In a Washington Post oped yesterday, Linda Hirshman, a self described feminist philosopher, treats full-time motherhood with the curiosity of an anthropologist who has stumbled upon a previously undiscovered tribe of people. Like SNL's "Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer", Hirshman seems to be "frightened and confused" by this bizarre creature called the "stay-at-home mother." What could possibly account for their freakish behavior?
According to Hirshman: "The tasks of housekeeping and child rearing [are] 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."
It's incredible that the drudgery of working full time at a law firm is deemed worthy of women's "full time talents" but a woman dedicating herself to raising a family isn't. Hirshman then bizarrely asks: "Oh, and by the way, where were the dads when all this household labor was being distributed?" Umm, if they have a stay at home wife, they are probably working all day. And for most people, it's actually called being a mother and a wife, not "household labor". Hirshman later endorses the viewpoint that women should refuse to do 70% of the housework, ignoring the fact that if women are only doing 70% of the cleaning that's pretty revolutionary considering how much cleaning most men do on a regular basis before they cohabitate with women.
I saw Hirshman on 60 minutes and was shocked when she announced that women graduates of Ivy League schools who had left their careers to raise families were making the "wrong choice". There it was laid bare: feminism really isn't about women having the freedom to make choices. It's about women making the "right choice" as determined by people like Linda Hirshman.
As a "feminist" - whatever that word even means - one would think Hirshman would resist the temptation to infantilize grown women, but she claims she is just "asking women the hard questions." In reality, she is expressing an intolerant world view that women who don't work are losers, which makes her scarcely different than Caitlan Flanagan (aka the Ann Coulter of stay-at-home motherhood) who attacks and lectures women from the opposite end of the spectrum. And to be clear, like Flanagan, Hirshman isn't just expressing an opinon about what she thinks is best, she is saying that any woman who makes a choice different from what she espouses is unequivocally "wrong."
Hirshman is perplexed by the resistance she has received, but quickly surmises that all the opposition she is receiving is manufactured by religious freaks bent on imposing a biblical view of motherhood on society. She clearly could stand to take a stroll along the Upper West (or East) Side of New York -- hardly the beachhead for Christian childrearing -- to disabuse her of this notion. It is littered with highly educated ex-career women are happily raising their children full time.
I am constantly amazed at the hostility the word feminism seems to unleash in so many people, since I've always associated it with the belief that women should be given equal opportunity, fair pay, redress for sexual harassment etc. which seems fairly non-controversial. Unfortunately, too many of the voices for feminism seem disconnected form the reality that most women inhabit. They are focused on "problems" that hardly exist - like women wishing they were working more - while spending precious little energy on issues that indisputably have a negative impact on women: pornography, sex trafficking, or lack of adequate child care for the vast majority of mothers who are working because they have no choice. If they spent a fraction of the time on these issues that they spend trying to get women to get their men to vacuum the living room, the world would be a better place.
PROFESSOR HIRSHMAN RESPONDS:
Since the publication of my article in the Washington Post this weekend, I have received almost six hundred emails, at least 90% positive. "Working Mom says thank you, Thanks for your work, Let me buy you lunch" just from the last hour. When Leslie Morgan Steiner tried the tired old "Linda's so mean" tactic in her blog in the Washington Post this morning, the same flood of working women poured in to tell her she was wrong. Issue doesn't matter, huh? Pornography more of a problem than the Second shift? The story just changed, Miss Powers, and I fear you missed it.
By: LindaHirshman on June 19, 2006 at 05:09pm
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MY RESPONSE TO PROFESSOR HIRSHMAN:
That's great that you have gotten so many emails from working women, but my issue was never that you defended women who work, because in the oped I read, you didn't. What you did do was attack women who choose to stay home. That's what I took issue with.
But more importantly...are we to understand from your response to me that you believe that men not doing enough housework is as big of a problem for women as pornography? I just want to get this straight: men not dusting, or cleaning the bathroom is equal in its magnitude as a problem as the existence of a multi-billion dollar industry that exploits women and girls for the sexual satisfaction of men and to make money for major corporations? You believe that an industry that has flooded the internet with disgusting and degrading sexual images of women that can be easily accessed by children is less of a problem than dishes in the sink? Which is worse: One of your daughters pursuing a job in the sex industry or her marrying a man that doesn't clean?
Finally, I never once called you mean, or even attempted to portray you that way. I disagree with your position on stay at home motherhood and I expressed that view. I said nothing about you personally.
RESPONSE TO THE COMMENTS FROM HUFFPO READERS:
Fair points on the headline...something that received a lot of comments. I didn't mean to imply that everyone hates feminists or that they should hate feminists. And while some people thought that using the word "hate" was too strong, I'm sorry to inform you that many people do in fact "hate" feminism. I know this in part because I have considered myself a feminist for the better part of my life (though as I said in my post, the meaning of this word today remains unclear considering that Hirshman also considers herself a feminist) and have all sorts of people tell me how much they disagree with feminism -- and most of those people were Democrats and people who consider themselves liberal in every other way. Most often, the reason people cite is that they feel feminists are judgemental about their choices and seek to impose a worldview on everyone else, rather than truly letting women make their own choices.
To me, feminism has always meant supporting the idea that women should be able to pursue their dreams, whatever they are, and for many women their dream is to have a family and be dedicated to that full time (though most women can't afford to do this). And if they choose to pursue a career or have to get a job to add to the family income, there should be an even playing field, they should earn what their male counterparts earn, and they should not have to tolerate sexual harassment. Feminism meant making sure that when women were raped that they were not further victimized by the court system. Feminism meant women being able to get credit cards in their own name and have control over their own finances. Feminism meant girls shouldn't be told they can't do math (remember the Barbie who said "Math class is tough?") or become mechanics, or pilots, or anything else, merely because they are female. It meant getting equal funding for government research of diseases that affect women at a time that all such research was done only on men. It never meant -- and does not mean to me today -- that women who choose to stay home and take care of their children, and dare I say it, their husbands, should be maligned the way they are in Hirshman's Washington Post op-ed.