Tuesday, June 20, 2006

LINDA HIRSHMAN: Who Are You? Benighted Souls Want to Know!

I tried to ignore the latest round of Linda Hirshman`s blathering, tied to the release of her book. Late last year, when her American Prospect article came out, I got all hot and bothered by it.

This time, though, I just couldn`t muster up any anger at all -- I blew all my pent-up rage last year, I guess. So I decided not to even bother to read her latest explanation about the threat to feminism and society at large posed by those evil educated women who choose to chuck it all and stay home hanging out with their kids (...ahem...cough, cough...).

But you know how it is, when you`re avoiding someone -- I just keep running into Linda everywhere. Hirshman is the topic of one of Julia`s posts, and then one at Chookooloonks. Not only that, my site meter tells me that I`m getting lots of hits from people searching her name and finding my old post.

I also joined in a spirited discussion over at The Happy Feminist, in which a commenter told me, "L, feminism is not about choice. Sorry. No. You're confusing abortion politics with all feminist politics. Common mistake, it happens." (Damn -- and all these years, I thought I was a feminist. Silly me!)

I like The Happy Feminist very much. Because she`s childfree-by-choice, she is able to consider Hirshman`s message without the....um, baggage that I bring when I read what Hirshman has to say, and HF actually agreed with much of it. But for me, Hirshman`s larger point -- how to get more women into the public sphere of influence, where they can effect change -- was utterly obliterated by her attack on educated women who "opt out." It is very hard to see the forest for the trees when someone is attacking your ankles with an axe.

Anyway, I finally read it -- "it" being Hirshman`s Sunday Washington Post op-ed piece.

All her usual stuff was there, right up high at the beginning of her piece:..... I said the tasks of housekeeping and child rearing were 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.

Hear that? Smart people shouldn`t waste their talents rearing children! See, I`m doing it again. I can`t help it -- she takes cheap shots, and she makes it easy to take them back. And then she has the temerity to wonder this:

...(W)hen the American Prospect finally agreed to publish my analysis of why women are better off staying at work, I expected that working women all over America would be sending me flowers. A year ago, conservative pundit Danielle Crittenden told childless working women that their lives were nothing but "a pile of pay stubs." Wouldn't you think the poor lawyer moms and doctor moms would be glad to hear someone say they'd made the right decision?

I must have missed something in Hirshman`s American Prospect piece. Funny, I don`t remember anything about the "poor lawyer moms and doctor moms." Instead, I remember her asking provocative questions like, "Why should society spend resources educating women with only a 50-percent return rate on their stated goals?" and explaining why the behavior of women who opt out "tarnishes every female with the knowledge that she is almost never going to be a ruler." First rule broken: if you want people to send you flowers, don`t throw shit.

In her Washington Post piece, Hirshman strikes back at those of us who slammed her after her American Prospect piece, including the mommy bloggers, out there in cyberspace documenting their lives for one another. (My favorite example is the benighted soul, pregnant and renovating, reporting daily on her roofing and her barfing. Really makes you long for the iron-fisted editors of "The Front Page.") Much worse than the roofing-and-barfing and salvation crowds, though, were the relativists, who criticized me for trying to give feminism some context and boundaries. My favorite was the woman who dissed me for defining feminism and then said, "Supporting other women's choices is the very essence of feminism, at least as I define it."

Wow, that could have been me who said that! (It wasn`t, though -- it was this blogger.)

After Hirshman realized she set off a shitstorm in the blogosphere, she said she "did what any sensible person would do when exposed for the first time to the unmediated content of the Internet. I stopped reading it."

She stopped reading it.

That blew me away more than anything else she said.

If it`s true, I have to wonder -- why? Why go around stirring things up, and then not stick around to see the reaction?

Maybe to sell a few more books? After all, on the opposite end of the opt-out spectrum, Caitlin Flanagan has shown that you can bake your cake, and eat it, too. You don`t have to be liked to become a popular author -- in fact, it often helps to be reviled.

