By now the embers of the fireside summit have cooled, and everyone has recovered from Geneva jet lag. But I'm afraid it's going to take a good deal longer to recover from Geneva time warp.
The meetings between the leaders of the East and West looked for all the world like a 19th-century dinner party. The men had retired to one drawing room to determine the fate of the Earth, while the women were sequestered in another determining the fate of fashion.
The required team uniform for the summit was a pinstriped suit. Both sides even wore the same old school tie. There was only one woman among the chief negotiators, Rozanne Ridgway, the assistant secretary of state, but she hardly surfaced. Indeed the only female voice I heard in three days was that of a translator.
The chief summit tour guide back to those wonderful yesteryears was, of course, Donald Regan. He appeared in a starring role as the late George Apley of the White House. Regan closed the doors to the drawing room with his now-famous line that women "are not going to understand throw- weights or what is happening in Afghanistan or what is happening in human rights." Even Phyllis Schlafly hoped he was misquoted.
My own benign inclination is to accept the apology Regan uttered last Sunday. He suffers from repeated relapses of this sort of thing. Besides, a friend tells me that his rough polling of men in his locker room showed that the overwhelming majority of them defined "throw-weights" in football terminology. It's probably what got Joe Theismann in trouble.
It is best to think of Regan's throw- weights as just one of a series of summit throwbacks. The media were barely more up-to-date. They viewed the meetings through a 1950s lens, especially the TV lens. All over town, reporters went back on the late, unlamented, "wife beat." The media came up with endless tales of the "style wars" and the "tea summit" between Raisa Gorbachev and Nancy Reagan.
The wife beat was recreated in large part out of the desperation of 3,000 reporters in search of a story. But it enhanced the time warp.
Women were not officially heard at the summit, so they were seen. And seen. And seen. Women had no public role, so they were covered in their private role. Every item in each wardrobe was scrutinized. Reporters who actually do know about the MX and SS had to start from scratch learning about dolman sleeves.
Some in the media were relieved and some sounded resentful at the d,etente of the couture battle, but it was left to Nancy Reagan of all people to call the wardrobe coverage "a little silly."
The irony is a familiar one: When women appear in public life today wrapped in power, we think less about the shape of their dresses. When they make a splash as co-workers, the spotlight is more on work than on wives. We saw that update in the 1984 election when Geraldine Ferraro's presence took some of the heat off Joan Mondale. And we saw it in reel reversal last week.
The ultimate sidebar on the female place at the summit was the report that Nancy offered, and Raisa accepted, almond tea. It was indeed the teatotal of their role in negotiations.
But this retrospectacle on the international state of women also featured a favorite old myth about the "real power" of women. Both Raisa and Nancy were described repeatedly as highly influential with their husbands. Nancy, we were told as an article of faith, was the crucial force behind nudging Reagan up the summit. It was her desire that he leave a legacy of peace.
I don't discount the wifely influence. I have no idea what it is or isn't. But I do see the ancient pattern to this thinking. The more remote women are from the inner circle of policy making, the more we attribute to them mysterious powers over the insiders. The less they actually speak in the chambers, the more we believe in the persuasive language called pillow talk. They are, we say, the power behind the throne or the Delilah behind the Samson. Choose any of the above. Indeed, women are so powerful by marriage, powerful-in-law, they barely need any of the heady stuff in their own right.
It is sad that the summit is one of the last bastions of an all-male world. With apologies to Donald Regan, those of us who already have won the dubious right to be equal victims in any nuclear war have also won the right and responsibility to be equal among the planners for peace. It is not too much to ask that between now and Summit II women move from their separate drawing room to the negotiating table.
Until then I am grateful for this trip abroad. But from one point of view, the fresh start looked awfully old-fashioned.