Careers vs. kids

Linda Hirshman thinks women should make their careers — not children — their first priority. Mothers should work, whether they want to or not, and limit themselves to one child. Her new book is called Get to Work: A Manifesto for Women of The World. Gosh, I love manifestos. Don’t you?

Slate’s Meghan O’Rourke frames Hirshman’s argument in less patronizing terms: The right choice for one woman may have repercussions that limit the choices of other women.

Unlike others, she is willing to come out and say, in no uncertain terms, that the luxury of making our own decisions as if they had no larger implications isn’t ethical at this point in time. If that makes feminism unpopular, so be it; but shying away from persistent inequality by invoking the language of “choice,” she observes, is hardly feminism. If you buy her argument, then even if you find it hard to leave your baby at home, and even if you find the workplace sometimes less-than-fulfilling, it’s important—to society as a whole—that you work. This sounds extreme, but of course it’s the lesson every man is taught when he’s a boy: Your responsibility to society — the way to become an adult — is to work.

Carrie Lukas on Independent Women’s Forum is a choice feminist who’s unimpressed with Hirshman’s arguments. But she too credits Hirshman with honesty.

. . . Hirshman breaks with much of the modern feminist movement by explicitly condemning women who assume the role of traditional housewife. Most mainstream feminists have at least sought publicly, though likely with some private distaste, to project a moderate face for their movement by advocating respect for women’s choices, whether that means employment inside or outside the home. Such “choice feminism,” in Hirshman’s account, has undermined women’s true advancement; she instead wants women to work together to change that core unit of patriarchy, the family.

There’s lots of back and forth between Institute for American Values bloggers and Hirshman at Family Values Blog.

In Commentary, Eric Cohen writes about the growing number of European, Japanese and American women deciding to have one child or none at all.

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  1. How dare women make choices that meet their unique tastes, goals and situations. Don’t they know that they’re screwing things up for everyone else. If they only had Hirshman’s farsight and wisdom they’d see the error of their ways.

    Sorry, got carried away there – haven’t had the third cup of coffee yet.

  2. SuperSub says:

    Hirshman wants every woman to work despite their desire… and to limit families to one child. Wow, sounds a lot like the Chinese… there is definitely a sense of socialism in her ideas.

    Unfortunately, until they find a way to make men give birth and to correct thousands of years of evolution to truly “equal” the sexes… there will continue to be differences.

  3. What’s laughable about Ms. Hirshman is that she has three children of her own. Yet, she recommends in her American Prospect piece that they only have one because it ruins their career. Do as I say, not as I do. This woman needs to retire from public life. She isn’t doing women or herself any favors with this nonsense. She’s proving that it’s not about what’s best for women at all. It never was.

  4. Twill00 says:

    Well, golly, if it’s valid to say that women must take into account the societal effects of their choices, and that individual preferences don’t matter, and that all women should just do what they are told for society’s best interest, then doesn’t that legitimize the “send them all home” argument too?

    Welcome back to 1950. This trip brought to you by the sillier side of feminism.

    But there’s even a worse danger in the long run. If highly qualified women do *not* have children enough for replacement, then what happens from an evolutionary perspective? Do we run the risk of creating a bimodal population, where those combinations of genes that make a successful female are leached out of the gene pool at an increasing rate? In a very real sense, that would create a world with less successful women than the one we have now.

    It is much safer to let women choose what they will, and to let both women and men concentrate on making the system workable and equitable. Real human systems are never perfect. And it is better if smart, powerful women can breed as they themselves prefer.

  5. Walter E. Wallis says:

    There needs to be more flexibility in the workplace to accomodate parenting.

  6. Even though I’ve always worked and at a career I like, as did my own mother, I find Hirschman’s arguements loathesome and evil. She thinks the world is better off if we’re all chained to our cubes, little cogs in the Great Wheel. I’ve had my fair share of lousy jobs, and I say–better to be your own boss at home than licking the boots of Linda.
    I think she’s jealous of women who can opt out of the system, and be mistresses of their domains.

  7. While despicable, I can’t see why this is terribly surprising. It’s simply an outgrowth of the same leftist thought that’s led to calling Condi Rice a “race traitor” because she’s not being responsible to her race and that all whites are racist. It’s collectivism, plain and simple.

