Thursday, December 01, 2005

Linda Hirshman-a-Rama

*With updates! See the end of the post.

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!


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anecdotal evidence becomes data as long as you are not extrapolating the data beyond its capabilities. These sweeping generalizations about ALL women, or all EDUCATED women or stay at home women are ridiculous when the sample youre using comes from a specific place.

We tend to have friends like us, which is why anecdotal evidence is NOT data. Were I to go by anecdotal evidence (including you also as my friend), I could conclude that, on all my female friends who are coupled and with children, their partners do at least half if not more of the housework, make less than we do when we work, are fully involved in their family life and equal partners in childcare even when one partner elects to be a full-time parent.

I do not believe this is true in general (although I feel its a little closer to my generation's reality than Hirshman's picture). I believe it's true of myself and my friends.

Her other points may be valid and certainly are worth discussing, but only if they are general "hey i thought of this and think it may be a problem" rather than "here's reality and here's the only way to fix it".

On a personal note, I have worked two jobs at two firms where I was the first woman they have ever hired. I did a great job in both places and hope that I paved the way for more woman to get hired by these firms. I dont count, though, because my jobs dont involve positions of high power and finance? I dont think so.

We've come a long way and we still have a long way to go.

5:21 AM  
Blogger Spanglemonkey said...

Oh my God! Where have I been? It is so totally relevant to my life I'm absolutely breathless. Let's go burn some cars! It spoke directly to me. Wow.

And yeah, I wonder if you get a free pass for being lesbian? It does make the balance of power different, in the context of the rest of society, since you're both starting with the same rules, if you know what I mean.

9:34 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Elswhere,
I too have many problems with her article though (in my post-kid-up-all-night-nursing-so-I-ended-up-with-about-four-hours-sleep muddled brain) I too have a bit of difficulty formulating a clear response... BUT the thing that jumps out at me is that which often does: WHAT ABOUT THE KIDS???? WHY is it NOT OK to be a feminist and care about your children at the same time? Who gives a f*&k (OK, I do, but not in this conversation) that day care workers are not well paid if I *know* DEEPLY in my heart that working part time in order that I have more time with my children when they are small (and probably when they are big) is important and valid and enriching and valuable to society as a whole as well as to my own children? It just _burns_ me that making a choice, yes, my choice dammit, to work parttime in order to not miss my children all day every day at work makes me a "drop out" an "optouter" or anything akin to the "Times Brides" that Hirshman speaks of. I feel that I'm giving a good example of rational balance in my professional and personal lives and now I get flack for not being more career oriented? Hell, I'm a midwife with two kids who is on faculty at a medical school where only two other people in the OB-Gyn Department who are faculty are not MDs. Does this count for nothing?

Am I making any sense at all? It feels like this is more of a rant than I'd intended, but it feels good. Thanks for giving me the forum in which to vent. Perhaps I have some valid points buried in there somewhere as well. And I too love my work, which, I hope, will serve as an important life lesson to my children. Having a supportive partner helps a lot too, of course, but I think I'd be kicking someone's butt into gear if he weren't there already (at least I hope so)

And another thing -- being a good librarian is neither girlie nor boy-y: hooray for you and RW both for finding work you love.

Best always,
and apologies for the rant,
aka Marina

10:31 AM  
Blogger LilySea said...

Um, yeah, what ABOUT lesbians anyway? They have the lowest rate of SAHM's among the parents (than straight marrieds or gay boy dads) I'm SURE because they make less money because they're girls.

But in our case, my partner is the bread-winning "dad," I'm the SAHM and plan to be one for a long time--if employed on the side, from home, on and off--where's the patriarchy I'm capitulating to? Sorry but butch lesbians aren't exactly power mongers out to rob femmes of their potential.

Her thesis is flawed on about a million levels. And you're right--"the personal is political" doesn't mean "blame the victim."

9:35 PM  
Blogger susan said...

Thanks for the kind reference to my post, Elswhere...Phantom's comment there posits that lesbians may have a different relationship to feminism period. We are certainly underrepresented in all these parenting-(non) trend articles.

5:23 PM  
Blogger bihari said...

Wow. WOW. I am glad others have ranted before me here, and I am grateful for your thoughtful analysis of this article, elsewhere, because now I can just say I'm with you, and Marina, and the others commenting, instead of launching a truly epic rant of my own.

What gets me the most is that, in an article about choice, the author seems to be proceeding from a particularly dogmatic and inflexible position. As far as I can tell, she feels that only one kind of female power is valid and praiseworthy, namely the kind found in the marketplace. In other words, the kind defined by men for the last several centuries. Huh? She also seems to assume that division of labor at home must go along lines she recognizes, and not meander along the idiosyncratic course which most couples wind up taking for their own complicated reasons. I think what I'm trying to say here is that I was surprised by her conservatism, by her assumption that one traditional male idea of fulfillment--in the traditional marketplace--should be everyone's goal and the standard by which achievement is judged for everyone across their lifespans.

Then again, I am bemused by my own strong reaction, because really, choice is such a grand and rare luxury that why am I even fussing about someone else fussing about it? What a gift, to be able to choose at all.

Oy, now I sound not only ranting but pompous. Sorry! Anyway, thanks for such a thought-provoking blog and link. It's always refreshing to linger on your pages (geez, that sounds like a sixteenth-century conceit for something unspeakable). I better quit now.

8:02 AM  
Blogger elswhere said...

Bihari--Not pompous at all! Just what I thought, but was too dumbstruck to write. Someone else pointed out that she is at least making a noise and getting people debating about feminism. And I guess that's never a bad thing, anyway.

Thanks for your lovely comment! And best wishes for speedy recovery of that black eye--


8:30 PM  

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