Wednesday, December 07, 2005

The Requisite Mom Response to Linda R. Hirshman

So there I was, minding my own business, clicking from blog to blog in my Bloglines account when I came across this post about an article written by Linda Hirshman in "The American Prospect" (Linda R. Hirshman is a retired professor and a feminist.)

Ms. Hirshman is concerned that the number of working mothers has dropped. She is concerned that feminism may be stalling, due in large part to women--especially elite women, specifically those who graduate from hoity-toity colleges--choosing to stay at home to raise their children. She says, "Among the affluent-educated-married population, women are letting their careers slide to tend the home fires."

My hackles immediately raised up and I wanted to have my say. And yet I've been busy tending to the needs of my children and decorating for Christmas and trying to prevent my boys from ending up living under the overpass because they refused to write essay answers in complete sentences.

I chose this life, but Ms. Hirshman believes that the choice to stay home is really not a reasonable choice at all . . . she suggests that, "The family -- with its repetitious, socially invisible, physical tasks -- is a necessary part of life, but it allows fewer opportunities for full human flourishing than public spheres like the market or the government. This less-flourishing sphere is not the natural or moral responsibility only of women. Therefore, assigning it to women is unjust. Women assigning it to themselves is equally unjust. To paraphrase, as Mark Twain said, "A man who chooses not to read is just as ignorant as a man who cannot read."

Wait a second. What is that supposed to mean? A woman who chooses to spend her time at home raising her own progeny is the same as a woman who is at home raising her own progeny by default? Or the choice itself is ignorant no matter how you slice it? Doing repetitive, invisible, physical tasks is unjust, no matter what?

She thinks that women need to be pried out of their traditional roles. In her words,
"Women who want to have sex and children with men as well as good work in interesting jobs where they may occasionally wield real social power need guidance, and they need it early. Step one is simply to begin talking about flourishing. In so doing, feminism will be returning to its early, judgmental roots. This may anger some, but it should sound the alarm before the next generation winds up in the same situation. Next, feminists will have to start offering young women not choices and not utopian dreams but solutions they can enact on their own. Prying women out of their traditional roles is not going to be easy. It will require rules -- rules like those in the widely derided book The Rules, which was never about dating but about behavior modification."

I supposed I am showing my middle-class, non-Ivy-College graduating roots when I express my indignance over Ms. Hirshman's sneering assertion that it's necessary to pry women from their traditional roles . . . and I think that when she's talking about traditional roles, she means women breastfeeding their own babies and diapering their own babies and teaching their own babies to recite the alphabet and count to twenty. You know, it's the classism and elitism and snottiness of this sort of lip-curled judgment that irritates me, the idea that women need to be rescued from caring for children.

Ms. Hirshman explains, "There are three rules: Prepare yourself to qualify for good work, treat work seriously, and don't put yourself in a position of unequal resources when you marry."

I have a simple rule. It's that wild and crazy, "Do unto others as you'd have them do unto you," rule. Oh, don't forget the "love your neighbor as yourself," rule. As a follower of Christ, I'm actually trying to follow Christ and even if you haven't read the red letters (many Bibles have Jesus' words written in red), you probably realize that Jesus was about serving people.

You'll want to follow along here as Ms. Hirshman dictates, "If you have carefully positioned yourself either by marrying down or finding someone untainted by gender ideology, you will be in a position to resist bearing an unfair share of the family. Even then you must be vigilant. Bad deals come in two forms: economics and home economics. The economic temptation is to assign the cost of child care to the woman's income. If a woman making $50,000 per year whose husband makes $100,000 decides to have a baby, and the cost of a full-time nanny is $30,000, the couple reason that, after paying 40 percent in taxes, she makes $30,000, just enough to pay the nanny. So she might as well stay home. This totally ignores that both adults are in the enterprise together and the demonstrable future loss of income, power, and security for the woman who quits. Instead, calculate that all parents make a total of $150,000 and take home $90,000. After paying a full-time nanny, they have $60,000 left to live on."

And here we are again, at the point where we have to ask: who is this subclass of people willing to embrace the distasteful task of tending to the children? Are we importing people from Third World countries to do this meaningless work? If daddy's time is worth $100,000 a year and mommy's time is worth $50,000 a year, it doesn't take a math genius to figure out that the child's time is worth practically nothing. Mommy and daddy (in Ms. Hirshman's idealized version of reality) are too good for childcare and in fact, they are probably not very interested in mingling with old, feeble, incontinent people, either, or those with impaired mental abilities or lower-than-desirable IQs or those who are ugly. Hire someone else to do that work. It's beneath the well-educated.

