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Linda Hirshman, a prof at Brandeis, wrote an excellent article on feminism. About how women "choose" to be a housewife… but it's not the right choice. Also how yes, more women are graduating from universities, but they are doing so with liberal arts degrees, and not necessarily with an eye on having to support themselves and their families. They expect a man to do that. She believes that choosing to be a house-wife is opting out, and not fully utilizing your own life. It seems like a majority of ruling class women are choosing to be housewives. Where are the women in elite positions? She talks about a lot of stuff that is causing a lot of debate in the feminist world. Her article is definitely worth a read.

David Brooks wrote an op-ed awarding her for one of the best magazine essays of 2005, but saying she is wrong. (Times Select subscription required)


Salon.com summerized the Hirshman and Brooks article (free after pesky ad):
Also worth a read. Refers to the NYT’s op-ed by Tierney about 3 women university graduates for every two men. The possible implication that women should stop being so effective or accept marrying down or becoming lonely spinsters. Salon also refers to the women who used to tout choosing housewifery as a wonderful thing, until she got divorced.

Here are some excerpts from the Hirshman article:

"The number of women at universities exceeds the number of men. But, more than a generation after feminism, the number of women in elite jobs doesn’t come close."

"...while the public world has changed, albeit imperfectly, to accommodate women among the elite, private lives have hardly budged. The real glass ceiling is at home."

"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 first pitfall is the liberal-arts curriculum, which women are good at, graduating in higher numbers than men. Although many really successful people start out studying liberal arts, the purpose of a liberal education is not, with the exception of a miniscule number of academic positions, job preparation."

"The point here is to help women see that yes, you can study art history, but only with the realistic understanding that one day soon you will need to use your arts education to support yourself and your family."

"Every Times groom assumed he had to succeed in business, and was really trying. By contrast, a common thread among the women I interviewed was a self-important idealism about the kinds of intellectual, prestigious, socially meaningful, politics-free jobs worth their incalculably valuable presence. So the second rule is that women must treat the first few years after college as an opportunity to lose their capitalism virginity and prepare for good work, which they will then treat seriously."

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( 22 comments — Leave a comment )
mdf356
Jan. 4th, 2006 06:07 pm (UTC)
There's a number of unstated assumptions above that should be stated and possibly refuted.

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.

What is full human flourishing? Since it's not defined, this statement can't be fact checked.

The point here is to help women see that yes, you can study art history, but only with the realistic understanding that one day soon you will need to use your arts education to support yourself and your family.

Why will one need to support one's family? Why is she so sure that an art history degree can't be a part of that? College is not technical school; the purpose of a college education is not to prepare you for a lifetime of work but to educate.

So the second rule is that women must treat the first few years after college as an opportunity to lose their capitalism virginity and prepare for good work, which they will then treat seriously.

This seems to be assuming that good work is the equivalent of high paying work. I think some police officers, fire fighters, farmers and social workers would contest this, not to mention a host of other professions.

It sounds like the real complaint here is that women aren't earning as much money as men (as a class, not as individuals) and that they don't have enough "power". I would counter that perhaps women have their priorities set right as a class, and so are more likely to have a job that pays less and contributes intangibly to society more. This would include being a stay-at-home mom; the influence in that job is immeasureable and so Hirshman counts it as nothing.

Perhaps we should instead ask why so few men (1) get a liberal arts degree, and (2) work in socially redeeming jobs. What's wrong with those men? Why are women holding them back?

Cheers,
Matt
ripresa
Jan. 4th, 2006 07:06 pm (UTC)
"Perhaps we should instead ask why so few men (1) get a liberal arts degree, and (2) work in socially redeeming jobs. What's wrong with those men? Why are women holding them back?"

I like that perspective! Unfortunatly, I think the answer is that women have more freedom to make that kind of choice, because they are not expected to support their family or.. they are not expected to have to economically succeed in our capitalistic society.

The article talks more on the "elite" women.. those that can do whatever they want with their lives... and not having to worry about paying the rent. A majority of them choose to be housewives, and are more idealistic and perfectionist about the jobs they want, as opposed to the men.

