Excellent Carnival at Bitch Lab! Among a variety of topics covered, she includes a "Sex Positive Feminist Mini Carnival." Good stuff!
If we denigrate parenting and housework, we not only insult the contributions of other women, we also give men more incentive to shirk their duties at home.
Further, it is my impression that a father who takes time off for the "daddy track" would likely face greater obstacles returning to the workforce than a mother, so perhaps the problem is not so much one of "feminism" but of the fact that attitudes like Hirshman's - that child-rearing tasks are unworthy - are pervasive.
I know at least one reader whose decision to stay home was influenced in part by the fact that it would have been impossible for her husband to do so. In his profession, there was too much of a stigma attached to men who stay home with kids.
Certainly in the bad old days before the successes of Second Wave feminism, the "housewife" wasn't exactly a respected figure in our society. Even now some of the elderly male partners at my firm will advise us trial lawyers to simplify (and shorten!!) our language as if we were trying to explain the complexities of the case to "Aunt Milly" -- the assumption being that Aunt Milly is a rather simple person since she likely spent her whole life at home scrubbing floors. I am willing to bet that utter lack of respect for housewives in the past was probably part of the motivation for many Second Wavers to reject the homemaker role.
The social conservatives have wised up. Thus, the "family values" set is all about glorifying the homemaker's role -- as long as women are doing it of course. All this talk of the Proverbs 31 woman whose value is greater than rubies is intended to encourage women in their homemaker role. That encouragement is far more necessary than in the past because women now have so many options outside the home.
It is human nature that people are more likely to do things, especially things above and beyond what is expected, if those things aren't treated as shameful. Therefore, while I am all in favor of encouraging women to be hard chargers at work, I agree that it is an enormous blunder to stigmatize the very necessary activities of cooking, mopping, scrubbing, vacuuming, and most significantly, childcare. Even without kids in the mix, housework is important because it is very difficult to function at capacity in a chaotic and unclean environment. (That's why the military is so rigorous in its standards of order and cleanliness. In the traditionally all-male military environment, cleaning wasn't stigmatized at all but seen as a necessary component of accomplishing the military's mission.) So certainly we should value housework and childcare. Without doing so, there would be no incentive for men to do it other than "it's the right thing to do." (There are some guys out there doing it, though, like Rebel Dad).
Thus, I agree wholeheartedly that Hirshman was wrong to denigrate homemakers. And while I know Nicole ain't buying it, I think that Hirshman's denigration of stay-at-home-parenting is tangential to her argument (although in interviews and such Hirshman herself seems to be stressing that pieces of her argument for some reason that escapes me). In fact, I think it is counterproductive to her argument because, if the ultimate goal, is truly free choices for men and women without regard to societal assumptions based on sex, then we need to eradicate the pressures on men not to do homemaking as much as we need to eradicate the pressure on women to take on the homemaking role.
I was extremely drained and grumpy after a long morning in court yesterday, but my friends in the blogosphere perked me right up:
I am also very much looking forward to receiving a review copy of a book called Paradigm Found by Anne Firth Murray, founder of The Global Fund for Women. The book, I understand, addresses a feminist vision of leadership. I can't wait to read and report! (I'll also be reporting this fall on Rose Aguilar's book on her road trip through the red states.)
And there are lots of Hirshman posts from all over:
So if Linda Hirshman were to appear on my front step this evening and say, "Woman, you are wasting your time staying home," I would invite her in and offer her a glass of wine. Then while she was drinking it I would run out the front door and leave her to raise my kids.
L. at Homesick Home has two new responses to Hirshman. She discovers that Hirshman herself is married with three children. And she notes that Linda Hirshman is kind of like her mom. What Linda Hirshman is saying to our generation is probably similar to what a lot of Second Wave feminist moms are saying to their daughters. That's why it feels so personal.
Ann Bartow at Feminist Law Professors asks Are Linda Hirshman and Caitlin Flanagan the Dominant Voices of Contemporary Gender Discourse? That's kind of a scary thought, huh? (And it made my day that Ann said nice things about my Hirshman posts. It's always a little heady when a law professor praises one's work.)
