I have been reading and reading and reading and reading many of the vehement and articulate online responses to this article in the American Prospect. It all makes me slightly jumpy and itchy and like I haven't used the theorizing part of my brain in far too long, because while the article bugs me greatly, for reasons many others have articulated, when I try on my own terms to think about what's the matter with it I don't get much further than:
But what about me?
I took the liberal-arts path, dilly-dallied around in low-paying jobs for years, and now have a highly traditional girly-type fulfilling but relatively low-paying professional job. Never aspired to the corridors of power, never going to. However, I was the stable wage-earner in my family forthe first three years of MG's life. The "dad," if you will.
Now RW works full-time too, in another fulfilling low-paying girly professional job. So, we're a two-income family, but we're hampered in our spending power and autonomy by both having girl-level incomes. That's one reason--though by no means the only reason--that we have only one child.
By contrast, MG's three best friends' parents have all followed a pattern similar to that laid out in Hirshman's article: dads with well-paying jobs (sometimes in fields they wouldn't have chosen if it weren't for the need to make family-supporting-level incomes), and moms who quit their professional jobs to stay home for the forseeable future and raise 2 kids each. They all feel that they made their own choices freely, but it's hard not to see a pattern in it. It's hard, too, for us to not feel sometimes resentful that they have both more time and more money than we do. But didn't we freely make the choices that led to that situation?
So: Did RW and I make anti-feminist choices because we took the liberal-arts route? Or do we get a pass for being lesbians?
And what about my brother, who put off choosing a career for years partly so my sister-in-law could prioritize her academic career? Wherefore his implicitly feminist choice, despite his gender? Is it because we both happened to be raised in a family where we were encouraged to prioritize happiness and fulfillment at work rather than (and possibly at the expense of) income level? Or is it because, as one relative of mine bluntly suggested, children of divorce tend to underachieve as adults? Does my brother's choice undercut Hirshman's argument about women being socialized to choose low-paying liberal-artsy careers, and by extension legitimize my own choices?
Hirshman's focus seems so narrow. I understand her point that these personal "choices" don't happen in a social or economic vacuum. But castigating individual women for their choices-- to stay home, to work in traditionally female careers, to shun power and money in exchange for work (in the home or out of it) that they enjoy, or not to do any of those things--seems to me to be counterproductive and misses the point.
This is not a very coherent response to that article; just random and disjointed reactions. I have noticed in some of the comments on other posts about it that many women who are home with their kids feel personally attacked by the article, and I can't help feeling a bit that way myself, as most of this post probably demonstrates. I do think there's something going on beyond that, though. If only I could put my finger on it.
Updated to add: Susan at Crunchy Granola has just posted a terrific reflection on this piece. I was especially happy/relieved to read her take on Hirshman's-- and many commenters' -- definition of feminism.
Updated again to add: and you have to read Phantom Scribbler's incisive and hysterically--if mordantly--funny take on this whole thing! I've been occasionally reading Phantom but now I think I'll have to stop by more often. She makes a great comparison of this whole brouhaha, and the way it's popular to bash women for making "anti-feminist" choices, with the way most people happily say they're environmentalists while making many life choices that are bad for the earth, without getting slammed in the same way. Oh I'm not explaining it well. Go read what she says about it! It's so good!