In an ideal world, everyone can do whatever their heart desire. But we don't live in an ideal world, and monetary or power compensation differs based on what degree or job your pursue. But you're right.. maybe the women are making the right choices about what is important in the long run.
indywind
Jan. 4th, 2006 07:27 pm (UTC)
I like that idea too... Articles like those cited above always get my dander up, by the way they implicitly priviledge some roles/activities over others (typically priviledging those that have traditionally belonged to men, although occasionally one will see backlash that privildges homemaking or social service work, and devalues capitalist imperialist goals), asking why women do not choose to do just as men have used to do, instead of why *everyone* can not or does not have opportunity to make unconstrained choices about how to live his/her life in the way he/she individually determines most useful and satisfying.

What would I want more money for anyway? My mom supported her family on a smaller wage than I now make, and we were happier--and more useful to our neighbors--than my gf's family supported by her father the high-powered executive.
jonobie
Jan. 5th, 2006 07:02 pm (UTC)
::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.

What is full human flourishing? Since it's not defined, this statement can't be fact checked.


Interestingly, one reason why I think so many women *have* chosen the motherhood route is because in recent years, it's re-aquired an idealistic glow about it -- something that the phrase "full human flourishing" also conjures up. I don't know if that's warranted or not, not having kids of my own, but I think that's why people are drawn to it. And, there's been an upswing in the number of stay at home fathers, too.

Another unstated but implied assumption of the article is that men and women are equal in ability in all areas and interests. I certainly was pushed as much into math & science as any male, had a mother who modeled a successful academic career in computer science, and still find myself drawn to more traditionally female ventures. I don't think society corrupted me into going into a somehow less powerful and more "appropriate" position for a female; I think it's likely there are a lot of women in my field precisely because there's something about the job that appeals to us or that we're good at.

Interestingly, I recently discovered that the year I was born was only the fourth year the Boston Marathon allowed women to run. Prior to that, because some women had collapsed at the end of an 800 meter dash, it was deemed "unsafe" for a woman to try to complete that much distance. To reverse the rule, several women jumped the fence in different years and ran and finished -- that, plus petitioning the governing board, eventually caused them to modify the rules in 1972. Anyhow, not totally related, but an interesting marker of how much progress there has been in recent years. I've been training for a marathon for several months now, and it never even OCCURED to me that being a woman would have anything to do with it, or that anyone else would think so, either.
ripresa
Jan. 5th, 2006 11:39 pm (UTC)
Good luck on the marathon. I remember seeing you at Pervasive.
jonobie
Jan. 6th, 2006 01:48 am (UTC)
Thanks! I had thought you looked familar the first time we crossed paths with you and Nick, but the "nice snood" comment definietly cinched it the second time! Small world, I guess... :-)

antoniseb
Jan. 4th, 2006 06:32 pm (UTC)
Being a housewife is a valid choice, but we, as a society may be improved by having more of the best and brightest women choose to advance our societiy in other ways. On the other hand, there are some lifestyle choices that permit outstandingly productive and motivated women to puruse a career, AND raise a functional happy family. I don't think we are in an absolute either/or situation with this question.
ripresa
Jan. 4th, 2006 06:49 pm (UTC)
True.. but it would also be nice to have more women as supreme court judges, CEOs of large companies or and deans of universities... There so few women in elite positions, despite the fact that more women graduate from universities then men.
antoniseb
Jan. 4th, 2006 08:03 pm (UTC)
I suspect that we will see more women in elite positions as we make these positions more accountable and significantly less prone to corruption. As it is, corrupt men are too drawn to positions that appoint these people.
ripresa
Jan. 4th, 2006 11:43 pm (UTC)
Hrm.. are women more moral then men? I don't know! Maybe a bit..
antoniseb
Jan. 4th, 2006 11:57 pm (UTC)
I'm guessing that the corrupt people doing the appointing trust men more than women to stick to an ideological ends-justifies-the-means position. This doesn't really say that women are more moral (or ethical) than men, but it points to some perceived difference that I find difficult to articulate.
ripresa
Jan. 5th, 2006 12:11 am (UTC)
hrm.. i think i almost know what you mean..
zuleikhajami
Jan. 4th, 2006 07:02 pm (UTC)
*rolls her eyes* I love a woman who is a full time professor in women's studies writing against women pursuing a liberal arts' education. Hirshman's life fulfillment and income don't seem to be too poorly affected by her choices. It reminds me of women like Phyllis Schafly who have demanding schedules on the lecture circuit while preaching that women are supposed to stay at home and raise babies.

