June 13, 1006—, 2006 -- Author Linda R. Hirshman doesn't believe that staying home leads to a good life for women.
For too long, she says, women have been forced to return to the home because of limited support from their husbands and the government, but mostly to maintain the 'illusion" that they have a choice.
In "Get to Work: A Manifesto for Women of the World," she argues that a new revolution is needed to reform the sexual politics of family and to make women realize that full participation in the work force and the public sphere is their only path to becoming self-actualized human beings.
You can read an excerpt from the book below.
"Get to Work: A Manifesto for Women of the World"
If Betty Friedan had just lived a little longer. We are about to restart the revolution. But now we have to do it without her.
For twenty-five years, she watched as the backlash generation slowly walked away from the promise of a better life. Women -- whether they stay home or, like most women, just carry the responsibility for home to work and back -- are homeward bound. Their husbands won't carry enough of the household to enable them to succeed fully in the public world. Glass ceiling? The thickest glass ceiling is at home.
Their bosses, who are mostly someone else's husband, won't do the job their own husbands turned down, so there is no employer day care and there are no government tax breaks. Look deeply and you will see that liberal and conservative commentators largely agree that ideally women belong at home.
And women say they choose this fate, and the feminist movement backs them up.
"Choice feminism," the shadowy remnant of the original movement, tells women that their choices, everyone's choices, the incredibly constrained "choices" they made, are good choices. Everyone says if feminism failed it was because it was too radical. But we know--and surely the real radical, Betty Friedan, knew--that it wasn't because feminism was too radical. It was because feminism was not radical enough. A movement that stands for everything ultimately stands for nothing.
Bounding home is not good for women and it's not good for the society. They aren't using their capacities fully; their so-called free choice makes them unfree dependents on their husbands. Whether they leave the workplace altogether or just cut back their commitment, their talent and education are lost from the public world to the private world of laundry and kissing boo-boos. The abandonment of the public world by women at the top means the ruling class is overwhelmingly male. If the rulers are male, they will make mistakes that benefit males. Picture an all-male Supreme Court. We may well go back there. What will that mean for the women of America?
Educated women opting out and working mothers throughout society doing 70 percent of the housework reveals a hard truth. For all its achievements, feminism cannot make more progress, private or public, until it turns its spotlight on the family. Child care and housekeeping have satisfying moments but are not occupations likely to produce a flourishing life. Gender ideology places these tasks on women's backs; women must demand redistribution.
Happily, the solution is near to hand. As any philosopher, including this one, can tell you, the alternative to a meaningless "choice" is value, the value of a flourishing life. People have been discussing what it means to have a good life for thousands of years. The answer, in Western culture, always includes using your talents and capacities to the fullest and reaping the rewards of doing so. Friedan started this movement with such a "values feminism," when she described a good life in The Feminine Mystique: "Down through the ages man has known that he was set apart from other animals by his mind's power to have an idea, a vision, and shape the future to it...when he discovers and creates and shapes a future different from his past, he is a man, a human being."
At this moment, 55 percent of college undergraduates are female--girls who should have a vision and wish to shape the future to it, to aspire to something complex and demanding, which they know they can do well--become a great artist or a crusading prosecutor, own their own restaurant or start the next Starbucks, design the next wrap dress or the next iPod, be a lifesaving nurse, or the scientist who finds a cure for cancer. They may never get there, but however far they go--to the end of their abilities--the path is the path to a flourishing life. "Modern" society still puts roadblock after roadblock in their path. It will take a laser focus for women to reach their ambitions for a full human life. They must even resort to the love that dares not speak its name: love of work.
The world has changed since Friedan wrote, and now mere rhetoric--what we used to call consciousness raising--is not enough. It's a tough world. Women need a plan. Here's mine, for starts.
A Strategic Plan to Get to Work
- Don't study art. Use your education to prepare for a lifetime of work.
- Never quit a job until you have another one. Take work seriously.
- Never know when you're out of milk. Bargain relentlessly for a just household.
- Get the government you deserve. Stop electing governments that punish women's work.
I'll come back to the details later, but as this outline reflects, the changes that will bring women to the positions of power they deserve will come from many places. Change will start when women internalize centuries of hard-won insights into the content of a flourishing life. The next step is for women to stand up for themselves by making and keeping this plan or their own version of it, to lead a flourishing life. Men are not natural villains, but they will not make a fair deal on the home front unless women stand up and ask for one. As the economists say, they never met a man who washed a rented car before he returned it to the lot. It's an old story, but we'll tell it as long as we have to: Only when women make it necessary for men to take on a fair share of the family labor will they do so.