Echidne of the Snakes and Jill at Feministe have thoughtful takes on Hirshman as well. As Jill says, the problem is that, regardless of the positive aspects of Hirshman's thinking Hirshman is "easily caricatured" so that her more critical points are lost in the discourse. It doesn't help that everything falling out of Hirshman's mouth lately seems to be playing into the caricature.
I am going to take a cue from Hugo Schwyzer's blog and institute a couple of new house rules in order to make the comments threads easier to read, especially for those who are coming in to a thread discussion that has been going on for a while:
1) No comments that are more than 250 words. If you aren't sure how long your comment is, you can paste it into a Microsoft Word document, click on "tools" and then click on "word count." That will tell you how many words you've got.
2) Don't try to get around it by posting multiple comments in a row. I will treat as one single comment all comments posted from one person without an intervening comment from someone else. So if you post five separate comments in a row just so you can write a 1000 treatise, I will treat all five comments as one comment for the purpose of enforcing the word limit.
I will likely delete non-complying comments so watch out! This rule isn't meant to make life more onerous but rather to improve the quality of comments threads here and to make it easier for other people to join in a comments thread that has been going on for a while. I think this will also be easier to enforce than my relevancy requirement (which is still in place) because a word limit is not subjective.
God, all this Hirshman discussion, has my blood pressure boiling right now. Why? Because this is the very hardest stuff for women to talk about: our personal choices as to how to deal with career and family. These choices are deeply personal, they go to the core of who we are, and they are often wrenching and painful. I would submit that the angst women suffer over work-family issues is well-nigh universal (except for those women who simply accept a traditionalist lifestyle in which they accept being subordinate). But despite the fact that these choices often reflect our values and affect our self-image, the key thing, I think, is to be dead honest about what the trade offs are.
This is the thing I appreciated so very much about my wonderful homemaker mother. A shy, passive, easily dominated person who never went to college and was either a secretary and homemaker all her life, she might seem at first glance to be the farthest thing from a Hirshman feminist. But, man, my mother was brave and gutsy as all get out at NAMING the factors that had constrained and shaped her life. No matter how painful it got, she was clear-eyed about the ways in which she got the shaft because of her sex.
My mother was born in 1941 and was heavily socialized throughout her childhood to aspire to a very traditional femininity. She was raised in a devout Lutheran household that stressed the teachings of Paul, including the teachings regarding a woman's proper submissive role. In high school, despite an excellent academic record, my mother was encouraged by both guidance counselors and parents to choose home economics classes whenever given the chance for an elective. After high school, there was no thought of my mother going to college because there didn't seem to be any reason for a girl to go to college. My mother married up (my father was a Harvard educated professional), putting her at a distinct disadvantage in terms of the power balance in the family. If there was ever a disagreement, well guess what, dad was going to win because (a) he was better educated, (b) he was the breadwinner, and (c) my mother didn't have the ability to be assertive. My mother did absolutely everything related to home and child care. All my father had to do was go to work. When he got home, dinner was on the table, the bills were paid, the laundry done, the house immaculate, etc.
Now let me be clear. My mother has never taken any steps whatsoever to change her subordinate status at home and in society. I asked her once why she didn't leap on board when the women's movement broke out in full force in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Her answer was that while the women's movement had her full support, she felt that it came slightly too late for her.
My mother also takes full responsibility for the choices she made (choices, of course, made within the constraints placed on women on those days). She both relished and made the most of her life as a stay-at-home mom and a homemaker. She nurtured my education, my sense of humor, my values, and my interests. She created a wonderful home. She gardened, cooked, sewed, and restored furniture, and was invariably cheerful and optimistic. Her worst error (in my opinion) was in not walking out on my father. But that would have been an awful lot to ask someone who was raised to be a wife and who could not have hoped to approximate the income that my father was able to provide both me and her. Striking out on her own with a child would have been simply too daunting.