Oh, and don't forget the most important thing, according to Ms. Hirshman. "If these prescriptions sound less than family-friendly, here's the last rule: Have a baby. Just don't have two. Mothers' Movement Online's Judith Statdman Tucker reports that women who opt out for child-care reasons act only after the second child arrives. A second kid pressures the mother's organizational skills, doubles the demands for appointments, wildly raises the cost of education and housing, and drives the family to the suburbs. But cities, with their Chinese carryouts and all, are better for working mothers. It is true that if you follow this rule, your society will not reproduce itself. But if things get bad enough, who knows what social consequences will ensue? After all, the vaunted French child-care regime was actually only a response to the superior German birth rate."

I guess if you end up pregnant with twins, you're out of luck. And, really, who needs siblings anyways?

This hostility to children takes my breath away. If women are second-class citizens, then children are junk mail citizens in our society, easily thrown away, discarded without even a glance. Do you think the kids don't notice that mom and dad have more important things to do than spend time with them?

Ms. Hirshman says, "Finally, these choices are bad for women individually. A good life for humans includes the classical standard of using one's capacities for speech and reason in a prudent way, the liberal requirement of having enough autonomy to direct one's own life, and the utilitarian test of doing more good than harm in the world. Measured against these time-tested standards, the expensively educated upper-class moms will be leading lesser lives. At feminism's dawning, two theorists compared gender ideology to a caste system. To borrow their insight, these daughters of the upper classes will be bearing most of the burden of the work always associated with the lowest caste: sweeping and cleaning bodily waste. Not two weeks after the Yalie flap, the Times ran a story of moms who were toilet training in infancy by vigilantly watching their babies for signs of excretion 24-7. They have voluntarily become untouchables."

Uh, hello? Sweeping and cleaning bodily waste--which pretty much describes my daily life at the moment--indicates that I am leading a lesser life? Or is that only for expensively educated upper-class moms? For the rest of us in this caste, it's just destiny? We were born to be "untouchables"? She's speaking about a tiny percentage of women and implies that most of us-- the majority of us, the crazy among us who opted to devote our waking lives to our children--are not leading good lives.

I am insulted and you should be, too.

Ms. Hirshman concludes, "When she sounded the blast that revived the feminist movement 40 years after women received the vote, Betty Friedan spoke of lives of purpose and meaning, better lives and worse lives, and feminism went a long way toward shattering the glass ceilings that limited their prospects outside the home. Now the glass ceiling begins at home. Although it is harder to shatter a ceiling that is also the roof over your head, there is no other choice."

I never did like Betty Friedan's "Feminine Mystique," but I suppose that's no surprise. I thought she seemed bitter and hurt by the circumstances of her life, but what do I know? I'm just a nose-wiping, diaper-changing, Twinkle-twinkle-little-star-singing, dinner-cooking, "Goodnight, Moon"-reading, woman serving others and apparently, unbeknownst to me until now (thank you, Ms. Hirshman), rule-breaking untouchable.

A related story was featured on 60 Minutes reported in October 2004.


Blogger Judy said...

I'm offended and angry, and on so many different levels.

Funny, how those poor people she speaks of are living on more than my family.

Yes. Staying at home with a bunch of kids isn't glamorous at all.

But, I bet if these women had a 'pajama' day on a cold snowy December day, ate bowls and bowls of popcorn and read from Christmas books while warm little bodies pressed up against them and shiny little eyes gazed up saying 'more stories' they might have a chance to know what they have missed.

Have missed. Because, once it's over, it's over.

(Well...maybe I plan to be a career Grandma! I cannot wait!)

5:42 AM  
Blogger jennifer starfall said...

you rock, mel. i don't have kids yet, so i'm not sure i have a leg to stand on, but i can see the value not only of your opinion, but of linda's as well.

my major beef with linda? how could anyone think that what you do (what all of you amazing, strong, towanda women do) is worth anything less than the world?

6:25 AM  
Blogger yum said...

Im insulted too.

Ive seen that look of disrepect in someones eyes when they find out you are a stay-at-home mom. Who do they suppose should take up the "dirty work" of raising kids? When did being a real mother become such a demeaning thing?

6:56 AM  
Blogger Jack-on-the-Lake said...

Right on.

Your style of ranting reminds me of Julia Sugarbaker on Designing Women - ever watched that? I always use to wish I could tell people off like she did. Such grace, style and a team of writers scripting every well thought out line.

I am not familiar with this woman but if everyone agreed with her, I guess we would live in a society where all of our children would be in therapy from parental neglect.

I had the high-powered corporate job - trust me, staying home with two kids is MUCH, MUCH harder.

7:04 AM  
Blogger Goslyn said...

Unfortunately, being a "real mother" in the United States has always been a demeaning thing. Our culture, for the most part, counts success in the number of U.S. Dollars you bring home in a year.

For us stay-at-home moms, that pretty much leaves us out of the running.

