Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Get to Work????#$%*&

The old woman in a shoe...not a candidate for breaking the glass ceiling.

This post is a continuation of a conversation that begins with Stay at Home Moms: Not So Many and the comments to that post.

When I heard of a book called Get to Work: A Manifesto for Women of the World, I was startled, because my impression is that most women are overworked and need no further imperatives to "get to work." Curious as to what this author could be talking about, I got the book out of the library and read it; happily, there were only 92 pages of text. The book is written by Linda R. Hirshman and dedicated to Betty Friedan, author of the Feminine Mystique, the 1963 diatribe against domesticity that is credited with launching the feminist movement.

Hirshman sees the necessity of renewing the feminist movement in the face of the challenge of "choice feminism"--the notion by which women should feel free to choose to (1) concentrate on developing their careers or (2) focus on their children and stay at home or take far-less demanding and time-consuming jobs so they have as much time as possible to care for their family.

Hirshman believes that women should not feel free to choose and that the only moral choice is for all women (at least if they are educated) to pursue their chosen careers to the fullest and break the glass ceiling. The family is an obstacle to this commitment to career, and therefore, women smust persevere in demanding and obtaining a "just household" in which the man shares at least half of the domestic work--child care, cooking, and cleaning.

Her argument for the moral imperative for women to forego family to work runs as follows:
Bounding home is not good for women and it’s not good for the society. The women aren’t using their capacities fully; their so-called free choice makes them unfree dependents on their husbands. Whether they leave the workplace altogether or just cut back their commitment, their talent and education are lost from the public world to the private world of laundry and kissing boo-boos.

Hirshman considers a woman's concentration on the care of her family to be "selfish" because it robs society of her talents. Instead her talents are wasted on "laundry and kissing boo-boos."

She continues:
The abandonment of the public world by women at the top means the ruling class is overwhelmingly male. If the rulers are male, they will make mistakes that benefit males. Picture an all-male Supreme Court. What will that mean for the women of America?

Educated women opting out and working mothers throughout society doing 60 percent to 70 percent of the housework reveals a hard truth. Good economic research shows that women have squeezed as much out of their days as they can without more help. For all its achievements, feminism cannot make more progress, private or public, until it turns its spotlight on the family. Child care and housekeeping have satisfying moments but are not occupations likely to produce a flourishing life. Gender ideology places these tasks on women’s backs; women must demand redistribution....

Highly educated women’s abandonment of the workplace is not an extension of the centuries of upper-class arm candy; it’s a sex-specific brain drain from the future rulers of the society.... Friedan was pretty clear on what the right choice was—she likened housework to the work of an animal....

Deafened by choice, here’s the moral analysis these women never heard: The family—with its repetitious, socially invisible physical tasks—is a necessary part of life and has obvious emotional and immediate rewards, 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.

Certainly it’s not using your reason to do repetitive, physical tasks, whether it’s cleaning or driving the carpool. …Why would the congressman she writes to listen to someone whose life resembles that of a toddler’s, Harvard degree or no?

Mother with favored offspring

The social cost of educated women’s decisions to abandon their quest for positions of social power is higher than the benefit to the favored few biological offspring. In other words, they are mostly doing less good than harm. They contribute to perpetuating a mostly male ruling class that will make mistakes; being rulers, those mistakes can be enormous. It is unimaginable that the decisions about abortion and male-only schools would sound the same if there had been no women on the Supreme Court.
That is the moral imperative for women to "get to work." Hirshman also presents a "strategic plan to get to work"--for women to assert themselves within the home so that they can return to work without having to worry about their families:
  • "Don’t study art. Use your education to prepare for a lifetime of work.
  • Never quit a job until you have another one. Take work seriously.
  • Never know when you’re out of milk. Bargain relentlessly for a just household.
  • Consider a reproductive strike.
  • Get the government you deserve. Stop electing governments that punish women’s work."
Hirshman considers the family to be "the most intransigent of patriarchal institutions in our society.”

Linda Hirshman

Linda Hirshman is an attorney and a former professor at Brandeis University, where she taught a philosophy course on sexual bargaining. She is married and has children.

I'd love to hear your comments, and I will add my own comments to her book in a future post.


Anonymous said...

Interesting title, "Get to Work," as if women at home don't work.

Her underlying message is that a woman's worth is based on making money; a woman working in a daycare is fulfilled while a woman taking care of her own children for no pay is unfulfilled. They think submission to a husband is oppressive but submission to a boss is liberating?

"To be Queen Elizabeth within a definite area, deciding sales, banquets, labours, and holidays; to be Whitely within a certain area, providing toys, boots, cakes and books; to be Aristotle within a certain area, teaching morals, manners, theology, and hygiene; I can imagine how this can exhaust the mind, but I cannot imagine how it could narrow it. How can it be a large career to tell other people about the Rule of Three, and a small career to tell one's own children about the universe? How can it be broad to be the same thing to everyone and narrow to be everything to someone? No, a woman’s function is laborious, but because it is gigantic, not because it is minute." -G. K. Chesterton in What's Wrong with the World


Linda said...

