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Sunday, February 05, 2006

Choice Feminism: I Choose to be Judgmental

Reflecting on how the late Betty Friedan's "The Feminine Mystique," helped resolve her struggle between career and family, Joan Walsh concludes that we have no choice but to be Choice Feminists. However, Linda Hirshman has a different interpretation of Friedan's ideas:

Instead, Hirshman argues, feminism should rebuke the affluent educated women who are increasingly (in what numbers is disputed) abandoning careers for family life. She even cites Friedan as an example of how radical the feminist movement once was on these questions, a radicalism she thinks the movement should return to. She notes that in her movement-inspiring 1963 book "The Feminine Mystique," Friedan went so far as to compare housework to animal life...

Unfortunately, Hirshman lamented in her must-read American Prospect piece, "Homeward Bound," after Friedan's bold rejection of animal labor for women, "liberal feminists abandoned the judgmental starting point of the movement in favor of offering women 'choices.'" Feminism has to get back to "judging," Hirshman insists, and it should judge the choice to stay home as flat-out wrong. As Hirshman writes: "To paraphrase, as Mark Twain said, 'A man who chooses not to read is just as ignorant as a man who cannot read.'"

Of course Walsh is right that a woman should be allowed to lead her life however she damn well pleases without criticism. But I think both Walsh and Hirshman are missing the point. We should not blindly adopt Choice Feminism because there is cause for public criticism of certain life choices that counter the progress of feminism. Rather than condemn the stay-at-home moms, we should chastise:

1) the men who willingly start families then refuse to take on any domestic responsibility and demand that their wives be detained in culinary servitude without any remote possibility of reaching compromise between bread-winning (i.e. having fun) and diaper-changing for both of the supposed partners.


What self-respecting woman would reproduce with a man who would have so little respect for her that he wouldn't even do his share of the laundry? Single parenthood notwithstanding, the solution to the struggle for balance between career and family might just be to recruit more help; you know, the paternal help that created the little varmints in the first place. In fact, I suggest that this should probably be written straight into matrimonial vows just to make sure there is no misunderstanding. "I promise to love and honor you, cook dinner 3-4 nights a week, scrub the toilet every other weekend, pick up the kids after school...till death do us part."

From an older-ish article by Louise Story:

"My mother always told me you can't be the best career woman and the best mother at the same time," Ms. Liu said matter-of-factly. "You always have to choose one over the other"

Back to Walsh:

Then I found myself in my early 30s with a baby I loved to distraction, a career I treasured almost as much (yes, almost), and a marriage falling apart due to my volcanic anger at being unable to manage both gracefully, and all my feminist certainties dissolved for a while.

I rest my case. No one can manage both, and if they can, it probably isn't gracefully. But women shouldn't have to choose between 'one or the other.' It should be possible to have both with a little bit of ethically mandated assistance. It takes two people to make the rabid little critters, it should take two to clean the baby turds off of the carpet.

My feminism is about choice: A woman can choose to marry a dimwit-deadbeat dude who considers the her full potential to lie somewhere between the frying pan and the bedroom. And I can choose to stand in judgement of their anti-feminist lifestyle.