Do we owe it to each other to work outside the home?

The dreaded "Mommy Wars" usually pits working moms against stay at home moms. It took the genius of Sylvia Ann Hewitt and Linda Hirshman to top it off with a dollop of guilt. Hewitt began the baby panic with her 2002 book castigating us career gals with not having babies before we hit our ancient 30s. My all time favorite response was from Tina Fey during SNL's "Weekend Update" where she says, "And Sylvia's right; I definitely should have had a baby when I was 27, living in Chicago over a biker bar, pulling down a cool $12,000 a year. That would have worked out great," while her posse of Rachel, Amy, and Maya had her back. In the latest volley in this massive guilt-trip, Christine B. Larson, laments how she tried to be a good modern mother and work part-time, only to decide that it wasn't worth it.

Linda Hirshman added to this guilt trip that not only are you sacrificing your economic future by staying home (because you don't earn Social Security and most don't invest in a retirement fund), but you are ruining it for women in general. Here's her theory: When elite and highly educated (Ivy Leaguers) quick their awesome jobs at law firms, investment groups, and big business, that in turn teaches the HR departments that women can't be trusted to stay at the firm despite a high salary and all those hours they spend training you. What we get is the pay gap AND discrimination against women in general. Here's one more reason for the class wars to continue.

I was able to meet and hear Linda Hirshman at the National Women's Studies Association Conference in late June. I'm not a fan of hers, but hadn't read her book and wanted to hear what she really believed in person. People can always be misquoted, even in their own writing, so why not hear it from the horse's mouth? Here are my highlights of her presentation/performance (as a former trial lawyer, she does put on quite a show):
  • She's upset that feminists embrace the "whatever floats your boat" philosophy, summed up as 'choice feminism';
    • Her mistake with this idea is dealing with feminism as if we all subscribe to the same doctrine. Yes, there are choice feminists out there, but more to the point I believe there are more feminists out there that do traditionally non-feminist things (Brazilians anyone?) and shrug it off as their choice. Is staying home to care for your child synonymous with getting all your pubic hair ripped out? I don't think so.
  • Choice feminism = any choice by a woman is a feminist act;
    • DING! Wrong. Look at the way that feminists in general vilify both Hillary Rodham Clinton and Condoleezza Rice. Two of the most powerful women in this world and I don't think I could find one feminist who would claim everything these women have done, even in the last 10 years, has been a feminist act.
  • Feminism IS judgmental - Embrace it - Own it;
    • OK, I'll give her this. We are judgmental. Everyone is. That's what philosophy is all about, drawing lines, and tsking at those who go over it.
  • Judgment is tainted by Betty Friedan's mistake to exclude lesbians from the movement;
    • I don't think that judgment itself is tainted as much as we lost so much valuable time dealing with homophobia and then proving ourselves to our lesbian sisters that we could be trusted. Growing pains are never easy, but I'd like to think we are a stronger movement because of it.
  • The term choice was used as a way to not say abortion in the early 1970s, specifically when Catholics for a Free Choice was founded;
    • It might have started that way, but by the time I became active in the mid-1990s, I felt that choice was a way to talk about more than just abortion. Choice was an easy to way to encompass birth control, sterilization, choosing to mother, choosing to give birth, etc. I can't recall a time when I personally was only about abortion. I came to my pro-choice stance via birth control issues and have since evolved to think of myself as a reproductive justice activist.
  • Families are not immune to judgment;
    • Yes and no. Violence in the home...Totally worthy of judgment. Breast feeding vs. formula...Nope. Am I judgmental about SAHMs? Honestly, sometimes. It is mostly due to feeling that pressure to stay at home, so when a few friends had their babies and stayed at home, I felt a little left behind. But I was more upset that staying at home was excused as the best thing to do because "I'm not that smart like you." Um, yes, you are and in so many different ways than I could ever be. I also get upset when I see husbands of SAHMs complain when the house isn't clean. Buddy, you try staying at home with a kid and see how much you get done. I actually admire women who can stay at home with the kids all day. I know I couldn't. I don't have the patience or the creativity to entertain my daughter.
  • Feminism has to show women how to lead;
    • Feminism isn't a church. It's made up of individual people who add to our collective movement. We show each other how to lead, mostly by example. Which is why we really hate it when anti-feminists trash day care while they tour around the country dragging their kids around or leaving them in the care of a nanny. A lot of what I consider feminist leadership is walking the walk.

