Sunday, June 18, 2006

too busy to blog

Linda Hirshman is a masochist. Or someone who desperately wants to sell books. Or perhaps she's just an idiot.

This morning's Post has Hirshman on the front page of its "Outlook" section, authoring a piece in response to the hostility she incited after the publication of an article in American Prospect this past December. The article, "Homeward Bound," argued that women who are members of the educated elite class are making a mistake when they "opt out" of the workforce to become stay at home moms. In fact, she says, in the original article, while these women will state otherwise, they are not actually making a choice to prioritize their families over their careers because "the belief that women are responsible for child-rearing and homemaking (has been) largely untouched by decades of workplace feminism".

The article, she explains in the Post piece, set off a torrent of criticism among mommy bloggers as well as the mass media.

Hirshman's Post piece is reminiscent of the paper's Ombudsman Deborah Howell's reponse to the hostile reaction she received to a column she wrote about lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Both women, bruised and battered by bloggers who opposed their viewpoints, chose to be condescending toward their critics.

In Hirshman's case, she ridicules their content,

"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 Pages".

as well as their ability to express their anger,

"I was at a loss to figure out how to argue with 'You make me want to vomit.' You make me want to vomit too?"

and suggests that many of her critics are solely tools of the Christian right or simply have too much time on their hands,

"I guess working women are too busy to blog about their lives."

Hirshman also calls to mind the mother of Katherine Lester, the honor student who took off to Jordan to meet a man she met on MySpace. Mom decided that the best solution was to remove the computer from the home versus addressing WHY her teenage daughter thought it was a good idea to lie to her and travel to the Middle East to meet a man who was significantly older than she is.

Yeah, Hirshman's solution?

"I did what any sensible person would do when exposed for the first time to the unmediated content of the Internet. I stopped reading it."

In other words, promote intellectual debate until someone disagrees with you.

Now, I have to tell you, until this morning, I had never heard of Linda Hirshman and I had never read her American Prospect article, despite my great love for mommy bloggers. I knew that the stay at home mom debate was strong within the mommy blogging community, but I did not know that Hirshman had been a catalyst for much of that conversation. So, after reading the Post article, I read "Homeward Bound" and discovered a whole new set of frustrations.

I am a member of the "educated elite". I am not, however, married. Nor do I have children. I believe, personally, that the choices that I have made in my life have led me to prioritize my career over family. In fact, I think that I have prioritized myself over family: I do what I want to do 95 percent of the time and have little interest in having someone tell me to do otherwise. I have been frustrated by friends who have given up their careers to stay at home with their children because I can not relate to the choice. But then I remind myself that they might know something that I don't -- at least about their own lives -- and I move on. Besides, they think I've lost out on something through the choices that I have made.

Hirshman, as I said, does not believe that these women are actually making cognitive choices. Instead, she believes they have been socialized to the point where they believe that they, as women, SHOULD be the primary caregivers and SHOULD choose family over career. Their inability to tell the difference, says Hirshman, has meant that feminism has stalled, as evidenced by the lack of women in corporate leadership positions.

There are economic, social and personal reasons why women choose to stay home with the kids and why men do not. But many women who make that decision feel good about it -- and should. Did socialized gender roles contribute to that choice? Sure, probably. But does that make their pleasure any less real? Why does the success or failure of the entire feminist movement need to rest on their backs? And why does Hirshman get to define what that success or failure looks like?

I don't know how much the remainder of Hirshman's article has been debated, but I'm also a little grumpy this morning about her recommendations for "what is to be done," her own version of The Rules. She craps on liberal arts education for failing to lead women toward a profitable career and appears to fall on the side of the argument that says that education is about learning what to think as opposed to how to think -- which, as a graduate of a truly liberal liberal arts education, I find to be ridiculous and antiquated. Hirshman also craps on those of us whose training and ideals have led us toward careers that are based on public service rather than cash. Condoleeza Rice wanted to be a piano player, she says, but she ignored that desire and now look at her!

I'm sure this latest article will kick up a new storm of debate over Hirshman. Hundreds or even thousands of women talking about her and pushing her name to the top of the list of search results on Google and Technorati. Which leads me once again to ask, masochist, book seller or idiot?

You choose.

(As if you actually could.)


francofou said...

