The leveling off of women's professional ambitions today shows us one truth: Without a movement to support them, women are not choosing the path to status and power alone. My little survey of the brides of the Times reflects that feminism lost even the women who had the most opportunity to choose the path toward status and power--the geeky and quirky intellectuals, not the prom queens and debutantes. Take a look at any Sunday Times. Although most of the brides have the bloom of youth, the wedding portion of the "Styles" section no longer resembles a debutante party. Just to cite a random example, on Sunday, January 15, 2006, the featured "Vows" bride, a Ph.D. from Cambridge University, was the curator of manuscripts at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington. Other brides included a medical student who was magna cum laude at Harvard; a Harvard Law grad associate at Arnold & Porter; an ob-gyn, cum laude from Columbia; deputy director in the Mayor's Office of Special Projects and Community Events in New York with a master's degree in public administration from Columbia; and so on.
I don't know them personally, but I can bet they were the ones who read Pride and Prejudice and identified with Elizabeth, the sharp-tongued and clever daughter of modest means who captured Darcy with her high-spirited independence, not the pale, mute, daughter Lady Catherine de Bourgh had in mind for him. These were the girls who were going to make their lives from their wits and their brains, not their looks, trust funds, and reproductive organs. Immensely desirable mates, they should have been able to find spouses whose needs would not require, overtly or covertly, that they quit their jobs. Gifted with capacities for refined scholarship, human healing, legal reasoning, and educated to use the capacities, they were the women for whom the constraints of the feminine mystique were the most unjust. The twentieth-century feminist movement was the beginning, opening up the public world of work to women but leaving the family untouched. The Opt Out Revolution may be in reality only a leveling off, but in this context it is the end of the beginning.
Deafened by choice, here's the moral analysis these women never heard: The family--with its repetitious, socially invisible, physical tasks--is a necessary part of life and has obvious emotional and immediate rewards, but it 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. Women assigning it to themselves is equally unjust.
The choice is a false one, based on the realities of a half-revolutionized society. Once we recognize that, we can admit that the tools feminism offered women to escape the dilemma have failed. This book is an effort to try a different approach. It is time for a new radicalism. Fortunately, the roots are sound.
Excerpted from GET TO WORK: A MANIFESTO FOR WOMEN OF THE WORLD by Linda R. Hirshman. Copyright © 2006 Linda R. Hirshman. All rights reserved.