Starting the revolution at home does not rule out using the government. When I poked my head above the trench of choice feminism to suggest that moral categories apply to women's lives, I was immediately accused of trying to force women to abandon their homes and return to work. Stalinist! Nazi! Ultimately, Stalinists and Nazis can coerce only with the power of the state. I am not the state. But women are correct to feel they are being pushed. In the United States, the government interferes in women's lives all the time. All to push them back into the home. My favorite example is that the Internal Revenue Service taxes a married workingwoman's income much more heavily than a single woman's income. Just changing the tax law would do a lot to free up women to decide whether to return home or not.
If all of this sounds daunting, it's because for twenty-five years, the only messages women have heard are the ones telling them to forget their dreams and look homeward. For a generation, an acid rain of criticism has fallen daily on the heads of women trying to make a flourishing life in the larger world. No one would want to marry them, the mainstream media said; they were as likely to find a husband as be killed by a terrorist. They'd grow too old to have children, book writers warned them. If they had children, the poor things would be in the hands of "strangers." The only work available involves eighty-hour weeks. Stay-at-home moms suggest that only monsters of neglect would prefer adult work to children's play. Once, workingwomen could seek refuge under the umbrella of economic need. But the newest move of the mommy bunch is to contend that mothers should never work unless the alternative is the direst poverty. Last year conservative commentator Danielle Crittenden told workingwomen that their lives were "just a pile of pay stubs."
About a year ago, a Washington, D.C., mom, Judith Warner, dared to question the tyranny of the new momism with her book, Perfect Madness. Her frank reportage was the first real critical look into the stifling home world they had created. But all she could recommend for a solution was the same old public day-care business that has gone nowhere since 1972. The family, to her, is an unsolvable "conundrum." Books, magazines, blogs all are bursting with suggestions, like the one in a recent letter to the Times, that we "restructure the architecture of the work place." For what? To accommodate women in their role as caretaker of the patriarchal family? Why should the patriarchal workplace be bulldozed and the patriarchal family left untouched? It's perfect madness.
Don't get into the perfect madhouse to begin with, and if you're there, get out. Here's how.
The Way We Live Now
The Ultimate Bride, graduate of an Ivy League college and then an English acting school, with a most prestigious master's in journalism to boot, was the ideal subject for the New York Times featured Sunday wedding column "Vows." Walking down the aisle at her family farm, she wed her perfect counterpart, a master's in international relations, and a rising star in the competitive world of global policy.
When she married, the ultimate bride was using her journalism skills and training at a worthy nonprofit history center. Eight years later, when I tried to interview her for my book on marriage after feminism, I could not find her--or most of the other women who announced their weddings in the New York Times that month. He, on the other hand, Googled right up, on the Web site of his current employer, a political consulting firm. I called him up.
"Where's your wife?"
"At home in Brooklyn taking care of our daughter."
So were the rest. Eighty-five percent of the thirty-plus January brides in the New York Times had left the workplace in whole or in part. All of them were highly educated--degrees in business, including MBAs, lawyers, journalists, an opera singer, doctors, master's of higher education. All of them had worked full time after graduation. Ninety percent of them had had babies since 1996. Half the mothers were not working at all. Roughly one third were in part-time work at varying distances from their education and training. And six of them were working full time.
Although calling the women of the 1996 "Styles" section is hardly a scientific survey, the 2002 U.S. Census reports that only 46 percent of the women with graduate degrees and children under one work full time, 17 percent part time. Educated women with children up to eighteen are working 59 percent full time and 18 percent part time, increasing in numbers as the children age. On average, then, highly educated women with small children are working full time at about a fifty percent rate.
Perhaps more important, after three decades of increasing their workforce participation, the percentage of highly educated working mothers has stopped going up. The New York Times' part-time home and work columnist, Lisa Belkin, caused a great furor in 2003 when she "sampled" a group of the highly educated stay-at-home mothers she knew and proclaimed there was an "Opt Out Revolution."
"Revolution" is probably overstating it, but something is clearly going on. In 2000, Harvard Business School professor Myra Hart surveyed the women of the classes of 1981, 1986, and 1991 and found that only 38 percent of female Harvard MBAs were working full time. A 2004 survey by the Center for Work-Life Policy of 2,443 women with a graduate degree or very prestigious bachelor's degree revealed that 43 percent of those women with children had taken at least a couple of years out, sometimes more than once, primarily for family reasons.