Do we want a dialogue? After reading a few blogs, I wonder if that is the point, but I plunge ahead.
What is the issue here?
Is it the interest attributed to Hirshman?
Many people, men and women, have contempt for women, no matter which choices they might make (this includes self-contempt). I’ve never understood why, but there it is.
This writer goes further: there is only one choice to make: get out of the house and get a career. If there is only one choice, there aren’t any.
That would seem to make her irrelevant, like most so-called public intellectuals and “experts.” I’ve never read her and will probably never read her.
On the other hand, there is the issue of choices. Many women (and men) make bad choices (bad jobs, bad spouses, etc.). They are the forced to live with them. Nothing to do about that.
You raise the critical issue: education. If we (as a “society”) wish people to make intelligent choices, they we should educate them to think clearly. You say you have had a good liberal education. I’ll take your word for it, although after teaching in a respectable university for a number of years, I wonder what it left of a liberal education. You have then made a choice of what life you wish to lead.
Most women (and men) have had no education at all, in this sense. Many make bad choices. But they have made them and will have to live with them. Some are happy with their choice, some are not. That is no reason to treat them with contempt as Hirshman seems to do.
Surprising to see no other comments yet.

Gloria said...

Whoa, Alison, Hirshman really got you fired up! Obviously, you looked deeper into than I did, so I take your word for it that Hirshman is patronizing and that some of what she says may be wacky and even offensive. But based on my superficial understanding, I think she's really talking about the bigger picture -- a society where everyone is free to make their own choices, and that can happen only when there is true gender equality.

I have a pretty terrific partner - involved with the kids and supportive of all my decisions. But you know, in his mind, when it comes to our family, the buck does not stop with him, it stops with me. We both know this, so when I'm out of town, he gives them pizza every night for dinner and is pretty lax about brushing teeth...because he know's I'll be back very soon. I take the lead in all the major decisions regarding education, medical care, after-school activities, etc. This is a pattern that pretty quickly established itself after our first-born arrived. Why? Because we were both pre-programmed to head down this road.

At the same time, I went to a women's college; I definitely had expectations about what I was going to do with my life. And boy, do I sometimes feel resentful that he has the fast-track career and I don't -- that he gets to head out for receptions and drinks with colleagues right after work with just a quick call that he won't be home for dinner, or can travel as necessary for work, or can work long hours, while I can't veer from my daily routine without major advanced planning.

I think a lot of women are like me -- they have the final responsibility for their children and have had to make their choices accordingly. But in a perfect world, that responsibility would be equally shared by men and women, and -- I think this is Hirshman's point -- we'll never get there if women don't put up more of a fight: by staying in the workforce, by shrugging off some of the domestic responsibility, or by, at the very least, not pretending that they're earth mothers and that the stay-at-home choice was the perfect one.

abf said...

Sorry not to reply sooner. I appreciate the comments and I do sincerely appreciate the dialogue. It's tough to hear when someone doesn't agree with your perspective, but it's generally because they pointed out something that hadn't occured to you and your perfectly structured argument falls to pieces.

My personal source of frustraton was Hirshman's tactic of belittling those who criticized her. She gets a major feature in a national publication and, from this berth, chooses to crap on those whose forum is the blog that they have built with love. Did you note the first of the blogs that was quoted? It was (although they misspelled it). Dooce is consistently in the Top 100 on Technorati and has a SIZEABLE readership. She's influential and not to be ignored. Just ask all the sponsors who are nipping at her heels in hopes of reaching her readers.

Gloria, I have to agree with Francfrou that Hirshman seems to think that there is only one choice to make and the choice is to choose it all: be a mommy, be a wife, and be in a position of power within your chosen career. In other words, do what Linda did.

I believe you however, Gloria, that a lot of women are like you. I work with men who clearly have the freedom that it sounds like your husband has -- to stay late at the office, to travel when they want to, to grab a drink at the end of the day. And I work with women who generally have to head home to be with the kids, make dinner and deal with the house. I also think that you're right that we all have a role to play in addressing these gender disparities by puttin up more of a fight.

In that way, I don't disagree entirely with Linda's end goal. I primarily that her delivery is faulty. It's tought to start a one woman revolution. But if you alienate the people that you're trying to "save", then that is exactly what you're going to be struggling to do.

Anonymous said...

Gloria - would you be interested in discussing your point of view on a nationally syndicated television show. You are excatly what we are looking for. Not n complete agreement w/Linda - but understanding of her opinion. We will also be interviewing an individual who is opposed to Linda's view and Linda herself. All interviews will take place separately. Please let me know if you are interested.

Thank you,


Anonymous said...

Can anyone point me to the primary article that is being discussed here?

abf said...

Both articles -- the Post and the American Prospect articles -- are linked to within the post.