  8. Iron Mike says:

    It’s a battle btwn those who push perego and those who wear prada. Basically two privileged groups with the choice btwn staying comfortably home or pursuing an engaging career. And someone already said it, but the “better for society” argument can be used by any side. I doubt Hirschman would be convinced by empirical evidence showing society benefited from women raising children at home. Egads, I’d hate to live in her ideal world. I’d either have to give up children or become a certified breeder living on the outskirts of town.

    Mrs. Iron Mike

  9. Jason Bontrager says:

    Intersting philosophy. It’s the “Me Generation” taken to it’s (il)logical extreme. If all women were to adopt this attitude then we’d be on the fast track to extinction.

    But maybe that’s what she want?

  10. BadaBing says:

    Raising children to become decent and productive adults is the noblest calling a man and woman have. It’s a tough job, fraught with many pitfalls and daunting decisions. Yet it is the most rewarding job on the planet because raising children is about much more than you and want you want. But Hirschman wants women to think only about me me me. Is there anything bigger and more meaningful to women, such as Hirschman, than “me”? Sadly not. Meanwhile the birthrate falls, the gene pool dries up and the harsh reality of present-day demographics turns the country into a post-modernist dystopia.

  11. I think Hirshman should not have become a feminist intellectual (obviously her own choice) as there are more than enough women filling that career role, and we can’t have the field becoming a ghetto of priveleged women getting paid to do something few would pay for (hmm, sounds familiar). Instead, she should have gone into a “non-traditional” career, such as firefighter or civil engineer, which suffer so greatly from having few women going into it.

    It doesn’t matter if her skills or preferences don’t fit those fields too well, she should give one up for the team of women worldwide. We must draft elementary school teachers and secretaries and force them to become garbage collectors nightclub bouncers. We must achieve numerical equity at all costs!

  12. I would have thought that additional children after the first would be marginally less work for one mother. Wouldn’t it be more efficient for one woman to have several children, while the next two or three women remain childless and pursue careers? Maybe they could form groups to share the gratification of having children, in return for financial support.

  13. Middle-aged American women may see leaving a career as an opportunity, not a sacrifice, many experts say, which distinguishes the Daughter Track from the Mommy Track.

    I know someone doing this, though not entirely by choice. As an unemployed over-50 engineer, she views her career prospects as bleak enough to make this the most productive option.

    One major problem with this arrangement is the lack of employer-provided benefits. Individuals shopping for health insurance lack the group rates available to employers, as well as the 50% government subsidy in the form of income and payroll tax exclusions. And it doesn’t take much of a medical history for one to become totally ineligible for individual medical coverage.

  14. At age 62, my wife many years ago said:

    “Real liberation is when your husband makes enough money that you don’t have to work”.

    And marriage as practiced for thousands of years has been successful – because children are produced.

    In the past, Americans produced enough children to maintain the population.

    Now, we have replaced Americans who were never born with massive numbers of immigrants. Europeans have done the same.

    Results have not been as planned.

  15. Walter E. Wallis says:

    A nation that denies women the workplace is as self-crippling as a ball team that excludes blacks. An employer who is more concerned with fitting a matrix than accomplishing a job is also self-crippling.
    Flexibility forever.

  16. Tom West says:

    As has been pointed out elsewhere, there *is* a natural tension between working and non-working mothers. Society is never kind toward the exceptional, and one in which few women work is *not* going to be easy for working women.

    So, there is an absolutely natural impulse for working and non-working mothers to try to persuade others to adopt a similar lifestyle. It’s simple self-interest.

    Despite that, you find hundreds, thousands, and probably tens of thousands of people who will strongly claim that women *should* choose the stay-at-home life regardless of their personal preference (or more accurately, telling women who don’t have that same preference that there is something wrong with them), while Hirshman is one of the *only* instances I know of someone arguing the opposite.

    The story here is not why there’s a Hirshman, it’s why isn’t there hundreds or thousands of Hirshmans trying to pressure women into working. Is it because women who work tend to be bigger believers in woman’s free choice?

    [Answers can include because stay-at-home mothers feel more threatened, have more time, or that perennial favourite, it’s actually *men* who aren’t too thrilled about women having the choice between stay-at-home and working.]