She constantly put down mommy bloggers for hating her. What she meant was SAHM-mommy bloggers and I called her on it. She apologized. I then went on to ask her how are we supposed to galvanize mommy voters to make change happen in this country if she's alienating them from the feminist movement? She waved a hand and said that they were already lost. It's true that married women vote more conservative than their unmarried sisters, but I'm not about to call them a lost cause. Mostly because I'm a married mother who votes for the Dems, I occasionally vote for the Green party.

It's not that I think that people are dumb, it's that I know what messages are out there in the mainstream media. Feminists are bad evil people, right? They don't care about children, right? They are the reason our society is falling apart, right? I truly believe that my blogging about mothering issues from a feminist perspective just might change the hearts and minds of those who run from the F-word. The Radical Right co-opted the term family values, but does nothing to value families. But her pfting married mothers as lost means she's banking on all the unmarried moms to get out and vote. We can't rely on that because well, if being a married mom makes you a busy woman, imagine how hard it is to be single and getting out to vote. On page 4 of her book, she sets out a 5-point plan (it's always a 5-point plan, isn't it?) on how to "get to work" and #5 is "Get the government you deserve. Stop electing governments that punish women's work." So which is it? Is the solution at home or with government? One thing is clear, she has no faith that business will change.

I truly believe the problem with our country is that we believe in the whole bootstrap theory hook, line, & sinker, even when we KNOW we didn't get where we are today without a little help. So I get what Hirshman is saying when she calls out the so-called best & brightest who hold Ivy League diplomas who quit making policy and start making PB&Js full-time. We do need high powered women at the top of companies, in Congress, and producing TV & film. BUT we need feminist women doing it if anything's going to change. There isn't any guarantee that Ms. Harvard is going to climb the corporate ladder and kick open the door for other women or understand when a parent wants to turn in that report at 8 pm instead of 5 pm so they can attend tee-ball.

The work/life question won't be solved merely by adding women. Neither will the pay equity question. Some might have to be solved on a company by company basis. Some might need more legislation and government enforcement. And yes, I totally agree with Hirshman that men need to step up to the plate (pg 1). I'm happy to report that my partner not only steps up to the plate, but he washes it and puts it back in the proper place.

Maybe I'm too sensitive, but I think that us moms have enough guilt to last 10 lifetimes. This society should be set-up so that parents, mothers and fathers, can make REAL choices about work, life, and child rearing. Want to work? Great! Thanks for adding to the GDP. Here's some affordable and quality child care. Want to stay at home? Great! Thanks for helping raise the next generation of workers. Here's some Social Security credits and mother's allowance. Yes, my dear readers, I do believe that any changes will have to come by framing the issue in terms of economics not what we really should do to prove we care about children.

Instead of pointing the finger at each other all the time, let's gather up our strength and forces and point it at the government for not doing enough, in some cases their job, at inflexible work places, and at the expectation that either we want to work 80 hours a week or not. The men I know who are in their 20s and 30s don't want to work an 80 hour week as much as most women. We're not a lazy or entitled generation. We just want a life outside our cubicles. Is that really too much to ask?

I did end up getting her book. It was only $5 and I got it autographed. It's less than 100 pages, so if you can, do pick it up. It's worth the read. She has a lot of great ideas in there. I think her presentation style is too coarse to lure SAHMs back into the workforce. For that, we'd need child care the way Rosie the Riveter had back in WWII.