The Requisite Mom Response to Linda R. Hirshman
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.