Trading one set of chains for another

More ranting via midlife mama. Libby critiqued an article from the American Prospect Online and asked for opinions. I was foolish enough to think that I could contain my opinion in one little comment. I know, I know, I should be used to the Attack of the 50-line Comment by now. So, I decided to turn my rant/fisk into its own post.

First off, I’m going to steal Libby’s summary of the article:

It’s an article in American Prospect Online that takes all those “opt out” articles seriously. The author, Linda R. Hirshman, a feminist professor, is working on a book about “marriage after feminism.” She interviewed 30 some-odd women whose weddings were announced in the Sunday NY Times over three Sundays in 1996. Most of them, she says, were staying home with their kids 7 or 8 years later. (Actually, 50% were no longer working for pay, and a third were working part time.) : Conservatives contend that the dropouts prove that feminism “failed” because it was too radical, because women didn’t want what feminism had to offer. In fact, if half or more of feminism’s heirs (85 percent of the women in my Times sample), are not working seriously, it’s because feminism wasn’t radical enough: It changed the workplace but it didn’t change men, and, more importantly, it didn’t fundamentally change how women related to men.

Just because I can, I’m going to use the same style of breakdowns as Hirshman uses in her article. Well, also I want to mock her section heads. And we all know I love mocking people and things. Also, all further quotes (unless otherwise noted) come from the article itself.

I. The Truth About Bad Science
Although Hirshman does offer up her own data on the matter, she (as Libby said), “takes all those ‘opt out’ articles seriously”. Given that, I must admit that I question the validity of her own research because of her horribly low standards. I fail to see how it’s helpful to downplay the importance that bad science and bad journalism play in the continued oppression of women.

People who don’t like the message attack the data.

And this, my friends, is why America is still debating whether or not to teach evolution in schools. Apparently, sloppiness is the new black. The next time I talk about how flying pigs are taking over the city and we need to stop them, I’ll just accuse my dissenters of attacking my data because they don’t like the message. Take that flying pig lovers!

Seriously, though, without proper data a proper discussion cannot take place. The articles Hirshman cites are crap, even if the message they send may have a grain of truth. There is nothing to be gained by validating their improper methodologies, flawed logic, and misuse of data. If you want to discuss the message, then both sides need to approach the issue with data that was gathered and analyzed properly, otherwise it’s fair game to discredit the message by discrediting evidence provided.

What evidence is good enough?

I don’t know, how about properly researched studies that aren’t out to prove their bias by any means necessary? How about not using articles from newspapers that care about being entertaining and therefore will go for sensationalism over facts? How about real evidence versus made up evidence? You know, ’cause that’s how adults argue things.

But, apparently, it is too much for Hirshman to think that it’s worthwhile for us to want real evidence of those kinds of trends so we can have a real discussion on them and what they mean about our society and our future. Using bad science is good enough for the Intelligent Design proponents, and – gosh, darn it! – it should be good for us feminists, too!

II. The Failure of Female-Only Responsibility
One thing I can agree with her assertion that the belief that women are responsible for child-rearing and homemaking was largely untouched by decades of workplace feminism. One of my biggest criticisms of some popular feminist movements in the past is that they focused so much on “earning” the right for women to be like men, that womanhood (and traditional women’s work) remained the lesser to manhood’s default normalcy.

Don’t get me wrong; I think the battles that were fought were necessary ones. I owe my bright future to the feminists who campaigned for workplace equality, access to birth control, and giving women a place in the public sphere. It is not their fault that we haven’t broken out of a male-normative mindset, but it will be ours if we don’t get our heads out of our asses and realize that women’s liberation isn’t just for women anymore. We live in a society with people who are not women and no amount of changing ourselves will change our lot if those around us don’t change as well.

For her brave start with criticizing “workplace feminism”, Hirshman just doesn’t seem to get it:

Women must take responsibility for the consequences of their decisions.

Why, oh, why do feminist conversations about how far we still need to go always come down to female responsibility? I’m responsible enough already, thanks, I’d like to see some of that responsibility levied on the patriarchy for once. And, while we’re at it, maybe we should start encouraging men to pick up the slack in the domestic arena, too. Just a thought.

Thereafter, however, liberal feminists abandoned the judgmental starting point of the movement in favor of offering women “choices.”

Oh, yes, screw people’s ability to choose a life from themselves. Let’s tell the women what they should do, and if they try to do anything different let’s shame them until they do what we want! Oh, wait, that’s what misogynists do!

It all counted as “feminist” as long as she chose it.

No. Just… no.

Such ignorance really makes me angry. The point of “choice feminism” is that we must recognize a woman’s right to make her own choices, even if those choices are anti-feminist, bad for her, or just ones we don’t agree with. It is her right as a human being to live her life the way she sees fit.

It is our job, however, as feminists to see where women’s choices are taken away from them and to broaden the path. For example; there are different-sex couples for whom the choice to take a partner’s last name is just that –a choice. But if they have sat down with their partner and truly discussed and considered all options, then they are privileged. In many societies (especially Western ones), women don’t really have a choice in the matter; they will take their husband’s name or be punished for it.

Does that mean that I should blame my eldest sister for taking her husband’s name? Or berate my middle sister if she chooses the same? Of course not! Not everyone can be a one woman army, and it is wrong of us to attack those who have chosen the easier path. I put the blame where it belongs: the patriarchy and its sexist traditions.

To “prove” her point about choice, Hirshman goes on to say:

(So dominant has the concept of choice become that when Charlotte, with a push from her insufferable first husband, quits her job, the writers at Sex and the City have her screaming, “I choose my choice! I choose my choice!”)