Thanks for your comment. There are a lot of assumptions about what she has written that need to be explored, I think. Looking forward to your comments as we go.

Suzanne said...

I'm fuming....I'm boiling over with hot lava right now.

I'm 60 years old which means that I'm one of the women that Friedan tossed under the bus in the mid '60's. Did the work need to be done? Yes. Did we all want to be the warriors? No, not necessarily. We were all forced into the role of Norma Rae, like it or not.

We fought for opportunities and for CHOICE. The choice whether we wanted to pursue a career or not. We fought for the CHOICE on how we wanted to fulfill ourselves. Her assumption that the only fulfillment comes from the workplace is just ridiculous. And I summarily dismiss Friedan's assumption that likened housework to that of an animal. So I suppose that as enlightened women we should hire "animals" to do our housework for us. Sheesh.

Her "strategic plan to get to work" so that we don't have to worry about our families.....just don't have a family, that ought to do it. She can't be serious.

I studied cultural and social anthropology and the role of women as hearth keepers and nurturers is important in the success of a culture.

I'm sick to death of feminists beating their breasts about the glass ceiling, AS IF the only measure of success is how many women are sitting in a CEO's chair. Having fought the original feminist battle I am terrible disappointed that feminists have not taken up the battle for women in third world and emerging nations. Why aren't they fighting for those women?

I put my money where my mouth is also because I donate 25% of whatever I earn to a group called Trickle Up which gives small business loans to women in third world countries, so that they can have the same CHOICES we have.

I don't think that there are assumptions on what she's written. Her words are pretty straightforward and inflammatory.

- Suzanne

Enbrethiliel said...


But I like the private world of laundry and kissing booboos! =P

It seems to me that she cares less about individual women having her idea of a "flourishing life" than about dragging on the losing battle against the "patriarchy." (Whatever that is. I used to think I knew, but now I'm not so sure. Marxism is fuzzy about a lot of things.)

Hirshman won't be happy even if the US elects a woman president who appoints an all-woman supreme court, as long as there remains a single woman in the world who chooses to be a housewive and is completely happy with her role.

PS--I may just be naive, but I didn't see her suggestion to go on "reproductive strike" coming. I would have pegged her as a daycare advocate. I don't like her extreme, though. I actually want children--and I'm losing childbearing years as I type this!

Suzanne said...

I'm back this morning to see if I can make a little more sense. Yesterday I turned into a fire breathing dragon, but creating controversy is part and parcel in selling more books. If you go to Amazon.com and read all the reviews, there are people who eloquently say what I was attempting to say.

For counterbalance I would suggest grabbing the Aug.-Sept. issue of MaryJane's Farm magazine. There's an article titled, "Who's Raising Jane" written by former lawyer and family court judge Rebekah Teal.

"Somewhere along the line in our culture, the raising of children was devalued," she states.

Hirshman's views are egocentric, bordering on narcisisstic. It's not "all about me". This is one of the terrible consequences of the feminist movement in the '60's. There were many, many women who abandoned their families in the quest to "find themselves", giving no thought to their responsibilities. And yes, as adults we are responsible for the health and well-being of our young children. A lot of really good men were also trashed at that time. The baby went out with the bath water, but you never hear feminists talk about the downside of the movement.

As an older woman I try to encourage young women that there is a life after children and you can have several careers or work spurts, as I call them.

I'm very interested to follow this discussion.

- Suzanne,

Alexandra said...

"Instead her talents are wasted on 'laundry and kissing boo-boos.'"

Mommy Dearest comes to mind. Talk about a lack of balance.

Anonymous said...

Another quote from G.K. Chesterton:

But when people talk about [the mother's] duty as trivial and dreary, I do not understand for I cannot with utmost energy of imagination conceive what they mean. If drudgery only means dreadfully hard work, I admit she drudges at home as a man might drudge at his work, but if it means that the work she does is more dreary because it is trifling or colourless or unimportant or of small import to the soul, I cannot understand. How can it be an important career to tell other people's children about mathematics and a small career to tell your own children about the universe? A woman's function is laborious not because it is minute but because it is gigantic. I will pity Mrs. Jones for the hugeness of her task but I will never pity her for its smallness.”


Anonymous said...

Your post on this book shocked me so much that I looked up Linda Hirshman on the net. She has her own Web site (http://www.gettoworkmanifesto.com) and a raft of published articles. All her writings indicate that she is an extremely angry person, who dislikes women only slightly more than she dislikes men (which is profoundly). Take a look at her March 2007 op ed in American Prospect (http://www.prospect.org/cs/articles?articleId=12558) in which she asserts that home-making is "a job you can buy in most places for a sawbuck an hour." She refers to the wife of an attorney who chose to stay at home with her twin babies as "a marital nanny." Hirshman's work deserves a closer look and a vigorous refutation.