But here is the extraordinary thing: My mother was always very clear about the sex-based injustices that had constrained her life. I would ask all sorts of obnoxious questions when I was a young kid (not because I was trying to be disrespectful but because I was worried): Aren't you humiliated not to even have your own name? Yup. By not earning an income, aren't you basically a second class citizen? Yup. Isn't it unfair that dad gets to tell you what to do? Yup.
What I loved about my mother is that she would never pussy-foot around. She never tried to pass off the obvious inequities she suffered as anything other than what they were. She didn't try to say, "Oh no, I am not a second-class citizen because I have influence." Or, "I'm a lot luckier than your Dad because I get to stay home with you." Or, "Your dad and I are a team. There's a give-and-take. We each have equal but separate roles." It was my mother who first made me see in a lightbulb-going-off-in-my-head kind of way why abortion is a key feminist issue. (In a rare bout of assertiveness, she also went off on an Opus Dei priest, who was a guest in our home, when he said a prayer at our dinner table for all the unborn "children" who were "murdered" by abortion.) She also criticized quite vocally the religion in which she was raised, her own socialization, and the educational choices towards which she was guided when she was young.
In short, the woman called things by what they are, and for that I will be eternally grateful. It would have been a lot easier for her to rationalize away the complete subordination of her position in life. It must have been horrifying for her to see the truth about how she was deprived of the tools to make her own way in the world and to view the unvarnished reality of her subordinate position to my father. But she always, always, always told me the truth, no matter how painful.
Sure, my mother could have fought. She could have taken her destiny by the horns and battled all of the expectations and constraints of her situation. But my mother's not a fighter. She is, however, a terrific feminist because she had the brass ovaries to NAME the stark realities under which she lived. Her willingness to do so gave ME the tools to lead a very different kind of life.
I am bringing up the Hirshman article now because I missed my chance to comment last November, because Hirshman just published a book expanding on her article, and because there has been more recent discussion of this in the blogosphere at:
Also from last fall, we have commentary from:
OK, so I'm taking my stand. I thought the Hirshman article was freaking fantabulous. No, I don't disdain stay-at-home mothers or part-time mothers. Hear me out, people, before you cast judgment.
First of all, I am just so relieved to finally see a feminist address in a realistic way the glass ceiling at home that leads so many women to "opt out" of the pathways to power in the public sphere. Just hoping that on-site daycare and flextime will somehow materialize and resolve the pressures on women to opt out ain't gonna cut it. As someone who has been extremely ambitious in a very traditional way (i.e. I'd rather be a senator than start a commune), I have been perturbed pretty much all my life by the issues with which Hirshman grapples. What if no one wants to hire me because they are afraid I'm going to leave as soon as I have kids? What if I marry someone who simply won't do his share on the home-and-kid front (a possibility that would certainly have become reality if I had married the boyfriend I dated for three years in college)? Is it realistic even to expect a man to really support my career even (if necessary) at the expense of his own when that is so utterly contrary to every expectation of our culture?
Second, I understand why stay-at-home moms are so upset. Hirshman is unnecessarily derogatory about what stay-at-home moms do. She is also contradictory on this point. On the one hand, she says, "a common thread among the women I interviewed was a self-important idealism about the kinds of intellectual, prestigious, socially meaningful, politics-free jobs worth their incalculably valuable presence." She then argues essentially that women need to understand that work is never really like that and that you have to "lose [your] capitalism virginity." Then, later she says that upper class moms are not living up to their potential because they are spending all their time sweeping and cleaning up bodily waste. This is just silly because (a) lots of upper class moms outsource the most mundane tasks, (b) part of losing your capitalism virginity means you have to be prepared to do all sorts of mundane tasks in the workplace (I would happily compare the tedium of writing up interrogatories to the tedium of sweeping), and (c) there is a lot more to homecare and child care than just those tedious tasks, just as there is a lot more to practicing law than writing interrogatories. But I don't think this piece of Hirshman's argument is crucial to the essence of what she is saying.
Here is the thing: IF we believe that it is important to approach equality of numbers in the boardroom, in Congress, in the media, in the laboratory, and in the other corridors of power, we MUST address the fact that women are often simply not pursuing those goals.
