Thursday, April 27, 2006

i want two rooms of my own. is that wrong?

You rarely see conservative women engaging with feminism as this author tries to do in her unimaginatively titled, but otherwise thoughtful article, "Room of Her Own." To her credit, the author acknowledges that the Right's habit of maligning & dismissing feminists doesn't address the issue with any depth; and she herself doesn't snub the movement so much as gently uncover what, to her, are its deficiencies. Acceptable.

She leaves out several issues, however. One is the idea that men can do, or even find fulfillment in, house/child-related work. And, more importantly, that women can find fulfillment in *career*. Viz:
Warren and Tyagi write, “When millions of mothers entered the workforce, they ratcheted up the price of a middle-class life for everyone, including families that wanted to keep Mom at home. A generation ago, a single bread-winner who worked diligently and spent carefully could assure his family a comfortable position in the middle class. But the frenzied bidding wars, fueled by families with two incomes, changed the game for single-income families as well, pushing them down the economic ladder.”

It is here that feminism may prove most cruel, for if the ’60s found women languishing in their dollhouses—though scarcely barred from the workforce—the new century finds them no more fulfilled than their mothers but far less free.

To her, once she lays out evidence that two-income households don't actually bring in more money than the old breadwinner households did, she thinks her point is proven: no increase in money = no reason to have dropped the vacuum cleaner. But going to the office can be enough! Leaving the house, to be valued in the outside world, and having a salary instead of an allowance -- the importance of all of that, to me at least, can't be denied.

Here too:
Women’s studies professor Linda Hirshman would go further: “The family—with its repetitious, socially invisible, physical tasks … 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.” Of course this wasn’t true, for it supposes that men at work are developing life-altering technologies or untangling theoretical impossibilities rather than doodling their way through meetings or shoveling paperwork into bureaucracy’s maw. Moreover, it overlooks the unique capacity of men to find fulfillment in provision and women in nurture—and the responsibility of both to tend their intellectual gardens by maintaining lives beyond the demands of home and work.
In her logic, because men spend their time "doodling," women shouldn't want the potential to doodle too. Hell, why not, if she's getting paid for it? Not all men spend their 9 - 5 hours doing so little either: some run the country, and why shouldn't women have the chance to do that as well?

The fact that feminism has also forced the world to take women seriously is also something the author doesn't acknowledge. If she is comfortable going back to an age where her tiny, delicate female brain was considered unfit for the harshness of math and Latin, as it was in the time that Stowe, who she quotes, lived (and which is described so well in the 19th century novel I'm currently reading, Elliot's Middlemarch,) then God bless her; but I'd rather turn my hair gray juggling baby toys and a Blackberry than contend with that condescention.

Perhaps the author doesn't mind that frightening prospect so much because in part she buys into the logic of the times, at least in terms of Gender being determinative. She says, referring to the average women who signed onto feminism,
They were disappointed not because feminism failed to make them equal, but because in so doing it made them less female.
Um, what? Are you serious? Lady, have you seen my bosoms lately? Talked to my gynecologist? I think everything's in working order. I'm exactly as "female" as I want to be -- and sometimes, like when I get hooted at on the street or when I have to walk home at night, I'd like to be far less. Working women aren't all Lady Macbeths, shouting at the sky to "unsex me here!" in order to have an opportunity to chat by the water cooler and bring home paychecks (that, by the way, also allow us to live independently: not all working women, or feminists, are married to men).

All of these anti-feminist women come off as ungrateful, frankly. Without Friedan & the rest of her crew, there's no way Kara Hopkins would be writing a serious intellectual piece for a serious intellectual magazine. At best she'd be writing about baby food or how to please your husband. Some thanks wouldn't be out of line, Ms. Hopkins.


Nate said...

I find this stuff fascinating. Almost makes me want to major in feminism studies(?)
I say "almost" because I get the feeling I might be out of place.

But going to the office can be enough! Leaving the house, to be valued in the outside world, and having a salary instead of an allowance -- the importance of all of that, to me at least, can't be denied

Exactly! If you don't even address this aspect, I can't take your argument seriously. It's not even an aspect. It's the whole caboodle! (Remember what they tell you as a kid? Don't choose a career for money, choose it for how happy it will make you!)
Incomes and earning power shouldn't even be part of the discussion. The discussion is about people's right to find their purpose.
Should that right be sacrificed on the altar of child-rearing?
Without having the scholarly chops to back it up, I seem to get the impression that the child-psychology community thinks children are better adjusted when at least one parent stays at home with them. So for most of history we've shouldered this obligation onto women, but now...
Wait, why am I bothering writing this for a feminist studies grad student?
Anyway, I sure wouldn't want to stay home without a career, and I'm not asking my wife to either.
I was quite the latch key kid myself, and outside of a distaste for peas and an odd dislike of writing with felt tip pens, I consider myself pretty damn well adjusted. That will have to be what helps me sleep at night.

the fire boss said...

women's studies, usually.

so be "out of place!" "out of place" is exactly the kind of idea that needs to challenged.

ester said...

i feel compelled to mention, nate, that if i'm a grad student in anything, it's reading shit on the internet. alas that doesn't come with letters after my name ...