Unlike Flanagan, however, Hirshman doesn`t hold her own life up as an example of her theories in action. Perhaps because she is a retired college professor, not an essayist, Hirshman so far has kept her personal life out of the spotlight.

But in her Washington Post piece, Hirshman refers to a husband and three daughters.

Yes. Three.

That number is significant, because in her American Prospect piece, Hirshman gives this advice to career women:

Have a baby. Just don`t have two. Mothers・Movement Online`s Judith Statdman Tucker reports that women who opt out for child-care reasons act only after the second child arrives. A second kid pressures the mother`s organizational skills, doubles the demands for appointments, wildly raises the cost of education and housing, and drives the family to the suburbs.

Perhaps her daughters are stepdaughters? Or perhaps she and her husband adopted them as older children? Perhaps childcare was never an issue in her life?

Or perhaps she struggled to raise three kids as a working mother, and endured the scorn of the stay-at-home moms of her generation, and her latest research is her revenge? If that`s true, it would explain much of her shit-throwing -- she`s merely throwing it back.

I hope, as she plugs her book in the coming months, she lets us in on the motivation behind her message. Sure, she would undoubtedly set herself up for some fresh attacks if she does -- but if there`s one thing we mommy bloggers know, it`s that personal experience offers unparalleled insight.

Even if Hirshman did dismiss us as benighted souls, we`re out here -- and we`re listening.

18 Comments:

Blogger jw said...

Gosh, L., very impressive post. Well stated.

"She stopped reading it." Hey, she could be a Catholic Church leader: condemn it then don't talk about it anymore.

10:35 PM  
Blogger mo-wo said...

I am sort of with you in the dwindling ire department on Linda.. but then there is the no choice feminism.. where did that come from??? I guess I am as confused as you are.. maybe we could start working on the series Manufacturing Feminism?

10:54 PM  
Blogger Kate said...

She stopped reading it. ?!?

Oh, how very openminded and thoughtful.

Those dreadful "Mommy bloggers"! Ew, yuck, ptooey, who would want to read their stuff? After all, they're the people who wasted four-plus years of college and trashed feminism.

Puh-leeze.

10:54 PM  
Blogger illahee said...

i'm kind of wondering where i fit in. i mean, i'm kind of a mommy blogger, but i couldn't care less what this linda person says. plus, i went to play in japan for three years, and now i've been here for seven. and if i stay, the 'best' i can do is either teach english conversation classes or (after brushing up my japanese) translate. how does that help the feminist movement in the US?

or am i just being obnoxious? ;)

11:11 PM  
Blogger WendyJI said...

Hey, I represent that remark! *grinning* Indeed, although translation is a career many long-termers in Japan adopt by default, it was a choice for some of us. Ah well - "Those that can't, translate."

I'm another one of those Japan/Mommy/blogging readers. I suppose Hirschman would be proud of me: I married a man willing to be a househusband and current "bring home the bacon" all by my lonesome. I suppose she might even say I opted out by choosing to quit my high-powered (?) brokerage job to go freelance and move in with (horrors!) my in-laws. Frankly, I have weeks so busy that my days as a full-time in-house worker bee pale by comparison. I still have a fair bit of vitriol left for her, I think.

1:00 AM  
Blogger illahee said...

whoops! sorry wendy. ;) what i didn't make clear is that i meant in reference to my undergraduate degree (in linguistics.) i also put best in single quotations because i don't think it's the best i can do; both jobs just seem to be the fall-back jobs that english-speaking foreigners do in japan. no offense meant to either teachers nor translators. :D

oh, and i must have sooooo much free time to post in your comments twice, L. haha.

5:22 AM  
Blogger Granny said...

I never started reading her. Just reading what other people said was enough.

So now she's whining? Good.

We who were around back in the 60's and 70's know it was always about choice. We had none unless we were willing to do battle our entire lives. Now we do. One of those choices is to use our education to benefit our kids which in turn benefits society.

Or we can use our education or training as a fall back. Marriage doesn't come with guarantees. Many of us find ourselves single with families to support.