I am the last person to ever say to you, "You have an obligation to live your life for the collective." I would scoff at any conservative who tells me I have an obligation to stay home and have babies because it is better for society as a whole if I do. I would also scoff at any feminist who tells me I have an obligation to pursue a law firm partnership or a judgeship because it is better for women if I do. (While I am personally on that conventional power track in my locality, I "opted out" of any chance in the truly big leagues when I moved to the provinces upon marriage.) That having been said, I am indeed very interested in addressing the current stagnation in terms of the numbers of women on the track towards becoming part of the power elite-- and I don't think we can close our eyes, say "feminism is about choice," and simply hope that cultural expectations will change or that the workplace will become more family friendly or that the first woman President of the United States will just materialize.
It may be that the only way to achieve the goal of more powerful women is to stigmatize other choices, like full-time motherhood, but I sure hope not. What I love about Hirshman's article is that she is clear-eyed about naming the problem. If you have "opted out," that doesn't make you a bad person, and it doesn't make you a bad feminist. You gotta do what you gotta do, including whatever is best for your own happiness and that of your family. But we have to recognize that "opting out" in itself does not advance the ball. Stay-at-home moms can certainly advance the ball in other respects -- supporting reproductive rights, getting involved in their communities, and passing on feminist values to their kids. I think talking more honestly and more practically with ambitious daughters of the next generation is a biggie, in fact.
What about other criticisms of Hirshman's article?
1) Aren't there other ways to have an impact in the world besides conventional "success?" Well, yeah. Personally, if I had a lick of artistic talent, I would drop all this law crap and become a writer or a musician. Not everyone has to be a corporate drone or a politician or a wonk. But the point is that Congress and the media and the judiciary and big business have a pretty darned big impact and they are overwhelmingly male dominated. What is happening to those women who would be senators or newspaper editors but for overwhelming pressures to do otherwise? We need to address this question and address it honestly.
2) Isn't this article awfully "elitist"? What about the concerns of women in poverty or women in other parts of the globe? Look, Hirshman is not saying, "Ignore the issues faced by women who are not part of the elite." Nor is she saying that solving the gender disparity among the power elite is the be-all and end-all of feminism. She named one particular feminist issue and she tackled it.
3) Why do we care about infilitrating a power structure that was created by men for men on male terms? Because it's all we got. Unless we are actually going to revolt like the Bolsheviks and create a new society wholecloth, this IS the power structure that runs our society.
4) Is parity in the elite corridors of power important? Um, I think most feminists believe it is important to have more women in the upper echelons of the power elite. Certainly, it is good for us, women like me, who have chosen the traditional male career track, because it means I am less likely to be stigmatized by the assumption that I am not as committed as my male colleagues to that career track. But, more importantly, as Hirshman points out, an overwhelmingly male ruling elite is more likely to be oblivious or indifferent to the issues that affect the female half of the population. This is a piece of her argument that I intuitively believe to be true but that I would love to see fleshed out more. I am hoping to learn more in Hirshman's new book, Get to Work: A Manifesto for Women of the World, which I hope to read over the Fourth of July weekend.
There was quite the hullaballoo in the feminist blogosphere last November over this article by Linda Hirshman in The American Prospect. The following is my summary of how I understand Hirshman's article:
1. Women are opting out in significant numbers from the opportunity to reach the most powerful and influential positions in our society.
-- Elite American women (i.e the most privileged and best educated women) are indeed in significant numbers opting out of the opportunity to reach the most powerful and influential positions in our society (such as senator, congressman, Fortune 500 CEO, judge, law firm partner, etc.). Women in this class frequently are abandoning their careers altogether, taking a significant number of years off, or working part-time for a number of years. Hirshman supports this contention with an impressive array of studies and statistics (although I would have to question her decision to focus on a group of brides from the New York Times Sunday Styles section, since I would assume these women would be a somewhat traditonalist-minded group by definition if they care enough about their social status as brides that they get themselves listed in Sunday Styles). Because of the time-intensive dedication it takes to reach these powerful positions, women who take years off or work part-time aren't going to reach those heights.