During the 1990s, I taught a philosophy course in sexual bargaining at a very good college. Each year, after the class reviewed the low financial rewards for child-care work, I asked how the students anticipated combining work with child rearing. At least half the female students described lives of part-time or home-based work. Guys expected their female partners to care for the children. (When I asked the young men how they reconciled that prospect with the manifest low regard the market has for child care, they were mystified. Turning to the women who had spoken before, they said, uniformly, "But she chose it.") (More on that in a moment.) Richard Posner, federal appeals court judge and occasional University of Chicago adjunct professor of law, reports that "everyone associated with [elite law schools] has long known: that a vastly higher percentage of female than of male students will drop out of the workforce to take care of their children."
If these women were sticking it out in the business, law, and academic worlds, now, thirty years after feminism started filling the selective schools with women, the elite workplaces should be proportionately female. They are not. Law schools have been graduating classes around 40 percent female for decades--decades during which both schools and firms experienced enormous growth. And although the legal population will be 40 percent female in 2010, in 2003, the major law firms had only 16 percent female partners, according to the American Bar Association. The Harvard Business School has produced classes around 30 percent female. Yet only 10.6 percent of Wall Street's corporate officers are women, and a mere nine are Fortune 500 CEOs. The percentage of women in state legislatures has scarcely budged from 23 percent in 1997.
So what does this "elite minority" have to do with the rest of the world? These educated and privileged women matter. They matter because they are the most likely women to become the rising stars of the new economy--the future senators, deal makers, newspaper editors, research scientists, policy makers, television writers and movie producers, university presidents, and Supreme Court justices. Alarm bells should ring when people say things like elites don't matter only when the subject is women. You never see the New York Times, or for that matter the lefty Nation magazine, arguing that Congress's decisions don't matter, because most people aren't congressmen. Can you imagine the Wall Street Journal asserting that CEOs' decisions don't matter because most people can't aspire to be CEOs? Ever read in the sports page that quarterbacks don't matter because they are the elite of football teams? Or that Henry Ford IV doesn't matter because most auto workers are not presidents of Ford?
Why would leading women matter? Well, media surveys reveal, for instance, that if only one member of a television show's creative staff is female, the percentage of women on-screen goes up from 36 percent to 42 percent. A world of 84 percent male lawyers and 84 percent female assistants is a different place from one with women role models in positions of social authority. Think of a big American city with an 84 percent white police force. If role models don't matter, consider how an all-male Supreme Court is going to feel. We are about to find out, I fear. Highly educated women's abandonment of the workplace is not an extension of the centuries of upper-class arm candy; it's a sex-specific brain drain from the future rulers of our society.
But interestingly these select women are not alone. Without regard to class, in 2004, only 38 percent of married mothers with husbands and children under one in the house worked full time--13 percent work part time, another 3 percent are looking for work. Married women with children under five and a husband around worked at a rate of only 62 percent, but, again, about one third of that statistic is probably women doing part-time work. Whether the trend is for increasing participation or not, the raw numbers are low. Moreover, the assignment of responsibility for the household to women applies in every social class.
Quite by chance the mommy blogosphere produced additional anecdotal evidence of how broad the homeward bound phenomenon is. In response to my recent article on the subject, BloggingBaby.com (a Web site that advertises baby care, baby products, maternity clothes, etc.) solicited stories of stay-at-home moms, apparently thinking their reports would rebut my work. The BloggingBaby.com mothers do not for the most part appear to be the same socioeconomic class that the Times brides are, so the seven profiles published in December and January make a little picture of how regular people behave. Surprise! The statistics are identical: Three of the seven moms don't work at all, three have part-time jobs at increasing distances from their education and training, and one works full time at what she was educated for.
Two of the three full-time moms never finished their educations. Ammie, profiled January 10, 2006, is "a thesis short of [her] Masters in Applied History." Christine, January 4, 2006, "was thinking I would go to grad school....When I graduated, I had burned out on school and went into the work force as an entry-level computer programmer." While Michelle, December 21, 2005, successfully completed law school, she "never really thought much about money," winding up "100,000 [dollars] in debt" and therefore unable to work at the practice she had envisioned. Although they didn't have such great opportunities as the Times brides, they also failed to find satisfying work, often before childbirth.
Like the Times brides, these women are completely dependent upon their husbands. Ammie's husband's "income is our sole source of support." Christine's "husband's income is just slightly less than our combined incomes were when we met. When we first met, he was making slightly more than I was, but his income grew much quicker than mine did from there." Deeply in debt, Michelle was not able to resist pressure from her husband to leave New York and move to his home state of Oregon.
