I am watching the fallout from Linda R. Hirshman's December American Prospect piece, "Homeward Bound," and her reaction essay that followed in the Washington Post June 18th, "Mommy Rage: Unleashing the Wrath of Stay-at-home Moms," with the kind of shame I'd feel if I were rubber-necking at a train wreck: The better part of me wants to look straight ahead and move along as the traffic patrol instructs, but the part that wins out slows down to gawk at the mayhem.
I suppose the most surprising aspect for me -- if it's even true at all -- is that Ms. Hirshman claims to have been surprised by the backlash. She writes:
"I had wandered, it seems, into ground zero of the Mommy Wars. Although I was aware of the stories about women quitting, I did not know what a minefield the subject was. Specifically, I did not know that you can say almost anything about how great it is for a woman to give up her job; standing up for staying at work is the big taboo."
How could a self-described social philospher studying mothers NOT know that they would be as protective as a cornered mama bear? How could she NOT know they would be offended at the accusation they had no value unless they were receiving a paycheck?
Unlike her assertions, I don't think her initial piece actually stood up for the working woman as much as it belittled those who, she claimed, were wasting their educations and their lives, not to mention undermining the progress of feminism, by staying home.
After Ms. Hirshman goes on to catagorize her most vitriolic opponents as fundamentalist religious zealots, and demeans internet diarists who are blogging in droves in defiance of her assessment of the state of feminism by implying they have too much time on their hands, she retorically wonders why the women she was championing -- the woman leaving home to go out into the workplace, valiantly toiling away and making in-roads for the common good of all women -- weren't rallying around her side. Her answer: They were too busy working.
It's too bad another possibility escapes her: This pink-suited army in the professional trenches would rather be home with their kids than grinding away at the office for the benefit of stockholders or insurance companies or ad revenues.
She is asking why would an educated women choose to stay home if not for fear that the big, bad public schools will teach their children about Evolution as if it were SCIENCE? Why else would they willingly relegate themselves to the jobs of unpaid cooks, janitors, chaeuffers and recreational attendants? Why aren't they forging new business inroads for their children and their children's children with their degrees and doctorates from the board rooms instead of the playrooms and the bathrooms? She seems to be assuming that the greater good can only come from on high.
Perhaps what she should be asking is WHY are we GOING to work?
My guess is that many of her supposed allys are working not for the personal satisfaction of climbing the corporate ladder and being remembered in history, but for necessisities (or at least what they think are necessisties) such as healthcare, heating oil or retirement plans.
My guess is that many of her rally 'round the flag girls would give up the rat race in a New York minute if they could. There's no love out there from the bosslady. Women on the rise, or so it seems, don't always make it easier for the women coming up.
Personally, I could easily get by on 12 hours a week of professional satisfaction and the rest enjoying the small window of life I am alotted with my family if I wasn't the one providing my family's quality healthcare. My regret would't be wishing I'd spent more time at the office, I assure you.
It also seems to me that Ms. Hirshman has no interested in the women who care for the children of the affluent; in fact she doesn't seem to consider society at-large at all. She is looking at only one small piece of the puzzle. Our culture is increasingly isolationist in temperment. We are told, and we believe, that the individual is more important than the group. Personal accountability is revered above all else. Let's remember also as we move from the greater good to the needs of the individual, we are always looking out for ourselves first. For a growing number of women who don't want to be merely shadows in their kids lives, they're giving up the glory of earning only 75 cents for every dollar a man makes.
Perhaps it's time to realize that we are all coggs in a much bigger wheel. And we are all vitally important whether we stay at home or not. We need to balance one another, even if only precariously.