CAVEAT: As Hirshman herself notes, this does NOT mean that prejudice and discrimination don't still exist. So this "opting out" is not a basis for simply throwing up one's hands and saying, "See? We don't need to worry about workplace discrimination." But that's NOT what this post is about.
2. The primary problem, which makes a farce of "choice" feminism, is the overwhelmingly pervasive and powerful cultural assumption that women are the primary careetakers of home and family.
-- The glass ceiling women are butting up against is most hard to break not in the workplace but in the family. Women are severely constrained by the overwhelming cultural assumption that homecare and childcare is the woman's responsibility. It is pretty much impossible to put in 12-14 hour days at the law firm if you are the primary caretaker of a small child. Yet, even in progressive circles, it is often simply assumed that the woman is to be the primary caretaker. Therefore, in a sense, the notion that a woman has voluntarily chosen to opt out is a myth because she made that choice in a culture which assigned the primary child and homecare responsibilities to her. "Choice" feminism is therefore a cop-out because it fails to address the grim reality that the circumstances in which women make their choices are different than for men and, to a large extent, socially constructed.
3. There are concrete steps we can teach ambitious young women to help them escape the false choice of "be primary caretaker of home and family AND super career woman" versus "be primary caretaker of home and family without being a super career woman."
-- A solution (assuming we want more women in traditionally powerful positions) is to give young women concrete guidance as to how to get there. It is one thing to say vaguely, "Women can do anything!" and quite another to explain how a woman can compete effectively in a society which places on her an unequal share of the burden of home and family responsibilities. Concrete steps ambitious young women can take are:
1) "Prepare yourself to qualify for good work."
2) "Treat work seriously." One problem is that women are often taught -- vaguely again-- that the work is supposed to be about "self-fulfillment." Men on the other hand view work as a necessity, a requirement for providing for one's family. This is a problem because if you think that work is just supposed to be meaningful and fulfilling all the time, well, then, you're going to be in for a rude awakening and "opting out" of the workplace might seem more appealing. As Hirshman says, the path to really getting into a position to change things often involves the mundane, the small, and the dirty business of making money. She quotes one woman who thought it was strange that her former male colleagues got so excited about making deals because "it's only money." But, you know, money makes the world go round.
3) "Don't put yourself in a position of unequal resources if you marry." The big, big problem is that if you marry a man who is your age and at your educational level, then you are in a position of unequal resources because every expectation in our culture supports the notion that the man's career is more important than the woman's and that the woman has the primary responsibility to tend the home fires. Unless you marry a guy who is extraordinarily progressive, you're going to have an uphill battle protecting your career interests when it comes time to make tough choices about balancing work and family. It seems the best options are to marry someone much younger, someone much less educated, someone much less ambitious, or perhaps someone much older who is already established and can afford to take time off himself because he has done his thing already.
Hirshman also advises having no more than one child.
4. It is important to have more women among the power elite because what the power elite does affects all of us.
A) If the ruling class is overwhelmingly male, they will likely exercise their power based on obliviousness or indifference to women's interests.
B) Even ambitious woman will be tarnished by the knowledge that she is not likely to become a ruler. This affects how people treat her (i.e. based on the assumption that she is not going to go all the way) and her own confidence. The lack of women in the power elite thereby becomes a self-perpetuating cycle.
C) People imitate what occurs among the ruling elite.
D) Opting out is bad for the individual women who do it because they deprive themselves of the opportunity for full human "fluorishing." Uh, as I will explain in my next post, I think this point is where Hirshman goes off the rails. This is also where she really pisses people off. But I think it would be unfortunate, as I will explain in my next post, to ignore Hirshman's larger point because she was rude to stay-at-home-mothers-- her larger point being, that IF we want more women in power, we MUST address the forces and pressures that cause women to not seek power.
I know I have been lax in providing corgi pictures lately. My husband is hogging the camera. It's always in his car or at work or something. But if you are desparately in need of a corgi fix, check out this picture -- that's not my corgi but it is one of my favorite corgi pictures on the internet. I love that the hurdle he is jumping is only about six inches off the ground.
