(Again with the mommies? Yes, those fuckers won't shut up about it, so I have to keep writing posts to tell them to go to hell. Not good for the blood pressure.)
In American Prospect Online, Linda Hirshman writes that "half the wealthiest, most-privileged, best-educated females in the country stay home with their babies rather than work in the market economy." Although questionable sources (the Times and Maureen Dowd) have made this point, more reputable researchers have also found this.
50%? Where does she get 50%? She mentions the Myra Hart survey that found only 38% of female Harvard MBAs from the classes of 1981, 1986, and 1991 were working full time. A 2004 survey by the Center for Work-Life Policy of 2,443 women with a graduate degree or very prestigious bachelors degree revealed that 43 percent of those women with children had taken a time out, primarily for family reasons. Of course, this research doesn't tell you anything about women who reenter later in life or earn money in some nontraditional way at home.
Then she does her own research by interviewing 35 women who had their announcements in the Sunday Styles section. Eyes rolling. 35 people tell you nothing. And women who put their names in the Sunday Styles section may be well connected and educated (a sample that she was most interested in), but they are also VERY traditional. I could have been listed in the Sunday Styles; I had ins with the editor. But that would have been too square for me. So, already her data is very skewed and her information suspect.
All right, I have no problem with her first point. A lot of well educated women are staying at home with her kids. I don't know about the 50%, and I don't know if their at-home status is permanent. But I am quite certain that there are a lot of well educated women staying at home. Next point.
She says even if you put aside those fuzzy numbers about employment and just look at the representation of women in elite positions, there is by no means gender equity.
Law schools have been graduating classes around 40-percent female for decades -- decades during which both schools and firms experienced enormous growth. And, although the legal population will not be 40-percent female until 2010, in 2003, the major law firms had only 16-percent female partners, according to the American Bar Association. It’s important to note that elite workplaces like law firms grew in size during the very years that the percentage of female graduates was growing, leading you to expect a higher female employment than the pure graduation rate would indicate. The Harvard Business School has produced classes around 30-percent female. Yet only 10.6 percent of Wall Street’s corporate officers are women, and a mere nine are Fortune 500 CEOs.
What's with those nasty numbers? Sexist and anti-family workplace? Inadequate daycare? No. The Times Brides never planned on working in the first place, says Hirshman, social scientist extraordinaire. Hirshman has managed to isolate the most conservative group of elite women and, boy, does she hate them.
None of the stay-at-home brides I interviewed saw the second shift as unjust; they agree that the household is women’s work. As one lawyer-bride put it in explaining her decision to quit practicing law after four years, “I had a wedding to plan.” Another, an Ivy Leaguer with a master’s degree, described it in management terms: “He’s the CEO and I’m the CFO. He sees to it that the money rolls in and I decide how to spend it.” It’s their work, and they must do it perfectly. “We’re all in here making fresh apple pie,” said one, explaining her reluctance to leave her daughters in order to be interviewed. The family CFO described her activities at home: “I take my [3-year-old] daughter to all the major museums. We go to little movement classes.”
So, women just want to be little domestic honey-bunnies? No barriers other those in their own heads and in the minds of their Neanderthal husbands? They just want to spend their time cleaning and see no benefits for their children by staying at home? Please. These women are not representative of elite women and, even if they are, so what? Why do you care? Here's why Linda cares:
Here’s the feminist moral analysis that choice avoided: The family -- with its repetitious, socially invisible, physical tasks -- is a necessary part of life, but it allows fewer opportunities for full human flourishing than public spheres like the market or the government. This less-flourishing sphere is not the natural or moral responsibility only of women. Therefore, assigning it to women is unjust. Women assigning it to themselves is equally unjust. To paraphrase, as Mark Twain said, “A man who chooses not to read is just as ignorant as a man who cannot read.”
Since when did feminism become the handmaiden for capitalism? The workplace is a place where the little flowers flourish? Hasn't anybody read some Marx? The workplace is a great place for some people who have managed to find work that completely fulfills them. It is extremely elitist to assume that everyone is made happy by their jobs. The barista at Starbucks today wasn't moved to great joy by pouring me a grande regular.
There are many positive reasons for women who don't need the income to pay the rent to have a job. Security is major. It's insurance against the cheating husband. Being in a marriage is a perfect prisoners dilemma. You have to work, because you don't know if your husband is going to bail, which leads to an imperfect situation where both work. (thanks navigator)
And being at home can be very isolating. Community life in America is in decline. Arlie Hochchild found that many people preferred work to home, because their home life was flawed. (Note to Hirshman -- The Second Shift refers not to stay at home moms who do the cleaning, but to working women who must do the home stuff after putting in a full day.)
So, work can be a good thing. No doubt. I would love to work more than I am. But to glorify the workplace into a spiritual mecca is just bizarro.
Hirshman doesn't mince words. She says feminism has gone all soft by not coming down harder on women who choose to stay at home. Homelife is bad, bad, bad. Women must be given rules to extricate themselves from the claws of domestic life.
The New Rules -- Don't get a liberal arts education. Don't be idealistic about your job. (Only morons do not-for-profit work.) Get a job that makes a lot of money. (The goals of feminism will be complete when all women are corporate robots.) Marry guys with lesser jobs and voted for Nader -- a bleeding heart type. (Home life is bad for women, but good for men.) Only have one baby; two kids are much, much more work and then you'll have to move to the suburbs. (If you absolutely must procreate, please only squeeze out one.)
Lastly, Hirshman says that we should care that these very happy women aren't at work, because they are letting down the revolution. The world would be better with more women at the helm. Also, happy stay at home mothers make the working women feel bad.
I'm sorry, but I'm really busy. The kids have a half day today, the roofer needs to be summoned, and the leaf guys need to get their asses over here and suck up our leaves. In between that, I have spell check a book chapter. I don't have time to care about the revolution.
I'm really glad that Hirshman wrote this article. My best friend thinks I'm crazy for ranting on about the feminist attacks on mothers, and, look, here it is for the world to see. Nice.
(I could go on at greater length, but I want your feedback.)
Update: Oh, dear. Lots of people here. Let's sum up things quickly:
1. This article comes at the heels of a lot of mommy bashing stirred up by the Yale mommy article and the Dowd book.
2. A lot of women with kids are dropping out of the workforce.
3. There aren't enough women in top positions of power in the country. All agree that this is a problem.
4. Why are women dropping out?
a. Problems lay in society and in the workplace. (i.e. long hours, lack of family support, lack of childcare, no materity leave)
b. Problems lay with women who are wimps, resource drainers, conservative, like being oppressed. (Hirshman)
c. Everyone really hates the workplace. And women and men who poke fun at the women who drop out are just jealous.
a. If women don't want to work and have the financial resources to stop, then you shouldn't care. We should convince more men to drop out as well and joining the happy ranks of satisfied domestic goddesses. We should make it easier for women who care more about power than kids to get to the top of industry. We should make it easier for women who want to combine home and work.
b. Force women to become corporate drones. They must be taught to lust after power and money. It's all about money, baby. All home life sucks and anyone who stays at home is insane. There is no allowance for different preferences. Make no changes in the workplace. Demand no changes from men. (Hirshman)