I almost always worked - not a choice, a necessity - but I might have chosen it anyway. That's okay too. Lots of women are better off working. We aren't all meant to be full time mommies.

How hard is that to understand? We have enough serious problems without attacking each other.

5:27 AM  
Blogger Granny said...

I never started reading her. Just reading what other people said was enough.

So now she's whining? Good.

We who were around back in the 60's and 70's know it was always about choice. We had none unless we were willing to do battle our entire lives. Now we do. One of those choices is to use our education to benefit our kids which in turn benefits society.

Or we can use our education or training as a fall back. Marriage doesn't come with guarantees. Many of us find ourselves single with families to support.

I almost always worked - not a choice, a necessity - but I might have chosen it anyway. That's okay too. Lots of women are better off working. We aren't all meant to be full time mommies.

How hard is that to understand? We have enough serious problems without attacking each other.

5:28 AM  
Blogger Kristen said...

I love the fact that she says she stopped reading it. God forbid ANYONE BESIDES HER write anything intelligent or support their own claims, especially if they happen to be people that she assumes are "staying home".

8:21 AM  
Blogger Jenny said...

Excellent post.

Did you see this excerpt from her book: http://www.abcnews.go.com/GMA/Books/story?id=2067008&page=1

I ask because I see that she read the "talk back" profiles on Blogging Baby, and I think you may have done one of those.

Somewhere I read that she has one daughter and two step-daugthers, but not sure of my source on that.

8:41 AM  
Blogger kitsunekaze said...

wow.

excellent essay. Do you mind if I forward it to some friends of mine with feminist forums?

I won't if you mind, but you made some REALLY great points.

9:58 AM  
Blogger Melissa said...

She stopped reading it! How lovely for her. That woman makes me insane.

On the three kids thing, she probably hired someone else to take care of them. She probably doesn't even know them.

11:18 AM  
Anonymous Chi said...

When an intelligent male co-worker quit to stay home with his two girls, I thought what a loss. I thought what a waste now that he won't use his brain to contribute to the society. I later realized the reason I mourned the loss of a great brain because he could do his job effortlessly while I struggled. Luckily I also realized, he chose to stay home with his girls because that made him happy and that is all that matters.

11:30 AM  
Anonymous Sheryl said...

Found you via the mother-woman. I let the first firestorm, when the article first came out, pass by without comment, but this time I decided to post about it. That's a crack up that she has three daughters.

10:40 AM  
Blogger Her Bad Mother said...

I kept my ears plugged when her pieces came out, because I just didn't have the energy to get as mad as I knew that I would (having blown the wad on Flanagan not too long ago, and, um, being a new mother.) But you've reignited me, as has Mo-Wo and others.

Will clear this ear-ache/headache/heartache so far as is necessary to vent without passing out. Soon. And will link back here.

6:55 PM  
Blogger Andie D. said...

I am so tired of feeling like I have to somehow defend myself for fucking "opting out". I am not opting out. That sounds to me like selling out or copping out.

No. Like Granny said, AND SHE WOULD FUCKING KNOW,

"We who were around back in the 60's and 70's know it was always about choice. We had none unless we were willing to do battle our entire lives. Now we do. One of those choices is to use our education to benefit our kids which in turn benefits society."

Ahem.

I'm fine now. Excellent post.

9:23 PM  
Anonymous the end of motherhood said...

Call me crazy, but I just don't get how tossing women under the moving train of your personal agenda counts as feminism.

7:05 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am joining this conversation to say that I studied Philosophy too, and Socrates didn't tell people how to live, he asked questions.

So here's one:

I feel that the old-line feminists made it very clear that we women should not stay home with the kids, any more than the men do -- which begs the question (unanswered for 40 years), then who SHOULD?

It's an easy decision for people who feel that a woman without children is like a fish without a bicycle...but what if you DO have children? I always felt that the old-style attitude made staying home with children sound just a shade less appealing than taking out the garbage. OK for the garbage, but what if you're the child(ren) in question? Or a mother who just can't bring herself to leave them with strangers?

8:55 AM  

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