I don't expect anyone to pat me on the head and assure me that it is somehow feminist of me to stay at home with the kids while my husband brings home the vegetarian bacon. I'm a housewife. More Erma Bombeck than Betty Friedan. Is that feminist? Of course not. But so the fuck what? What I'm saying here is why are women -- and only women -- expected to make and evaluate their choices based solely or mostly upon their fidelity to an -ism, even when that -ism is, um, of the greatest value?
And I'm on board with Laura, who notes, among other things,
Since when did feminism become the handmaiden for capitalism? The workplace is a place where the little flowers flourish? Hasn't anybody read some Marx? The workplace is a great place for some people who have managed to find work that completely fulfills them. It is extremely elitist to assume that everyone is made happy by their jobs. The barista at Starbucks today wasn't moved to great joy by pouring me a grande regular.But then, I was also mostly agreeing with Bitch, who had a more positive view of the article (making a long--and much commented-on-post that includes points like
this is the single most irretrievably gendered division-of-labor issue for couples who want to be, or think they are, equals: the person whose job it is to monitor that equality is the person who has the least power. And in most cases, that's the woman.
So I've been puzzling over how much disagreement there really is in my corner of the blogosphere and where I fit in. Is it possible to point out the gendered trends in work/childcare choices without criticizing the people who are making choices? In many of the families I know, it is largely the responsibility of the women to handle the child care. There's enormous cultural pressure there--and it's pressure that we would do well to take off men (since I've seen some of my male friends essentially pushed away from hands-on caring of their children). That's not healthy all around.
Elizabeth noted that some things have changed. As I look around my circle of 30- and 40-something parent-friends, I do see a lot more sensitve new age guy dads, men who struggle with the balance of home and school, home and work, just as Politica and I do.
The discussion in Phantom's post--which I never contributed to since I couldn't quite figure out how to say what was tickling on my brain--got me thinking about what it means to make feminist choices. Was I making a feminist choice when I baked bread with Curious Girl on Thursday? or when I went to work on Friday? Phantom says that it's not a feminist choice to be a housewife--and Hirshman surely agrees, arguing that if only women are choosing housewifery then it's not really a choice. And OK. But is feminism reduced to only the choice to work or not work? There are so many more elements to our lives than work. For some of us--me included--our work is an important part of our identity. Ask me what I do and I'll tell you I'm a professor. But I make feminist choices at home, at school, at work, at play.
What troubled me in some of the comments on some of the many anti-Hershman posts I read was the notion that there's some Feminism that has missed the point of feminists like those contributing to the comments (for example, in the comments at Dawn's piece on the subject, there's a discussion about how "the NOWs of the world" are somehow trying to tell women what to do (I'm not mentioning this to pick on the commenters: Dawn wrote a smart post and it got thoughtful comments. I'm trying to identify a subtext in the comments and posts across the board, and that's just one little moment. I've gone back and forth about whether to be specific in raising this issue or not, since I don't want to attack anyone else, just think through my own intellectual discomfort with these discussions). Anyway, as I read things like this, I'm uncomfortable with the assumption that there is an institutional feminism, united, in telling women much of anything. We've had plenty of examples of individual feminists who indeed seem to be scolding any woman who's staying home with children, or not working in the corporate elite, but I don't want to jump and say that's feminism.
Maybe I have an overly romantic association with feminism. I grew up on Long Island, in a pretty traditional family, in a traditional town. When I'd gotten accepted to the Ivy League college I chose to attend, my mother told me that maybe I should think about staying home to go to school, since if I went to Ivy Campus I'd have student loans, and my future husband would have loans, and we'd both have loans to repay. It would be better, she thought, if I saved my future family the loan-repayment expense (exasperately, I said, well, let future hubby stay home; why shouldn't I get the education I want?). Feminism for me was a promise of a life that could be different from the one my family had--and while it's true, I'm a working mother, not at SAHM like my mother, that's not the key difference. I'm a feminist mother. I'm a travelling mother. I'm a mother who doesn't think that her daughter should restrict her choices in order to benefit a man who's not even in her life yet. I'm a mother who thinks the world needs to be different, that women are the social and political equal of men. And as I learned about feminism (or "women's lib" as many people called it), I felt optimism, that things could be different.
My best friend was the first girl in her town's little league and I was so proud. She had her picture, running bases, ponytails streaming behind her, on the front page of the sunday newsmagazine. That was feminism, too.
So I guess what's making me sad, reading these posts, is the criticism of a movement I held dear in a really personal way. I don't see feminism as organized enough to be the target of a sustained attack. (Linda Hershman, yes: bad sample, bad reasoning, hugely snippy tone in comments. Definitely worthy of rhetorical critique.) But Linda Hershman isn't feminism, and I don't think the folks disagreeing with her need to take on feminism.
Feminism opened up the world to me. And maybe it's blinding me now (even as I join with the Hershman-critiquers, and don't even get me started on Maureen Dowd....).