here’s the most incisive reasoning yet on why linda hirshman’s critique of “choice feminism” is right on:
meghan o’rourke in slate: A Working Girl Can Win: The Case Against Staying Home with the Kids.
some sharply observed excerpts:
But—though I almost hate to say it—buried beneath Hirshman’s overblown rhetoric is a useful idea, now set out in a short book titled Get to Work: A Manifesto for Women of the World: namely, that our obsession with choice prevents us from asking tough questions about how to achieve further equality. “Deafened by choice, here’s the moral analysis these women never heard,” she says: Until there is more equity in the cultural norms for child-rearing and household tasks, each time a woman decides to “opt out” she is making a political decision that reinforces an already ingrained social inequality.
slate’s fray had a long back & forth on this from readers. while one person said she didn’t make decisions about her life based on an abstraction that seems to have less and less to do with her actual life, i think the abstraction (“feminism”) is just a compressed way of saying “divorce likelihood is at 50% and rising, and for divorced women, the result is often kids + poverty–now what?”
choice feminism creates a “mutually reinforcing” cycle. Affluent and well-educated men rarely leave the workforce (and when they do, it’s usually to return to school or start a business); a portion of affluent and well-educated women do opt out (and when they do, it’s almost exclusively to raise children). When these women choose to devote their skills to childcare rather than to the workplace, they are “perpetuating a mostly male ruling class”—precisely the type unlikely to help make the case for more flexible work arrangements that would allow more women back into the workforce. The result is disempowering for less-well-off women, who have fewer public female role models, and for the opt-outers themselves, who find it hard to re-enter the work place and, if divorced, may have to depend on their husbands for support. None of this, Hirshman points out, dovetails with the aims of feminism.
the reality of the workforce, especially as its become more and more tech-driven, is that your highfalutin’ degree from Fancy-Shmancy University only has a short period of time during which it’s high in cultural capital. the work experience you gain has only a brief shelf life after which your skills are hopelessly outmoded and you’re too “unskilled/old/need too high a salary” to employ. which is why regular employment is a necessity.
if women really do stay in the work force, even part-time, a few decades from now it may be easier for parents to opt out according to their personal preferences, rather than their gender. If one parent didn’t want to assume the bulk of the child-care duties, as may well be the case, two could split it. The demand for elastic or part-time work by men and women alike would lead to more flexible jobs.
Today, “choice” isn’t as simple as it sounds and masks a deeper social problem: the difficulty women, and especially less well-educated women—who drop out in higher rates–face when trying to get back into the work force. As irritating as Hirshman’s brinksmanship is, her point has a place in the ongoing debates.
among the mamas i hang out with, many are “choice feminists” who now do volunteer work or stay at home with the kid(s). they live easy lives of privilege (as do i) compared to the duane reade cashier pregnant at 8 months and still on her feet all day, working til she practically pops. but still, we upper-middle mamas aren’t immune to a bad divorce and a deadbeat dad.
no one ever thinks they’ll suffer such a bad stroke of luck. but still, bad things do happen and better relevant in today’s economy than not.
not to mention, if you can find work that’s fulflling and remunerative, why not?