Wanna know why I don’t post more? A big reason is that I like reading too much. For instance, I was thinking of writing something about Linda Hirshman’s article “Homeward Bound.” But first I thought I’d see what other bloggers were saying about it… and that turned out to take up all my available blogging time.
I may or may not find time to write a post about Hirshman’s article – although the number one thing I have to say about it, I’ve already said, which is that much of her premise simply ain’t true. (Note, however, that Hirshman herself, in comments, argues that my criticism is unjust.) Meanwhile, here’s what I’ve been reading::
Official Shrub.com Blog
Seriously, though, without proper data a proper discussion cannot take place. The articles Hirshman cites are crap, even if the message they send may have a grain of truth. There is nothing to be gained by validating their improper methodologies, flawed logic, and misuse of data. If you want to discuss the message, then both sides need to approach the issue with data that was gathered and analyzed properly, otherwise it’s fair game to discredit the message by discrediting evidence provided. [...]
The point of “choice feminism” is that we must recognize a woman’s right to make her own choices, even if those choices are anti-feminist, bad for her, or just ones we don’t agree with. It is her right as a human being to live her life the way she sees fit.
It is our job, however, as feminists to see where women’s choices are taken away from them and to broaden the path.
So, women just want to be little domestic honey-bunnies? No barriers other those in their own heads and in the minds of their Neanderthal husbands? They just want to spend their time cleaning and see no benefits for their children by staying at home? Please. These women are not representative of elite women and, even if they are, so what? Why do you care?
Half Changed World
I agree that “having enough autonomy to direct one’s own life” is important. I think that Hirshman is right that women often make choices that make sense at the time, but that cut off future options and reduce their bargaining power in the process. But I think that Hirshman is wildly off base in interpreting “autonomy” solely in terms of increased earnings capacity. She’s equally scornful of women who choose “indentured servitude in social-service jobs” as she is of stay-at-home moms, assuming that this makes them less autonomous than the big firm lawyer working 80 hours a week at a job he hates. (Ironically, at the same time that Hirshman is saying that feminism failed by not making women more career-minded, David Gelernter is whining that feminism is the reason his students are excessively career focused.)
My point is there is middle ground between this silly “all choices are feminist” crap and a more nuanced understanding that all choices women make are in response to oppressive forces and have to be understood as essentially surviving choices. It’s helpful advice to suggest that you marry someone beneath you socially to balance out your class privilege with his male privilege, and it’s helpful to advise someone not to change her name when she marries, but I think it’s not productive to judge women who feel, for whatever reasons, that they are only bringing more oppression into their lives than is worth it by making these choices. Like my bitching vs. just doing the housework example–who’s really going to line up to cast judgement on me when I’ve accurately concluded that it’s easier for me to have to do all the housework rather than be labeled a nag and a shrew?
Emphatic note to Linda Hirshman: Feminists can say anything they damn well want (even “Fuck you!” when we are so moved, which is not a random observation here); most elite women DO “choose” the trajectory of their lives, at least as much as the rest of us do, thanks in large part to the triumphs of feminism; and feminism as I understand and experience it is not “in collusion with traditional society.” We are subverting the patriarchy one day at a time by living as we want to, rather than following instructions dictated by men, or by you.
Yet (sigh) I fear she’s right that one way to change relationships is for women to increase their earning power. (She also suggests they could be changed if women would “marry down” in age or status, or if they married liberals. She reports this with–seemingly–no irony.)
In fact, I believe that this is the single most irretrievably gendered division-of-labor issue for couples who want to be, or think they are, equals: the person whose job it is to monitor that equality is the person who has the least power. And in most cases, that’s the woman. That’s why “don’t put yourself in a position of unequal resources” is absolutely crucial advice: if you’re going to have to monitor your marriage to make sure that it’s an equal partnership, then that is in and of itself part of the labor of the relationship. That “counts,” and having to do that “extra” work will be a lot more palatable, and possible, if you ensure from the outset that all other aspects of your marriage distribute resources equally.
