This concept of it being your "duty" to work outside the home (or inside the home) is pretty alien to me. Your duty to whom? Why should I care? The issue that I see as most important when it comes to working vs. staying home is power. You stay at home with your kids and you lose your economic weight to throw around in the family or outside the family, should it become necessary. If we're going to talk about moral obligations, I think it could be said that a woman has a duty to herself and her family to be able to contribute to her own economic stability. What I took away as the most importat lesson from Hirshman's piece is that women need to have some hold on personal empowerment that other people can't take away. You can't really rely on men not to take advantage of your free labor at home, and you can't really rely on the government to subsidize childcare and you can't really rely on your workplace to allow more flexible working hours. Those things can happen, but they can be taken away at any minute and you'd be left at square one.

The Happy Feminist

I view it as my duty to the community.

If I were independently wealthy, I would have power and autonomy. I would have the perfect right to spend my life lying on the beach. But I would still feel a sense of public service. There is nothing wrong per se with spending your life lying on the beach. But doesn't one want to do something more with one's life? In my case, I would feel an obligation to do something more.

And yeah, I agree with you on Hirshman's piece. But if women, en masse, choose not to go the route of personal empowerment, then it will make it harder for other women.


(Slightly cross-posting, here, but I think still relevant.)

HF, since your post makes arguments along several different axes simultaneously, it’s a bit tricky to respond to. Along the male/female axis, I completely agree that women shouldn’t be discouraged from outside work. (I’d add that SAH dads should be just as respected as other men, and while I believe you’re generally gender egalitarian, this post seems to imply that SAHDs and SAHMs aren’t fulfilling their “work duty” and therefore deserve less honor or something than those who do.)

I’m profoundly uneasy with your equating “working outside the home” with “doing your duty,” however. I think it feeds into the somewhat toxic American tendency towards workaholism. Certainly, there is no disgrace in working to provide for oneself and one’s family, which is what I think the situation boils down to for the vast majority. Most don’t have a choice about whether to work, and many have little choice in what the nature of that work really is. Some are fortunate enough to work in occupations that genuinely contribute to the public weal. But most are compelled to act as cogs in an economic machine designed to enhance the power and privilege of folks who already have an excess of both.

If by “doing your duty,” you mean working for pay so as to avoid having to survive by relying on the public dole, well, OK. But I would dispute the notion that working for pay automatically fulfills some kind of social duty regardless of economic need or in the absence of understanding what the nature of that employment actually is.

Nicole Black

Ballgame makes some good points. IMO, people have an obligation to find personal fulfillment in life, one way or another. And, working f/t without any break is, for some the way to go. Sounds like you're one of them, HF.

When it comes to parenting, IMO, one is the best parent if s/he's happy. For some, staying at home f/t makes them miserable, so working is the best thing for them and their families, and vice versa.

The point that I keep coming back to, time and time, again boils down to--different strokes for different folks.

What bothers me about your perspective HF, is that I don't think you believe that. You don't seem to be able to comprehend that people are different,and in fact, individual people change their perspectives quite dramatically throughout their lives.

IMO, there's no "rule" or overreaching "duty" to which we're (women) all subject to. But, I think that you may disagree and that's where we'll never see eye to eye. At least not at this stage of your life.

The Happy Feminist

But I think that regardless of the economic system one live's under (I happen to be a good little capitalist), we want people working. I think it's great that people work as short order cooks, and janitors, and mechanics, and sanitation workers. Society as a whole benefits from their efforts (and obviously I think workers in all professions deserve fair treatment and fair wages, a topic that is beyond the scope of this post). When I worked in a deli in my teens, I worked primarily for the paycheck but I also felt proud that our deli was providing a service people wanted and that I was contributing to that. My work had value besides the paycheck I got. If it didn't have value, no one would have paid me to do it.

And yeah, I think you can make value judgments about the type of work you are willing to take -- unless your options are very limited.

The Happy Feminist

I am not sure why, Nicole, you want me to express an opinion on what other people should do. In fact, I thought that you very much object to the expression of such opinions.

Everyone's situation is different, but I do place work (including the arts, I should point out) high on the scale of values. And, yes, I do have a scale of values, and I don't think there is anything wrong with that. My feelings might change with circumstances, but I doubt that my values will.

Nicole Black

Yeah, but are they personal values? If that's the case, great. You personally place work high on your list of values--as they apply to you. But, I don't think that it is a *personal* value. In other words, you value work highly, so you want to work.

Rather, I think that you believe that work is important for everyone. Everyone should work regardless of their personal feelings or circumstances. And, if they don't then they're failing society--particularly women.

I simply can't embrace that concept and wholeheartedly disagree with it.


I thought Katha Pollitt had a great take on Linda Hirshman in her obit for Betty Friedan in The Nation. ( It's in her amazing new collection "Virginity or Death!"). She points out Hirshman's contempt for jobs that aren't totally corporate and high-paid 'with a corner office in view" -- artistic or altruistic work, like teaching, social work, working for nonprofits (or unions). Hirshman makes fun of young women who study art history or want to be artists, who want to use their labor to make the world a better place. Betty Friedan, Pollitt points out, would never have agreed with this! Friedan worked for a radical union, and then as a free-lance writer. Feminism used to be about so much more than "should mothers work"? Pollitt's one of the few writers in the mainstream who connects it with a whole social vision.

The Happy Feminist

I once a wrote a paper when I was a little kid about how the arts are actually the most important thing. I wouldn't go that far now, but my view of "work" includes anything that is directed for the benefit of the larger society beyond the family. So that would include the arts, social work, teaching, janitorial work, factory work, etc. Obviously, it is also important to be treated fairly and to benefit oneself and one's family by one's work.

And yeah, I think "work" is a value that applies to everyone. I will not speak to anyone's personal choice. For example, I could imagine quitting paid work in order to write a symphony if I had the talent and the means to do so. I could imagine taking 10 years off to raise children and still have a 30 year career (although actually, I would personally never do that). The thing is that's not what's happening, according to Hirshman. People are dropping out altogether.

Also, there are virtually no women in the upper echelons. I do think there is a difference between encouraging women to seek power and slamming those women who don't. I go back to my nursing shortage analogy. I can think about ways to get people to go into nursing without slamming YOU for not going into nursing.


>>> Feminists generally don't want to offend or alienate anyone by castigating or belittling other women's life decisions.

You're serious, aren't you? Heh.

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