Strapped as the families are, like the Times brides, they have no plans ever to return to work. After "working out of her home part time, making her own hours, and not having to answer to someone looking over her shoulder constantly," Ammie "cannot and will not do it again." Christine doesn't "ever want to work in the corporate world again." She knows she doesn't "have the stomach for the politics and stress that go along with an executive position." Michelle failed the Oregon bar and plans to skip the next two exam dates. She is "unwilling to work 70–90 hours a week just to make some corporation richer at the expense of my family."
With both groups, it's hard to know which came first--the failure in the education, and alienation from the workplace or the reshuffled priorities of children and family. Unlike the richer women I studied, however, the cost of child care also played a role in the blogging mommies' decision. Even Ammie says she quit in part because "we were spending more money on child care than it was worth for me to work at that 'regular' job anyway." Christine was "stuck in a job that [she] didn't really like....It got depressing to be working just to pay the nanny and fill up my 401k." Michelle says that "while all this was going on...I began to fall in love with my children. I began to love my husband more." Yet she, too, admits that her decision is partly driven by economics. "If I work at a smaller firm, I still have to put in 50 or 60 hours a week, occasional nights and weekends, and my salary will once again be eaten up by childcare." (This is obviously absurd: A lawyer in private practice working fifty hours a week makes more than any nanny except Mary Poppins.) Socially privileged women and just regular folks. Highly educated and the whole American female workforce. All the data reflect that women are tied to the household today in a way that rebuts every expectation of the feminist movement.
The reports are almost always couched in a description of the family that sounds eerily like a religious experience. Consider the endlessly repeated canard I never met a man who wished on his deathbed he had spent more time at work. What does this really mean? It's manifestly false--think Mozart. It devalues the world of work--and other public service--and elevates the world of the family to the experience closes to the afterlife.
(The precious, leisured, nuclear family is certainly not a deep-rooted concept. Any good history of the family reports that work was separated from home only recently, in the industrialized West, maybe a century and a half ago. Before that, everyone in almost every family on earth worked. The exaltation of bourgeois monogamy is a product of the Protestant Reformation's war against the celibate clergy with a good kick from the accident that Queen Victoria just loved her husband. Protestantism isn't exactly newborn, but it's certainly more recent than you would think from the current rhetoric about the family. The idea that children are anything but small adults who should fit themselves into the world of adults is a product of all those social changes.) COONTZ HERE
The flip side of the caregiving women are the grateful men. These are the guys, beavering away at their high-status, high-paying, dangerous, interesting, courageous, political, public lives, who write me and anyone else who asks about how grateful they are to have such wonderful wives to raise the couples' children. "I thank God every day that my wife stays home with the kids. It makes my job, here and overseas, a lot easier to do knowing they are safe." Arguing that I am un-Christian, the president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary admits that he "respond[s] to Hirshman's arguments from a highly privileged position--as the son, husband, and son-in-law of women who gave and give themselves to the calling of motherhood without reservation."
The new, hyperdomesticated family reflects the convergence of two modern trends, one from the left and one from the right. On the left, people complaining about the supposed burden of labor in the market economy. The blogosphere and the correspondence columns in newspapers and magazines are full of letters from people who hate their jobs. "The workplace is nothing to get excited about: The majority of jobs outside the home are repetitious and socially invisible, and many of those jobs (men's especially) are physical as well...while prestige careers in law and business demand a degree of intensity and one-way commitment (employee to company, never vice versa) that would unbalance anyone's life, if one isn't unbalanced already." Perhaps the current generation, raised to believe there were no limits on their talents, experienced the realities of the workplace as an unusually nasty shock. But just because work isn't as wonderful as people fantasized does not mean it isn't usually the best alternative available. Perfect Madness gives us an unforgettable look at the downside of domesticity. The women "had surrendered their better selves--and their sanity--to motherhood...pulled all-nighters hand-painting paper plates for a class party...obsessed over the most minute details of playground politics....They dressed in kids' clothes--overall shorts and go-anywhere sandals. They ate kids' foods. They were so depleted by the affection and care they lavished upon their small children that they had no energy left, not just for sex, but for feeling like a sexual being."
The conservative side says that it is okay to withdraw from the rest of society to the selfish precincts of the family. This trend is perfectly captured by the postings on BloggingBaby.com from women who cannot imagine anything more important than the claims of their "own" children. One such mom wrote me recently: "After my first child was born I realized that I would soon be faced with sending my children to school. Public school is not for my family. Private school can not be afforded on my husband's salary. So I have chosen to homeschool. Now I feel that my 'giving back to society,' my 'mark on the world,' is my choice...to homeschool our children." So instead of trying to fix the public schools or the public policies that produce schools that are (for unidentified reasons) "not for MY family," all of the education and investment in this woman will now be directed only to her two children and no one else.
