One of the things that reading the Hirshman book has made me realize is how easily I get trapped in the rhetoric of those who do not value women in the workplace. This thread disturbed me in that respect. Somehow the thread devolved into a discussion of why people as individuals even need validation from others and whether I might "want" to do something else if my circumstances change, since I might not feel the same way at another time. I myself even reduced my own piece to a "feel good" piece and allowed the most important point to get lost.
That point is DUTY. Where does our "duty" lie? Probably more than anything else in life, I am interested in doing my duty, in identifying and doing "the right thing." I have determined that my duty lies in the workplace. It really has nothing to do with my feelings. Even if I suddenly had a burning desire to stay home with babies, I would still work. Because I feel that that is my duty. It is my duty to use my talents to benefit those beyond my family. It is also my duty to take advantage of the opportunities hard won by generations of women before me.
Unlike Hirshman, I do feel very uncomfortable telling other women what choices they should make. Maybe that's a flaw or a weakness on my part. But I am happy to share the moral calculation I have made in my personal life.
I do think Hirshman is one hundred per cent correct that feminists have ceded the "culture war" to the social conservatives. Social conservatives benefit from feminist silence over "duty" because they get to define women's duty as staying at home. People do want to know the "right thing to do" and the only one answering that question are the social conservatives.
Feminists generally don't want to offend or alienate anyone by castigating or belittling other women's life decisions. I feel that way too, because I know a lot of stay-at-home moms whom I respect. I guess I am squeamish, and that squeamishness plays right into the hands of the right. (I note that social conservatives aren't quite so shy. Hirshman quotes Danielle Crittendon as telling working women that our lives are "just a pile of pay stubs." Thanks, Danielle!) But Hirshman is right -- by refraining from making value judgment, we're leaving the field wide open for the value judgments of the Christian right. And we allow the Christian right (and others) to characterize working women as "selfish," an absurd characterization that might make it tough for ambitious young girls who want to do the right thing to justify their ambitions to their families and their communities.
But by not making value judgments, we support a culture that is happy to virtually scream at women that they should stay home and focus inward on their families rather than the broader society. Now, I can't speak to anyone's personal life or choices, so I prefer to take the positive-reinforcement approach by saying WOMEN IN THE WORKPLACE IS AN UNQUALIFIED GOOD. Women in the workplace should be praised for their decision-- not because it's good for my little fee-fees (I am already fully committed to my decision), but because it encourages other women who want to do their duty to choose the workplace. Just because we are feminists doesn't mean we can't have an opinion.