But Ms. Hirshman crosses way to many lines here. (In fact, I am so angry, my Oxford University-educated-self is having difficulty formulating a coherent thought.)

Raising children well is one of the most difficult tasks a person could ever be assigned, and we volunteered for the duty. It's sort of the equivilent of being a Navy SEAL - we do whatever it takes to get the job done, and we never get to call in sick. It takes a lot of training to be a SEAL. And it takes a lot of education, patience, love and selflessness to be a mother.

Ok, could go on, but I'm in danger of making this comment a blog all to itself. Sorry.

7:14 AM  
Blogger Julana said...

Being a mother is not primarily about care-taking, serving, and teaching. It's about a relationship between two people, mother and child. The physical work grows out of the commitment to that relationship, and it builds and nurtures that connection, over time.
That relationship forms a paradigm, to some degree, from which the child's later relationships will be chosen and built.

Very few women in this country have jobs in which they wield anywhere near the power that they would have in nurturing the growth of a child from infancy to adulthood.

This woman ignores the masses of working poor women in this country living near or below the poverty level who would think they had died and gone to heaven if they were able to stay home with their children.

She's insulting the intelligence and judgement of the educated women who "choose home". As you say.

7:16 AM  
Blogger Elizabeth said...

It's insulting but the bottom line of her editorial is if women drop out of power, women lose power.

One of the women interviewed by 60 minutes said..."Hopefully, employers will see that this is happening and that we don't want to lose these great women. Let's make some changes so that women can work differently."

Ya think? You think employers will see that? I don't think so. Ever hear of out of sight out of mind? Plus, I bet there are employers who are jumping for joy to get rid of women.

Let's look at history. Our great-grandmothers couldn't vote. My grandmother up to a certain point couldn't vote. Housewives/mothers/ women had no political or economic clout. When your husband dies you get his SS benefits. Do you think this was the case since SS began? I don't think so.

Little girls today can be anything they want...lawyers, doctors and yes, mothers. Could little girls in the 20s - 60s or even 70s be doctors? Not easily.

How did all this change take place? Do you think the men in power handed this stuff to us out of the goodnes of their hearts? These changes happened because women got out of the house and infiltrated the seats of power and caused change.

Let's say 85% of women now and in the near future opt out and stay home. Are those women going to be active enough in government to necessitate the changes needed as our society evolves?

And what about the 15% who don't want to stay at home. Let's say your daughter in 20 years wants to be a business professional. Do you think the men who surround her will treat her as an equal? You hope? Because men are just that benevolent and think women are their equals? Or will she be the one who who is expected to make coffee and take meeting notes?

I'm sure there are a faction of women out there who trust men to take care of them and enact legislation that helps women and children and families. I don't trust men to do that because most men do not respect women and men in 'packs' really don't respect women.

Forgetting Linda Hirshman, do you think if most women opt out of the workplace that women's rights will continue to flourish? How will they flourish? Do you think women already have the same rights as men and those rights will never be in danger? With no women Senators, doctors, lawyers, businesswomen, company owners etc. do you think the few women who will not want to be SAHMs will be able to work to their full potential? Will it be ok with you to never see women in the workplace and to only deal with men?

This is the alarm Linda Hirshman is sounding. Is she overreacting? Maybe. Is she using the right ideas and words? Obviously not, but the stakes could be very high, the consequences could be dire.

Waddayagonnado? Call Ghostbusters, I suppose.

7:56 AM  
Blogger Eyes said...

I think this woman is off her rocker. While I am not religious and I don't have children, I think she is wildly crazy!

I have been a stay-at-home wife, a working-wife who owned a business and a full-time employee -- and my life has never been richer than when I was a stay-at-home wife!!!

When I worked full-time, I dealt with business corruption which was thicker than glue. I watched sex run rampant in the workplace (several workplaces)and I watched how it "promoted people" without any talents or skills.

Affairs were "normal". Justice didn't exist, fairness was unknown. Talents were ignored. Lies were expected and honesty rebuffed. Values, what were they?? Greed, and stabbing the next guy in line to gain footing was the norm.

I guess that is what Ms. Hirshman values most -- greedy, business ethics!

I happen to value family and friends, learning about my family's past, spending time in the garden learning about botony, cooking gourmet meals -- and learning how to eat healthy. I have spare time to care about our environment, the welfare of our community -- and bigger issues than business corruption.

I also didn't put myself in an unbalanced marriage. I saved enough to move out on my own at anytime!!! I'm not dependent on anyone!

Working woman have lost it all if you ask me, and the strides they gained weren't worth the cost.

Families not longer have an identity, children don't know their own parents anymore, parents don't have time to teach their children the foundations of life, good values and judgements. The working woman has put our society in chaos. Social gatherings don't even exist anymore because women don't have the time!!!

People don't eat healthy anymore -- they don't even eat together!

