Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Assumptions of Linda's Hirshman's Get to Work and Also Some Questions

Carl Larsson's painting of himself and his family. What is the family for, after all?

Thanks so much for the comments to Get to Work. As you can see below, I have asked a lot of questions, so there is plenty of room to say what you think and contribute to the discussion. Also Suzanne noted that there are a lot of comments on Amazon on this book.

Below are what I came up with as assumptions and/or arguments of Get to Work and questions related to some of them. These are questions for Linda Hirshman but also just for thinking about men, women, and families. Please feel free to add to this list, or challenge it. I hope we can have some fun.

Assumption 1: Men and women should have the same roles because the natures of women and of men are exactly the same. Is this true?

Question: If it is not true, then what are the different natures of men and women and what are their roles?

Assumption 2: Only women assuming the same roles in society as the ruling men represents “a flourishing life.”

Question: What is a “flourishing life”? (Hirshman never defines this.)

Question: Is it impossible for an uneducated woman to have a flourishing life, in the same way that no woman who decides to stay home with her children can have a flourishing life?

Assumption 3: Household work is degraded work, and women who choose it are degraded.

Question: What about women who do household work for a living? Are they automatically degraded? If so, should paid household labor be made illegal, like prostitution? Should all jobs involving solely physical labor be prohibited? Is there a job that involves only physical labor? Does doing a physical job well involve any intellectual effort or is intellectual effort irrelevant?

Hirshman thinks it is: “Certainly it’s not using your reason to do repetitive, physical tasks, whether it’s cleaning or driving the carpool.”

Question: Is reason man’s single most important capability?

Question: The work of a woman in the home is not defined by Hirschman but merely denigrated. What is the work of a woman in the home? What is the mission in the home?

Assumption 4: The United States is ruled by a ruling class.

Question: Does anyone else have power besides this ruling class? What constitutes membership in the ruling class?

Assumption 5: Society is ruled, not governed. Therefore, for women to be represented, women must seek to become part of the ruling group (glass ceiling argument).

Question: If women have to be part of the ruling group (in order to represent their interests qua women), how are children’s interests to be represented? Should children be part of the ruling group also?

Assumption 6: Women’s interests are strictly their own interests as individuals; the interests of the family are either irrelevant or in contradiction to the interests of women.

Assumption 7: Because women are robbed by their roles in the family household of realizing their talents to the fullest, the family is a moral obstacle to maximizing societal good. Is this true?

Question: The family is not defined except as a patriarchal institution and implicitly, a logistical arrangement. Therefore, the question is raised: What is the family and what is its mission or purpose?

Assumption 8: Because the family is a smaller institution than the institutions of the society at large, concentrating on one’s own family is limiting.

Assumption 9: Because the interests of society as a whole are more important than the interests of a mere family, concentrating on one’s own family is selfish.


Enbrethiliel said...


Now that you've broken everything down, she sounds like another Ayn Rand!

(Judging by some lip service in Atlas Shrugged, however, Rand didn't think of housework as the work of an animal.)

wendybirde said...

I'm with you Linda. Even her picture is creepy, much less her horrible "message". Its communism basically.

One thing to remember i think though, is that communism isnt just about taking away the family but also about taking away the HOME. It is not only mothers that deserve to be home based but all home-makers, whether they are blessed with children or not. The family is at stake, but so is the home. Big time.

Peaceful day to you : ) Wendy

Enbrethiliel said...


Hello again, Linda! I just got your e-mail. =)


In Rand's Atlas Shrugged, we see dozens of supporting characters who used to have "high-profile" jobs in the world, but who have gone on strike by abandoning their careers and taking non-intellectual jobs. For instance, a Philosophy professor ends up working as a cook in a diner out in the country. He also happens to cook the best food the heroine has ever tasted--which proves Rand's point that even "menial" taks can be dignified if one does them well and approaches them with reason.

Ha! "Approaches them with an allegorical imagination," more like! Rand only respects intellectuals, by which she seems to mean people who not only do their work well, but also understand the meaning of that work. You should read what the meaning of selling cigarettes is, as articulated by an intellectual cigarette vendor! =P

So far, she seems different from Hirschman, who is absolutely against a woman choosing domestic chores for herself. Yet the only housewife among Rand's objectivist characters is found in "Galt's Gulch," the valley where all the intellectuals are on strike from the work they should actually be doing. If the woman were in the real world, she might choose to be something higher up on the hierarchy of jobs.

This is where Rand and Hirschman meet: they see domestic work as something you'd do only if you didn't have the brains or the opportunity to do something else. Perhaps the intellectual housewife is happy to raise her two biological children only because she is on strike from indoctrinating everyone else's children. Both Rand and Hirschman thinks that choosing to stay at home to care for one's family as the most unreasonable thing anyone--man or woman--can choose to do.