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This Is What Women Want?

Dec
8
2005

Whiz, whoosh, whing. Those are the bullets flying overhead from a heated battle of the mommy wars that’s broken out in cyberspace. The opening shot was fired by Linda Hirshman in a piece in The American Prospect. She writes that feminism has failed to tackle the “glass ceiling” at home that keeps women responsible for housework and child care, part of the reasons leading many privileged women to in turn betray feminism and cheat their own potential by dropping out of high-powered careers to stay home.
Gee, guess which part of that analysis really drew fire? Yes, a lot of women felt personally attacked, and men and women defended the role of mother, and the scaling down or stopping of work careers. If you’ve got a spare day or two, here are some interesting places to start reading in to the debate (and no, of course the kids won’t mind being locked in their rooms while you click and scroll): Literary Mama and Blogging Baby (also here) are part of the pile-on, and link to further good stuff. Bitch, Ph.D has a more laudatory view of the piece, also with an interesting comments string that touches on lots of different points.
Agree or disagree with the article, there’s obviously lots to think about there. Many comments on the piece make one point in particular I agree with: Hirshman accepts the worth of only one set of values, that how much money and power you have is the only valuable sign of success. It’s of course true that that’s what is valued in this society, and since that’s not changing anytime soon, feminism and feminists need to still work to make sure that women can grab their share of those goodies. But those values clearly create a soul-numbing environment for many and for those who, yes, choose (a concept Hirshman criticizes – see her article) a different path, there is the more interesting question of how do you feel you’ve fulfilled a differently directed potential if you’re not getting the societal kudos. Or, beyond the personal scale, how do you alter the reward system?
Instead of attacking the systemic problems, here’s another piece telling women what to do. Or instead of looking at what could change in the behavior of men, she tells women how to live their lives if they want to set a feminist example – go out and earn lots of money. Completely apart from its recommendations on who to marry (first choice, “marry down”), the article has some roots in the world of self-help books and women’s magazine to-do lists, like a particular feminist version of a Cosmo article on finding Mr. Right.
Why doesn’t anyone give men loads of unasked for advice? And why shouldn’t male personal lives be made to serve a greater feminist good? “OK guys, you need to help fix inequalities in society, so you should stay home for five years after your children are born.” Can you see that article getting lots of hits? If anyone glanced at it, he or she would assume it was a joke and move on.
Particularly for one of Hirshman’s points I do agree with – the handling of home chores is heavily weighted against women – well, who really needs the lecture? The toilet-scrubbing woman or the TV football-watching man? (Although let’s not stereotype too far. While I hear stories from other mothers about laze-around partners that make me wonder why there aren’t many more divorces, there are also many men, and more every day, who are grown-up sharers in household duties; and not every woman is a clean freak. I write that as the Oscar Madison of my household.) But have you ever seen a personal finance article that advises men to make sure they budget in (decently-paid) housekeeping services if they’re not interested in cleaning up themselves?
It’s more mommy wars, dividing women into camps. Not that we have to link arms and sway as we sing songs of sisterhood (I personally always get really self-conscious at those campfire kind of moments), but “the personal is political” isn’t a license to constantly lecture women. Maybe it’s time to forget the personal, to aim harder for laws and norms that would remove some of the sexist biases that contribute to enshrining mainstream work as the only marker of success, and in that way help people more freely choose their own lives.

Share  Posted by Deborah Klosky at 2:25 PM | Permalink

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