Poor Ms. Hirshman is missing it, entirely! I feel sorry for her. Instead, she is struggling to control others in her own loss of control because she doesn't know up from down.

8:38 AM  
Blogger Eyes said...

By the way, due to feminism, it is unlikely the middle and lower class women will ever stop working. They can't afford too!!

Ms. Hirshman is worried about the upper crust only! She equates $$ with knowledge.

Another big mistake.

8:42 AM  
Blogger Smoov said...

Fuck Ms. Hirshman and the horse she rode in on...bitter hag!

11:08 AM  
Blogger Wash Lady said...

The thing that causes me so much alarm is her opinion of women who stay home. I'm just as much for women staying home to raise their children as I am for a woman to choose to be out in the professional work force. I'm damn sick of people in one group dissing the others though. SAHMs are not lesser women because they don't belong to the W2 crowd - just as women who do belong to the W2 crowd aren't neglectful/non-nurturing by default.

And you know what? Opinions are like assholes....everyone's got one. Some people just like to show theirs off more :) Me included *w*

12:36 PM  
Blogger Wash Lady said...

Just to clarify - I'm not calling you an asshole, Mel :)

12:37 PM  
Blogger jennifer starfall said...

that's my favorite assholeism. it applies so evenly to everyone that no one can get offended.


7:50 PM  
Blogger Gina said...

I will take raising my sweet little boy any day over punching the clock.

It is odd because you do lose prestige in most people's eyes if you are not working. I do not feel as if I have chosen to become part of a lower caste, although I have seen the expressions on some faces that suggest otherwise.

To me feminism is all about choice, choosing what is best for you and your family. To me, that is staying at home with my child.

Although I think that women, comprising so much of the workforce, should get much, much louder about having flexible schedules and/or onsite daycare.

9:39 PM  
Blogger Anvilcloud said...

As you know, Mel, we sometimes, and usually respectfully, disagree. Not this time though. What Ms. Hirshman may not realize is that one can bloom where planted, that one can choose to live a rich and fulfilling life wahtever circumstance one finds herimself in (with certain limitations, I'm sure). Some people can't conceive of not being allowed to work, for example, but I find retirement to be rather enriching indeed.

9:44 PM  
Blogger ilovecheese said...

AArgh that woman is completely off her rocker!! Bringing up children is not "economically viable" - was she neglected as a child??? what's wrong with her?? Mom's are greater than God - they are our God - and we are because of them, and she feels raising your own child, spending time, teaching and loving them at "home" is against feminism. Then I dont want to be part of that so called "independence". You give to here Mel - right and left. I wish I could biff some sense into here..

6:14 AM  
Blogger Feeble Knees said...

I wonder where Ms. Hirshman would be today if there hadn't been someone around to feed her, read to her, and clean her bottom?

She ought to pick up a copy of Dearest Friend, or John Adams, and read about the life that Abigail Adams lived and the debt our country owes her. Yep, that's right, the debt our country owes her for being the power alongside our 2nd president and the mother of another.

Oh and Ms. Hirshman can kiss my college-educated, high-tech-career leaving libertarian buttocks if she thinks that my decision to have a child, stay home and raise him myself makes me a lesser being in any way, shape or form.

Human society will continue to flourish if and only if it begins to value the things that make it great. Like motherhood. We devalue the importance and impact of mother love at our own peril.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have a very imporant diaper change to do.


8:39 AM  
Blogger dinodoc said...

Let me just say that as a "professional working woman" w/no kids (does that make me a PWWNK?), I stand in awe of the workload of *any* mom, period. I would never dismiss a SAHM (or dad) as less valuable; for heaven's sake you folks are raising the next generation that has to fix some of our messes. What's more important to the future of humanity than that?

2:48 PM  
Blogger Diddy-Win said...

If I were a cusser girl I, like Smoov, would say fuck the bitter hag,too...but since I'm not a cusser girl I won't say fuck her, because I don't use the word fuck to describe people that deserve to be described with words like fuck. So, I will have to find another way to express myself instead of saying fuck her. By the way, remember, fuck is the new shit and I won't say shit either. Even IF this so-called woman were full of shit, I wouldn't use the word shit to say she was because I'm not a cusser girl.

7:58 PM  
Blogger dinodoc said...

David Brooks has a very good column (well he always has a good column) on this very subject/lady in today's NYT (1/1/2006).

1:13 PM  
Blogger Feminatty said...

I think what Ms Hirshman is trying to say here is that Daddy can do a load of laundry, vacuum, do the dishes and pick the kids up from school just as well as Mom.

Why are we denying husbands their fairshare of the blessings of homemaking?

And if homemaking is 100% as glorious and fulfilling as all of you describe it, then why aren't men demanding that they get a piece of the stay at home life too?

9:05 AM  

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