And this is my favorite picture of my corgi. I'll put up more at some point, I promise.
He and his daddy and I just got back from the vet.* I am happy to report that he was given a clean bill of health. I was nervous about his weight (34.2 pounds) but the doctor said that is a perfectly healthy weight as long as he doesn't gain any more. Usually I shave a couple pounds off the weight when I report it to the receptionist after weighing our corg in the lobby, but my husband insisted that we tell the truth this time.
The doctor also said that my corgi has the strongest back legs he is ever seen on a corgi. (Picture me beaming proudly.) The doctor said he is a "sturdy dog," which is exactly what another doctor said several years a when my corgi had to go in for an emergency consultation after eating a piece of a string that made him very sick. ("I'm not worried about this sturdy little fellow.")
*NOTE: Yeah, I'm one of those cutesie people who thinks my pet is like a kid. I am "mommy" and my husband is "daddy." Rest assured that this is the only area of my life where I indulge in being cutesie. Got it?
Blac(k)ademic has a textbook example of a white person bumblingly and obnoxiously bringing up race with a black person. Her post encompasses all sorts of interesting issues that aren't addressed in my post below, plus a lively comments thread, so do check it out.
Her anecdote reminded me of various interactions I have seen where a white person is frantically trying to demonstrate to a black person how comfortable he or she is with the fact that the black person is of a “different race.” One illustrative example occurred at my firm’s holiday party a couple years ago. My then-firm, with about sixty employees, is nearly one hundred percent white because we live in a geographic region that is nearly one hundred percent white. We had one black employee, a woman. A lot of the senior partners and their spouses were dancing to a jazz band at this party. I see my white co-worker’s husband (a white guy) walk up to my black co-worker (a woman he barely knew) and say: “Nothing worse than watching a bunch of white people try to dance, huh?”
Sheesh - what a dumb thing to say! Why bring up race right off the bat with a woman he barely knows? And why would he think she would appreciate being lumped in with the stereotype that she has superior dancing ability because of her race, especially given that he doesn’t even know her? Why not just say, “What a great party?” or “How long have you worked at the firm?” like he would to anyone else?
Here is my theory which I posted in the comment thread at Blac(k)ademic as to why white people sometimes go out of their way to ask questions about race or joke about race even with black people they barely know:
White people do this to show, "Hey, I am comfortable with the fact that you're black, and I am SO darned comfortable and accepting that instead of pretending I don't notice, I am going to make a point of bringing it up with you to show you just how comfortable I am. You won't mind because it's obvious that I have good will, and haven't we all gotten over these silly racial issues and prejudices anyway?"
Of course, the white person who thinks this way really IS quite focused on the other person's race and is madly trying to demonstrate a comfort level he or she doesn't actually feel. It is quite transparent that the white person is far more conscious of the black person’s race than other aspects of the person's humanity. The white person fails to relate to the black person in a straightforward way because he or she is too busy worrying about race and too busy worrying about being perceived as a racist. The key (and it’s unfortunate that this has to be said) is to treat any person of a different race exactly the way you would treat your friends of the same race -- there’s no need to tip-toe around race issues if those issues happen to arise naturally during the conversation but there’s also no reason to focus on race during your interaction with the other person.
The other minor gripe I have is when white people apologize to black people on behalf of other white people who have behaved badly. This practice strikes me as unbearably silly and self-aggrandizing. It’s an empty gesture that smacks of the person simply trying to show that he or she is especially enlightened. Certainly, I am appalled when I see a white person saying something ignorant or insensitive. But I don’t feel that I have a particular connection with every other white person of the world that somehow behooves my apologizing on their behalf.
I can’t pretend to be perfect on issues of race. My main failing is that racial issues are often not on my radar due to the fact that, as a white person in an overwhelmingly white area, these issues are not part of my daily experience. But I honestly don’t think it needs to be that difficult to simply relate to people as individuals rather than representatives of their race.