Angry Pregnant Lawyer
So the reason that the number of women in elite jobs is small is because feminism failed. It has nothing to do with outright or even subtle discrimination in the workplace, or with society’s attitudes toward women, work, and families. There’s a nifty trick: I’m sorry, but your quest for equality hasn’t happened yet, so obviously it’s a clunker of an idea. Forget everything you have achieved in the past 30 years–it’s time to pack it up and get a new ideology.
The ideal situation for most families should be shared parenting, where a child has ample doses of both parents. The best way to make that happen is through workplace flexibility: alternative schedules, ample part-time work (with benefits), telecommuting options, etc. There is no reason why the workplace in 2005 needs to run like it did in 1981, when the phone company was a monopoly, fax machines were considered something close to black magic and the internet was powered by 213 computers. If you could build businesses around the concepts advocated by Joan Williams at UC-Hastings — proportional pay, benefits and advancement for part-timers — a lot of Hirshman’s concerns would disappear.
The Linda Hirshman piece in the American Prospect is getting emailed around, and got a spot on AlterNet. More tendentious lies, as in: the workplace changed enough. Oh, please. I was interviewed for that piece, and totally distrust the author’s assumptions and her willingness to be honest and truthful. I’m so exhausted by ideologues. Her database: three weeks worth of couples who advertised their June weddings in, yes, the Sunday New York Times. She’s trying to find a book contract for this, god help us all. And she’s a scholar too, she should know better about how to use evidence. Enough, enough, enough.
The Republic of Heaven
Once you’ve assigned false consciousness to every woman who says that she chose to scale back (or forgo entirely) her career in order to have a better family life (a positive externality she fails to include in her calculations of the economics of one income versus two), you have taken a pretty hard position to falsify. How can I prove to you that I enjoy the time that I spend with my daughter, and that I receive value from that, which compensates (given my set of preferences) for the lost income? She has already pronounced that my preferences are invalid, so I have no grounds for argument.
Apparently there are still people who – instead of looking for ways to make American work places more family friendly, to remove the penalties for stepping off the fast track (for moms AND dads), to encourage companies to invest in and help retain talented employees by allowing parents to balance work and kids through telecommuting and truncated work schedule options – would prefer to attack the moms who didn’t chose to partake of the full-time day care option.
When I think of my friends and mama role models, a lot of them are combining work and family. My good friend Liz, who had baby #2 a few weeks ago, was working for CSFB right up until labor. Another buddy from business school just got in touch with me last week, and I found she was already working fulltime only six months after the birth of her first son. Meg Whitman is the CEO of eBay despite having two boys and a husband whose career is similarly demanding. Although my own career has changed gears a bit in the past three years, I’m still pretty much on track with my goals – although I have taken work that pays less in order to balance it with child rearing, my resume is still full of “chief” this and “VP of” that.
Men don’t have to make the choice, Hirshman writes. I think most men don’t get to make that choice. They’re usually stuck with the breadwinner role, whether they want it or not. These days, women really do have a choice, but not one without consequences.
I find it a curious methodology to look at work in order to assess whether women are being discriminated against, not merely treated differently, vis a vis men. In the civil rights cases challenging the practice of excluding blacks from juries, it was a quick but not trivial question how blacks could be burdened when they were relieved of an obligation; it seems the same problem is inescapable when one uses work to measure opportunity. In the courtroom, a judge could simply decide that since the disparate treatment was suffered by the defendant and not the excused veniremen, it would henceforth be true as a matter of law that singling out black jurors is discriminatory. When a social scientist tries to decipher the world, however, no such resolution by fiat is available.
The Useless Tree
Although it may be true that when a highly trained woman lawyer or architect or corporate professional drops out of the work force it may give employers pause in hiring other women (will they leave for family reasons?), that social cost (inequality in the workplace) is certainly offset by the social good of family care. No, instead of casting aspersions on women caregivers, we should think of ways of enabling more men to do the same kind of caregiving.