Feminism has failed. Why? Women are staying home with kids

Filed under: Work Life, Media

truman. he is helping me destroy feminismThe goal of feminism, many Gloria Steinem fans agree, is to shatter the "glass ceiling" and get equal numbers of women in positions of power - in CEO and CFO positions, as senators, congresswomen and governors, in the cabinet, as managing directors of investment banks and partners at law firms. Women are slowly but surely moving toward "equal pay for equal work." There are more women than men at universities, and enrollment of women in law schools and business schools is slowly increasing. But feminism, it's failed, and Linda Hirshman of the American Prospect says it's because the glass ceiling still exists - at home.

When Melissa sent me the links to this story, and some of the blogosphere's response, at first I thought: this is another one of those made-up controversy pieces. I no longer think it's made up - there's a real controversy here - but it's between Hirshman's "rules," and the lives of the women she profiles, and the larger society - the reality as I perceive it. The critics, who are incensed, point out that Hirshman's so-called "data" comes from interviews with 35 women who advertised their weddings in the New York Times' Sunday Styles section - hardly a representative sample of the world. In fact, Hirshman points out, most of them quit their jobs before baby. Nobody - and I mean zip, zilch, zero - that I count among my most powerful and capable friends quit before getting pregnant. I graduated from a prestigious Ivy League MBA program. I should be part of her sample. Right?

When I think of my friends and mama role models, a lot of them are combining work and family. My good friend Liz, who had baby #2 a few weeks ago, was working for CSFB right up until labor. Another buddy from business school just got in touch with me last week, and I found she was already working fulltime only six months after the birth of her first son. Meg Whitman is the CEO of eBay despite having two boys and a husband whose career is similarly demanding. Although my own career has changed gears a bit in the past three years, I?m still pretty much on track with my goals - although I have taken work that pays less in order to balance it with child rearing, my resume is still full of ?chief? this and ?VP of? that.

Those of us who are staying at home are working there - that counts every one of the mamas who work for Weblogs, Inc. We?re at home, but we?re writing, and many of us have other careers that keep us occupied when we?re not thinking about Blogging Baby.

But those of us who are at home, why do we stay? Because (a) we can?t find affordable, quality day care and (b) we can?t find a job that will accept our skills flexibly. By ?flexible,? I don?t mean ?flex time? or job-sharing or any of the other ways women have found to work part-time in typically non-managerial roles. I mean, flexible, as in, work four hours a day from the office and eight hours a day from home. I?d be perfectly happy with a job like this.

Hirshman doesn?t think that?s why we?re staying at home. No, she says, we don?t want to work flexibly. We just don?t want to work. ?...elite women aren?t resisting tradition. None of the stay-at-home brides I interviewed saw the second shift as unjust; they agree that the household is women?s work.? Laura from 11D points out that this is somewhat of a stretch, analysis-wise. ?The Times Brides never planned on working in the first place, says Hirshman, social scientist extraordinaire. Hirshman has managed to isolate the most conservative group of elite women and, boy, does she hate them.?

Most of Hirshman?s story, I could have agreed with. But she had to go there. She had to play the blame game. All of us - those of us mommies who are college educated, that is, and especially those who stay at home - we?re all complicit in ruining the world for feminists. Meredith O?Brien, Boston Mommy, is surprised to find herself a named defendant in Hirshman v. Mommy. She writes, ?Who knew I was a 1950sesque Stepford wife with no sense of self, that I am making a future populated by powerful women in places like the Oval Office or executive board rooms extremely difficult by working from home and working part-time (which is considered ?not working seriously?)? If it weren?t for articles such as this one, how would I know that I?m doing a disservice to The Sisterhood, that I?ve made the wrong choices and that, in my Sesame Street induced haze, I?m now a vacant shell of my former career-oriented self??

I didn?t know. I didn?t know that I, by working from home and watching my kids, I was contributing to the decline of feminists everywhere. Because I write marketing pieces from home for $30, or $40, or $50 an hour while Everett watches Cyberchase, instead of billing $250 an hour as a consultant for Bain (hi, Jaime!), I?m complicit in the destruction of feminist. Who knew that I was causing the lack of women in sufficient numbers in law firm partnerships, the void of estrogen in the boardroom. Who knew, indeed.

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