sahm I am

I was watching a rerun of the Colbert Report last night (::insert dreamy Stephen Colbert fangirl emoticon here::) and he was interviewing some horrible feminazi Linda Hirshman about her manifesto book. While I do not own said book, I read the article on which it was based:

You can either find a spouse with less social power than you or find one with an ideological commitment to gender equality. Taking the easier path first, marry down. Don’t think of this as brutally strategic. If you are devoted to your career goals and would like a man who will support that, you’re just doing what men throughout the ages have done: placing a safe bet.

Charming. And:

If these prescriptions sound less than family-friendly, here’s the last rule: Have a baby. Just don’t have two.

And then today I ran across Your guide to the Linda Hirshman media blitz! on Salon. And the reader responses to said media blitz. And I felt compelled to respond. No, not to the somewhat irritating ad non-Salon members have to click through in order to read an article; to the charming perception that I’m wasting my life by staying home with my baby. (Hello, righteous indignation! How I’ve missed you!)

The attacks on Hirshman for only focusing on people with “careers” are a bit misplaced. She’s not telling all women how to live; she’s talking specifically to intelligent, college-educated women and letting them know that the choices they make when young are going to have serious repercussions throughout their lives, in ways that don’t fit the idea that all women “can have it all.”

First of all: the phrase “have it all”? Thoughtlessly offensive. It smacks of “having her cake and eating it too,” as though having a family and having a career are a) fundamentally incompatible and b) luxury items, like a beach house and a Rolls-Royce. Does this phrase ever get applied to the opposite gender? Does my husband – who works and yet, miraculously, also has a baby – have it all?

The last thing women need is a self-described feminist (that means pro-woman, in case you are quite understandably confused) telling them that, unless they make the choices she advocates, they’re making the wrong choices. On top of that, she’s effectively dismissing all but the “intelligent, college-educated women” (emphasis mine). I suppose that, societally speaking, the “stupid high-school grads” out there don’t count. Hello – I’ve just been marginalized! Or do I get a partial vote because I’m just now going for my degree?

[…] if you are one of the lucky few women to have the talent and resources to, say, attend Harvard Business School, your “choice” to leave the workforce is not just about your family. It makes boardrooms remain heavily male, which influences corporate policy; it makes businesses less likely to hire women, because why invest in training someone who’s just going to leave in a few years; it makes other women less likely to pursue careers like that, because they won’t have female mentors; and it will reinforce sexist attitudes *within* the elite schools. So while it is easy for stay-at-home moms to get offended and say, who is she to judge me, it is entirely appropriate for asocietal commentator to judge people’s collective choices.

From a sociological standpoint: yes, it does matter when women choose not to work after having children – but only because society considers it to be an invalid career choice. Who supports the marginalization of stay at home moms? Why, you do, Ms. Hirshman!

Someone is either tolerant of other people’s choices or intolerant. Hirshman is openly advocating taking a critical approach to the way some people choose to live their lives. As if she were in a better position to judge what other people should or should not do.

Amen. The point of having a choice about whether or not to work after having a baby is just that: to have a choice.

And, by the way? That last quote was from a stay at home dad.

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11 thoughts on “sahm I am”

  1. I am stone cold convinced that she is full of hoodie-doo and knows it, this whole thing seems to be a media grab to sell a book based on an inflammatory and poorly thought through idea. I’m with elizasmom, I think that she is now just at the point where although she is fully aware that the whole premise is crap, she intends to get as much mileage out of this mediawhoring as possible. I linked to your post in my blog… you pulled out some points that I had not considered, put it in a way that was better than I could do. Me and my righteous indignation just had to post on this too!

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  2. You know how, as a kid, you told a lie, and then your mom caught you but you insisted you were telling the truth and then added an even bigger whopper on top of it, trying to improve your case but turning into more of a Pinocchio by the minute?

    I’m starting to wonder, with the whole PHD-butt-wiping-is-immoral thing, if she realizes she’s made an unwinnable case.