Someone has missed the point of that scene. In an earlier conversation with Miranda, Charlotte was berating her friend for not supporting her. Miranda, in typical fashion, did the “thou doth protest too much” comment. The whole message behind that was that it wasn’t Charlotte’s choice; it was the choice that society, and her husband, had made for her.

Speaking of robbing people of choice, Hirshman furthers the impression that it’s her way or the highway with this criticism of feminism:

Great as liberal feminism was, once it retreated to choice the movement had no language to use on the gendered ideology of the family. Feminists could not say, “Housekeeping and child-rearing in the nuclear family is not interesting and not socially validated. Justice requires that it not be assigned to women on the basis of their gender and at the sacrifice of their access to money, power, and honor.”

Not interesting to you and me, perhaps, but there are people out there who take great pride in the running of the household and the raising of children. Heck, the latter should be interesting to both partners, otherwise maybe they shouldn’t have had kids! But I guess the only woman that matters to Hirshman is herself!

Honestly, her contempt of women truly disgusts me. She has bought into the victim blaming, male-normative bullshit that continues to plague us despite feminism’s continuing efforts to achieve equality. The whole statement she makes is one that devalues women by calling traditionally women’s work boring and implying (with her last sentence) that it’s useless (because money, power, and honor are the only things in life that matter).

III. What Is To Be Done?

I’ve kept the exact section head for this one, and I’d like to give an answer to that question before I proceed the section itself. For starters, stop blaming women for the patriarchy’s chains. Then you can follow it up with a healthy dose of “you’re not the boss of me”. Meaning, forcing women to be what you want them to be is no different than what’s been forced upon us for centuries.

Here’s how Hirshman starts her section:

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.

And there we have it, folks, Hirshman employs the same tools of the patriarchy: women’s work (and the women and men who do it) is not as good as men’s work (and the women and men who do it). Thanks, Hirshman, for continuing to prove your contempt for your own sex. ‘Cause I haven’t gotten enough of that from ignorant, privileged males recently. Really, I appreciate it.

In so doing, feminism will be returning to its early, judgmental roots.

Hirshman, meet the Christian Fundamentalists. Christian Fundamentalists, meet Hirshman. Once you get past the differences in your surface agendas, you’ll find that your moral values are exactly the same. Death to those who think differently than us!

IV. Does Hirshman Really Care?

Honestly, I never though I’d meet someone ostensibly on my side that was more sanctimonious than I. Hirshman, my hat goes off to you. I’ve never met a feminist who could spin a militant ideology that is about controlling women’s choices and blaming them if they want something different as “caring” about these women.

Hirshman plays the benevolent matriarch in the grand old tradition of the “benevolent” patriarchy:

We care because what they do is bad for them, is certainly bad for society, and is widely imitated, even by people who never get their weddings in the Times.

It’s for your own good, sweeties! You’d better just stop trying to find your own personal happiness because you’re hurting society with all this “choice” nonsense. You should just listen to Mommy Hirshman with a smile on your face. Your life doesn’t belong to you, after all; you’re a woman!

As for society, elites supply the labor for the decision-making classes — the senators, the newspaper editors, the research scientists, the entrepreneurs, the policy-makers, and the policy wonks. If the ruling class is overwhelmingly male, the rulers will make mistakes that benefit males, whether from ignorance or from indifference.

Wow. That’s… wow. The classism in that statement is so thick, even to a privileged person like me, that it leaves me without anything coherent to say; whether it be real criticism, witty snark, or even not-so-witty snark.

Worse, the behavior tarnishes every female with the knowledge that she is almost never going to be a ruler.

Yeah, those stay-at-home sluts moms. They are ruining it for all of us chaste, moral virgins working women. No sex until marriage! Er, I mean, keep working after marriage!

A good life for humans includes the classical standard of using one’s capacities for speech and reason in a prudent way, the liberal requirement of having enough autonomy to direct one’s own life, and the utilitarian test of doing more good than harm in the world. Measured against these time-tested standards, the expensively educated upper-class moms will be leading lesser lives.

Wow, thanks Mom, for educating me on how when one leaves the public sphere they lose any opportunity to exercise their brains because they stay on the couch eating bon-bons all day. Seriously, what does Hirshman think homemakers and stay-at-home parents do?

But, you know, things like raising the future generation definitely doesn’t count as “doing more good than harm in the world”. The only importance of babies is in the making of them! It’s not that fathers should be encouraged to step up to their responsibilities, but that mothers should opt-out of them because that kind of work just isn’t worthwhile. The kids can raise themselves just fine.

Although it is harder to shatter a ceiling that is also the roof over your head, there is no other choice.

Not for Hirshman’s women, anyway.

And, just for giggles, I’d like to draw attention to the little “about the author” blurb at the bottom of this article:

With almost no effort, she landed spot No. 77 on Bernard Goldberg’s “100 People Who Are Screwing Up America.”

It’s a sad, sad day when I agree with someone like Goldberg. Although 1) for vastly different reasoning; and 2) truth be told I don’t think she, by herself, has that much power. It’s rather her espoused discourse that is “screwing up America” because it continues to perpetuate the myth of feminine inferiority.

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7 thoughts on “Trading one set of chains for another

  1. Have you seen Hirshman’s response (in the comments to “The Elite Talk Back”)here?

    She says “…So I don’t blog on about my roofer or my morning sickness or whatever qualifies as sincere feminism in the weird space the internet creates.”

    So – now we “internet weirdos” cannot be sincere feminists. Hmmm.

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