sit by the pool and admire them.
Doing little outside the home is typical, she said, for "the bifocal set," as she calls her age group. "The bifocal set in general I would say is so relieved after a week of being involved in work that the weekend is a time to recharge," she says.
For entertainment, she and her husband go to the Mikado on Wisconsin Avenue for shrimp tempura. "As I had more money, I found myself increasingly annoyed at spending a fortune on a meal that doesn't strike me as all that good," she says. "I prefer going to a few places where there is value for your money. I have gone past the stage where I desire people seeing me or me seeing people there."
At the Mikado, "I like the atmosphere and they don't rip you off," said Ramey. "I have become more sensitive to things that are just icing, and the cake underneath is made in a factory. Avoid like the plague any place that's 'in.' "
The money she earns on her lecture tours goes to various feminist causes: homes for beaten women, the ERA ("I don't think it's wasted, because things have happened," she says), and loan programs for medical students and Ph.D.s. "I was very poor when I was in college during the Depression. The money should be used for other women," she says. "I get my kicks out of that, and out of paying $3 for a pint of raspberries."
She offers two tips for managing days off: Do things that are removed from work, and don't set up any kind of schedule.
"Most of us operate in a very time-dependent way. I give lectures, I have appointments all through the day. Weekends are less time-dependent. I regard that as an absolute necessity.
"I don't have to meet deadlines, I don't have to talk to people, I don't have to 'put my face on,' as my grandson says as he watches me put my makeup on."
"I sometimes feel like a houseplant during the weekend, and that's what I aim for. And to be taken care of like a houseplant," says Ramey.
If she does anything at all, it's something that doesn't require thinking. She likes to sew, but only pretty things she can show off. "I would never dream of sewing pajamas," she said. She doesn't spend a lot of time cooking. "I only enjoy cooking for the very rare dinner party I give where other people can appreciate my extraordinary skill," she says.
"Whenever I see a recipe that says 'serve immediately,' I turn the page. Life's too short for that kind of thing."
Ramey passes her spare time reading murder mysteries. The best mystery writers have been women, she said: Ruth Rendell, Agatha Christie ("still the greatest"), Dorothy Sayers: "Whatever happens to be around, what I pick up at the library, is what I read," she says. "I'm sort of like a garbage disposal."
She likes to go back and read Jane Austen: "There's a real satisfaction in the poor but honest girl making her way, like Horatio Alger," she says. "I read a lot of stuff about women."
She has a taste for leisure, the good life. Her fantasy, she says, is to return in her next incarnation as the equivalent of a British duchess from the late 19th century: "I would have children and see them at 5 in the afternoon, when I would come to the dining room in a sweeping gown, smelling beautiful. And they would all write books about how beautiful I was. At the same time I would be a suffragette and have the best of both worlds.
"Otherwise, I would like to be a Siamese.""