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  3. Crazy people say the darndest things, don’t they? The thing that worries me more is how popular her book is. It’s resonating with someone, and that’s pretty scary.

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  4. I keep thinking she’s kidding. I keep thinking it’s this insane joke, like, one day she’ll stand up and laugh and tell us all she was just stirring the pot for kicks. Because seriously? No, seriously. She can’t be serious.

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  5. I got all riled when Hirshman’s article came out, but now I can’t even think about it. The fact that she’s only focused on educated, upper-income women to begin with annoys me.

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  6. Exactly. And, I see your point about the failure to recognize full-time parenthood as a valid career choice. When you get right down to it, we haven’t evolved to the point that we birth our kids fully self-sufficient. They have to be fed and nurtured and watched over. If a stay-at-home parent doesn’t do it, then a nanny or other caregiver of some sort must be hired. So, childcare is a job and should be recognized as work, no matter who does it. It’s strange that this seems like a radical realization to me, but it shouldn’t…

    Thanks for the great post.

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  7. I hear you (on both your point and the inner copy editor), but I think you’re hitting the nail on the head when you talk about “government leaders, health care professionals, factory workers, marketing managers, graphic designers, etc.” and don’t mention full-time parents. Not that you should – we as a society don’t count “stay at home mom” as a valid career choice. It’s seen as an alternative to a career (which seems strange, given that day-care workers and nannies do the same work but are recognized for it in a way parents are not). I don’t think it should be viewed as taking women out of the workforce – I think it should be viewed as part of the workforce. It’s part of the diversity of experience you’re talking about, or it should be.

    By the way, I’m 100% behind you on an evolved workplace. I’m not too eloquent today, but even if parenthood was considered a full-time career, there are still plenty of mothers who have a lot to offer aside from being a mom, and if the workforce were more accomodating it would be a lot easier to find balance.

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  8. Dang. OK, the following sentence in the second graf above should read:

    “If women, particularly mothers, are not among those who make decisions as government leaders, health care professionals, factory workers, marketing managers, graphic designers, etc., won’t that diminish the diversity of experience and perspective that is essential to progress?”

    As a copy editor, I really hate when I put sentence fragments in my own copy. Sorry. /anal moment.

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  9. You wrote:

    From a sociological standpoint: yes, it does matter when women choose not to work after having children – but only because society considers it to be an invalid career choice.

    Do you really think so? I think it is a problem if lots of women decide not to work after having children because that removes a lot of smart, talented people from participating in public decisions that shape the future of our country in ways large and small. If women, particularly mothers, are not among those who make decisions as government leaders, health care professionals, factory workers, marketing managers, graphic designers, etc. Won’t that diminish the diversity of experience and perspective that is essential to progress?

    Yes, I realize that raising the next generation also definitely shapes the future of our country, but why does it have to be an either/or proposition?
    Work or family?

    Don’t get me wrong. I hated Hirschman’s article, but mostly because I think she’s totally off-base. (And, because she is yet another woman to be out there making a buck making other women feel shitty about themselves.) One, large numbers of women are not “opting out.” But, many are struggling to balance the demands of a now 50- to 60-hour standard workweek with trying to care for their children and maintain a relationship with their spouse.

    That it is all getting dumped at the feet of women who “choose” to work or stay home is ridiculous. And, it is a smoke screen, in my opinion, or our society’s failure to remedy deep problems in the modern workplace. Many jobs (not all, but many) could be adapted to allow flexible schedules, work from home, telecommuting, or working part-time, but there are precious few of those opportunities available. Studies have shown that we’re not seeing a giant jump in productivity for all the hours that we are working, but companies seem to demand more and more of our time.

    Some families are making the decision that having one person stay at home full-time is the best way to ensure that their children are cared for the way that they want them to be, and they are able to have a sane life. I think that decision is totally valid. But not everyone wants to or is able to make that decision.

    I think we need to work to make the workplace evolve, not encourage women (and men) to choose between having a career and having a family.

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