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."
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
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:
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.
- "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."
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.