I think there are also a lot of issues with Hirshman's research methodology as well.

This link may bring you cheer. It's a rebuttal of Dowd's article that applies to Hirshman's as well.
ripresa
Jan. 4th, 2006 07:11 pm (UTC)
Ooh. An optimistic article on feminism!

"The more education a woman has, the more likely she is to marry"

"Instead, the young women showed no preference for dominant males over other males for either dating or mating."
(Actually. I do prefer dominant men :-P)

"It found that in societies where women have access to resources, they do not choose older "provider" males to marry. Instead, they go for men who are kind, intelligent and can bond with children."

I like this article. Thanks for linking to it!!
indywind
Jan. 4th, 2006 07:30 pm (UTC)
Hee!
and women with really unconstained choices, may chose one or more of each. Or women.
deroosisonfire
Jan. 4th, 2006 10:05 pm (UTC)
i wrote an entry about a similar article from the nyt a few months ago.

i think it is really hard to not have a great career come at the expense of your family life. i know the most about academia because that's my area and i'll tell you that there are very few women faculty members and even fewer with children. but i also think it's important to note that a good number of the male faculty members are divorced. i don't know if it's higher than average, but i do think it's remarkably prevalent. my point being that these intensive careers that are male-dominated are hard on everyone who undertakes them. there is definitely a cost. maybe they are male-dominated because women chose not to make the personal sacrifices necessary to pursue these careers whereas men will make those sacrifices.
ripresa
Jan. 4th, 2006 11:42 pm (UTC)
Yeah, didn't the harvard dean talked about it.. when he got in trouble? He tried to say that women weren't as willing to make the sacrifices to get the top positions.

Maybe women in general are more instrospective about what they want in their lives.. and society is more willing to let them do that. If a guy gives up a biology PhD to become a stay-at-home dad.. that would raise eyebrows.
desfontaines
Jan. 4th, 2006 10:15 pm (UTC)
Working with teenagers every day, I completely disagree with the premise that being the one raising the kids is a copout. Students who actually have a parent who is usually at home are, on average, far more successful than those who do not. The problem is that society as a whole generally disregards this contribution, which requires the sacrifice of many of the things that it deems evidence of "success."
desfontaines
Jan. 4th, 2006 10:16 pm (UTC)
Ah yes... and all those studies that show how well children from elite families do in school? Gee, their mothers are more likely to choose to stay home. Gosh, no possible link there, no, not at all.
ripresa
Jan. 4th, 2006 11:39 pm (UTC)
And in the poorer families where both parents are busy trying to pay the rent.. the children tend to get less attention.
nickjong
Jan. 4th, 2006 10:18 pm (UTC)
Thank you for the links! I found the Hirshman article very engaging, although I would question its unspoken assumption that elite women have been defecting to domestic lives because our patriarchal society conditions them to choose such ignoble work. The article presents data supporting the existence of the defection but not for this notion that any women who chooses the home over the workplace must be insufficiently empowered, brainwashed by the mores of a patriarchal society. Instead, it moves directly to suggestions for how to break through this new glass ceiling in the home. By my lights, the language of this article ironically counteracts what I perceive to be one of the important achievements of feminism: the elevation in stature of domestic work relative to professional work.

Now, it's certainly possible that the tendency for some women to end their professional careers creates a stereotype that is harmful to those women who actually don't care to become housewives. The absence of female role models among the captains of industry is a very real problem for such women. However, the answer to these problems is not to goad unwilling women into the workplace. The battlefront for feminism should remain in the workplace, in changing the attitudes of those who believe that all women belong at home, which in the end is perhaps only as simplistic as the belief that exactly half of all workers must be women.
ripresa
Jan. 4th, 2006 11:39 pm (UTC)
"However, the answer to these problems is not to goad unwilling women into the workplace"

Very true. There's a lot of unwilling men in the work place...

I don't believe that domestic work has been elevated to professional work. Also, iirc, I have read of a study that show housewives are in general less satisfied then women who work.

I guess it's more of a hope that women who do choose to be housewives do it for the right reasons, and not because the patriachal society has led them to think that is the best option.
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