Saturday, January 07, 2006

Cities are better for working mothers

I've belatedly come across a grippingly interesting--and most disturbing, though also very useful--article about feminism and work by Linda Hirshman in the American Prospect Online, "Homeward Bound":

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.'

The critics are right about one thing: Dopey New York Times stories do nothing to change the situation. Dowd, who is many things but not a political philosopher, concludes by wondering if the situation will change by 2030. Lefties keep hoping the Republicans will enact child-care legislation, which probably puts us well beyond 2030. In either case, we can't wait that long. If women's flourishing does matter, feminists must acknowledge that the family is to 2005 what the workplace was to 1964 and the vote to 1920. Like the right to work and the right to vote, the right to have a flourishing life that includes but is not limited to family cannot be addressed with language of choice.

Women who want to have sex and children with men as well as good work in interesting jobs where they may occasionally wield real social power need guidance, and they need it early. Step one is simply to begin talking about flourishing. In so doing, feminism will be returning to its early, judgmental roots. This may anger some, but it should sound the alarm before the next generation winds up in the same situation. Next, feminists will have to start offering young women not choices and not utopian dreams but solutions they can enact on their own. Prying women out of their traditional roles is not going to be easy. It will require rules -- rules like those in the widely derided book The Rules, which was never about dating but about behavior modification.

There are three rules: Prepare yourself to qualify for good work, treat work seriously, and don’t put yourself in a position of unequal resources when you marry.

And here's Rebecca Traister at Salon responding to David Brooks's NYT piece in response to Hirshman, which I haven't read but which sounds completely maddening. (Thanks to Bitch PhD for the links.)


  1. Have you ever read any Scott Phillips (The Ice Harvest, for example)? I would be interested in your opinion.

  2. The Hirshman article was brilliantly executed until the very end when I was absolutely jaw-droppingly shocked by her dismissal of liberal arts education and her command that women need to marry poorer and beneath them in order to be successful. If you ask me, the problem is not that the domestic life model is irreconcilable with the power-executive model--it's that the power-executive model exists in the first place. What kind of behavior model is that? Women's "idealism" holds them back? Because they don't strive for overreaching money and power? This is a problem?

    Loved the Salon article, though. Very sharp. Thanks for sharing.