Wednesday, June 21, 2006
The mommy wars
I don't know how I missed this one back in December. The gist: Linda Hirshman, a retired distinguished prof at Brandeis University, was researching a book about "marriage after feminism". She wanted to know why the 40% increase in women attending high-powered college tracks didn't translate into 40% of women in high-powered positions in corporate America and politics. She selected a group of women who popped their marriage announcements in the Sunday Styles section of the New York Times back in 1996, called them up and interviewed them, wanting to know what they had done--how high in the hallowed halls of corporate America had they gotten? She talked to women who were, at the time of the announcement, "a vice president of client communication, a gastroenterologist, a lawyer, an editor, and a marketing executive". Much to her surprise and dismay, she discovered that 85% of those who had babies were staying home. So, she wrote this article (in preparation for a book coming out) that excoriated the women of today for abandoning feminist principles. They are selling out. They see "choice" where Hirshman sees a parade of females ignoring equality in the family. She sounds a call out to women to demand equality in housekeeping roles. She says women should ditch liberal arts degrees for degrees that make money. She says women should ditch idealism (as in doing pro bono law work) and aim for realism (as in doing international business law). She says you should either marry lower in class (a hubby who makes less can stay home) or marry for someone who is committed to gender equality in the home. To top it all off, she says to not have more than one kid. In any case, her writing seemed to see women staying at home as a betrayal of feminist ideals (oops. Idealism. That's gotta go, y'know!). I see class differences. Really, truly: she was looking at the elite. The elite marry the elite. Elite equals money. Money equals being able to stay home. Pure and simple. If you live in a household where both halves of the couple have to work to make life more than an ongoing race to hold onto your current paycheck, you don't have the luxury of staying home. Okay, I know there are hordes of females out there who will howl at that one, arguing ferociously that if you want to stay home, you can make sacrifices to follow that path. But living paycheck-to-paycheck is stressful and misery-making--any family that lives that way knows that is A Truth. If one member of the couple can make enough so that there's no strain, no worry, then it makes staying home easier, and staying home becomes a social cachet. Lindsay staying home to take care of the kids equals Lindsay and her husband make enough money for her to stay home with the kids. Apparently, this article by Hirshman roused the digital lynch mob. Why? Well, the main reason is, rather than simply presenting her arguments as I distilled them above--not taking aim in any way at any one person's choice, but simply leaving the "what's better for society and feminism" part out there, she dissed the task of taking care of kids, by saying words to the effect of "the tasks of housekeeping and child rearing were not worthy of the full time and talents of intelligent and educated human beings. They do not require a great intellect, they are not honored and they do not involve risks and the rewards that risk brings." After months, she responds with this Washington Post Op-Ed piece, titled "Unleashing the Wrath of Stay-At-Home Moms", in which she further disses women who stay at home, and huffs about how judgmentalism is needed to Save Feminism. She sneers about how the mommy bloggers are all about wiping butts. She claims that the stay-at-homers are all a result of conservative evangelical Christianity. And then she puts her fingers in her ears and says, "La la la, I'm not listening!" (She says she stopped reading the blogs.) I can see how being the focal point of a digital lynch mob is icky. I've seen the swoops and swirls of special interest groups aimed at a target, and it's not nice, even when I agree with the mob. But as a mommy blogger who happens to work, who has written about vomit and poop and stuff like that, I do think that the old adage distills my advice to Hirshman: You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. Yes, the instinct, when attacked, is to attack back. But, shit, if you're going to slam people who are raising the next generation (that would be more females who could rise to the top) by claiming it's just scut work and women who abandon the Important World of Corporate America for the Diaper Genie are not worthy of the investment in high-powered college programs, you'd better be prepared for the heat. In any event...I was raised by a mother who was an editor of an international business magazine and a father who (mostly) stayed at home, running various high-tech businesses. I like the fact that women raised today know they have a choice (much excoriated by feminists like Hirshman). I'd rather women had that choice than we replaced the expectation that women would stay home with the kids (stultifying enough so that the fifties were filled with women who retreated into alcohol and Valium) with the expectation that women would never stay home with the kids. I'm glad that I could just march on into a computer science college degree program without having to fight with the college Powers That Be to even be allowed to do so, because I am, honest to dog, just plain lazy and conflict-averse, and that would have stopped me dead in my tracks. And I will raise my daughter in the knowledge that she can follow any career she wants to, with the exception of the presidency, or no career at all. Because that's what the legacy of feminism is, to me.