Let me start by saying I know there are lots of kinds of feminism out there. But feminism is important to me in part because it opens the door for guys to escape the gender straitjacket that we've often been forced into in the past. To do so we have to question and reject the masculinist ideology we've been imbued with. It's hard, but I believe well worth it.
This brings me to writer Linda Hirschman's arguments, aired over the past several months in the American Prospect and the Washington Post (see this post at Half Changed World for details).
Hirshman is angry at well-educated women who become stay at home moms. Here are her main points, in her own words, from a recent WaPost column:
... women who quit their jobs to stay home with their children were making a mistake. ... I said that the tasks of housekeeping and child rearing were not worthy of the full time and talents of intelligent and educated human beings. They do not require a great intellect, they are not honored and they do not involve risks and the rewards that risk brings.
With these arguments, Hirshman is reinforcing what I call masculinist ideology of the worst kind.
First, I think it's obvious to everyone that equality of opportunity for women has been an important goal of the feminist movement from the earliest days. But in my view, that's not enough.
What's necessary is to actually change the values of our society.
Currently those values are masculinist. That is, our society values traditional masculine-defined measures of success -- power, money, competition, control -- while it devalues things that are traditionally associated with the feminine -- caring, nurturing, relationships, nonmaterial values -- which are also all crucial to the process of raising children. The lack of balance between the two makes for an unhealthy society.
Hirshman is reinforcing the skew towards masculinist values in our society, rather than trying to shift those values. Her perspective is that of a person who has all the advantages that make for success in a masculinist world -- with the sole exception of being a female.
Hirshman is arguing that women who are wealthy and educated and class privileged should be doing exactly what men in the same position do: dominate society, and be rewarded for their domination. For her it's the only rational thing to do.
And she's angry that some intelligent, educated people disagree with her masculinist priorities. She's angry that lives don't play out in the black and white way she thinks they should, that, as Miriam Peskowitz points out in her own excellent book, The Truth Behind the Mommy Wars, moms' lives are complex, women go into and out of the workforce, work part time or full time, that they change over time in response to their own priorities and needs.
According to Hirshman's reasoning, I was insane to stay at home full time with my daughter, given my graduate degree from a top university, and my potential earning power. I was crazy to downsize my career ambitions, to forego higher pay and higher status, just so I could spend time with my kids.
Well, I know she doesn't really care what I do, since I'm a guy, but that's what she's saying.
But my wife -- very much a feminist -- who quit a corporate career exactly because it required the performance and internalization of masculinist ideology, because she wanted to have a full life more than she wanted to earn a six figure salary or move up the corporate hierarchy and exercise dominance over underlings, because she wanted to spend time with her kids while they were little, because she re-careered into a traditionally female job (teacher) -- Hirshman I'm sure would condemn her to the deepest pits of "feminist" hell.
Is money important? Is a challenging job important? Yes. But just as important are our kids. Hirshman just doesn't get it.
the tasks of housekeeping and child rearing [are] not worthy of the full time and talents of intelligent and educated human beingsI have to admit that this was one of the most offensive parts of her argument for me.
Think about what she's saying here.
Firstly, spending time raising my children is not a worthy goal.
Secondly, she is dissing those people who actually do those tasks -- and I think she misses the fact that though related, housekeeping and child rearing are two distinct activities that are very different in their importance. She is relegating people, men and women, who don't have the class privilege or personalities or skills to climb to the top of the class ladder, those people who from choice or necessity do those jobs, to the bottom of the heap, dismissing their contributions to society as second-rate at best.
Third, and I think most damningly, she totally negates the value of caring. She dismisses the value of spending time with children as they grow, the wonder of actively participating in their development. And that is tragic.
As a guy I'll say very clearly, I would not trade my time with my kids for the best job with the highest pay in the world. Those hours were more fulfilling and enriching to me than the best novel I've read or the most lucrative account I've ever managed. I feel sorry for Hirshman that she doesn't understand this.
This is all quite ironic given this complaint of Hirshman's:
Oh, and by the way, where were the dads when all this household labor was being distributed? Maybe the thickest glass ceiling, I wrote, is at home.
She is right about this. But by reinforcing masculinist ideology rather than trying to change society and its values, Hirshman reinforces this glass ceiling.
How many guys are going to want to take the time and energy away from being "successful" in Hirshman's terms, when Hirshman herself is devaluing what happens at home? When Hirshman is basically confirming these guys' view that housework and childcare are not worthy pursuits for intelligent, educated humans?
What will change things? The kinds of discussions we are seeing among dads, especially stay at home dads, who have grappled with what Jeremy calls the dialectics of dad-hood. The kinds of shift in values that leads guys to actually want to stay at home with their kids, to downsize career and status expectations in order to have relationships with their children.
In short, the only way forward is to reject Hirshman's masculinist feminism and reorient ourselves to a feminism of humanity, which recognizes the importance of a balance, not just of material achievement but also of nurturing, not just of dominating but also of caring.
Because only by making nurturing and caring into priorities, by privileging them over the pursuit of power, domination and money, will we truly be able to achieve the humanist goals of the feminist movement.
Cross posted at Daddychip2