Of course, there are arguments against both trends: Working in the market economy has many rewards--of power, honor, money, exercise of capacities, and so on. And people ought to care about someone who isn't related to them by blood or marriage. But even if men and women hate working in the market economy and men and women don't give a darn about their public schools, that still leaves the question: Why is it that it's always the women--not the men--who wind up doing most of the work at home? Since people still have to eat, it almost without exception means men are taking off for work and leaving the women...homeward bound.
Choosing Your Choice
The most disheartening part about women's deciding to stay home is that they say doing so is their choice. "Choice" is the weasel word, and it is legitimated, especially for women who consider themselves liberals, because it's been adopted by the feminist movement. Even the most empowered women do not see how narrow their options are at the moment of "choice."
A couple of years ago, I was on 60 Minutes with a woman who had been the editor of the Stanford Law Review and was working, by all accounts successfully, at a huge and prestigious New York law firm. Not yet thirty, married to a would-be surgeon, she had a baby in the second year of her career, just as he started his surgical residency. With a straight face, she told the camera that "someone had to take care of the baby, and it certainly wasn't going to be a surgical resident." Since she only likes to do things perfectly, she felt she could not juggle two roles, so she "chose" to quit and has been unemployed for almost a decade. There was no discussion at all of her other, earlier, choices: her choice to marry an aspiring surgeon who felt he could not take care of the baby; her choice to have a baby at the beginning of his surgical residency, when he was least able to help out; her choice of indulging her perfectionism, condemning her to spend her talents on tasks that people with no degree at all can do, in which she would never be judged, wanting or no, a kind of miniaturist in the business of life. Had she not made all these other choices, when the baby arrived, she might have actually had more choice about what would happen to her career.
No one wants to face it. Stay-at-home moms do not like to hear that the sacrifice of their education, talents, and prospects to their spouses' aspirations and their children's needs was a mistake, so they contend the stay-at-home decision cannot be judged. "It was my choice." End of discussion. On the other side, workingwomen are glad to use the right to choose to protect themselves from the chorus of voices from the right telling them to go home. The epitome of the choice strategy had to be when Sex and the City's Charlotte tried to justify to her lawyer friend, Miranda, her decision to quit her job in response to pressure from her insufferable first husband. "I choose my choice!" Charlotte intoned repeatedly. "I choose my choice!"
Both the stay-at-home and working moms often consider themselves feminists. They reasonably make this claim because feminism has actively encouraged women to run from a fight by embracing any decision a woman makes as a feminist act. I have dubbed this watered-down version of feminism choice feminism.
The dynamic started in the very early years of the feminist movement. Originally, feminism was defined by the campaign for rights and opportunities, because women had very few of either, and very few choices. The result of that first wave of feminism was choice, and Friedan was the trumpeter, calling women to choose something different for themselves. Friedan was pretty clear on what the right choice was--she likened housework to the labor of an animal, and she wasn't much interested in an endless spiral of more and more worthy causes for feminism to include in its embrace.
Part of that choice became the long feminist battle over who should justly exercise the legal power to determine women's reproductive fates. The Oxford English Dictionary lists the usage of "pro-choice" at least as early as 1975, a mere two years after the Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade. But my first sighting of the language of choice is earlier and more meaningful than that. In some long-forgotten time, abortion advocates actually thought they could mobilize substantial support for legal abortion from the liberal elements in the Catholic Church; the 1972 organization was called Catholics for a Free Choice. Whoever found it first, the point is that saying "choice" was initially a way not to have to say "abortion."
In those decades, women were finding ways to choose paths that increased their power and their status in society. But the feminist movement couldn't hold on to this important goal--and this was its critical failure. Instead, the movement came to define choice as an umbrella to put over anything any woman said she had decided to do. In large part, this happened because Gloria Steinem was too gracious for our own good. Just over thirty years ago, the feminist movement turned from Betty Friedan, the big-nosed, razor-tongued, moralist to the beautiful, ever-gracious, and all-inclusive Gloria Steinem. It seemed a natural decision at the time, but the effects have been ruinous.
There's a wonderful story about it in Judith Hennessee's biography of Betty Friedan. "In 1972, Kingman Brewster, then president of Yale, told an audience of graduate women that he could accept the part of the movement represented by Gloria [Steinem]--the part that included men," but not the supposedly man-hating philosophy of Friedan. Brewster had it completely backward. Married and the mother of three, Betty Friedan focused her entire energy on the problem of work and family life for the middle-class American woman. Single throughout the feminist heyday and childless to the end, Gloria Steinem ruled the movement when one of its theme songs was "a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle." Still, Brewster was right about one thing: Gloria was nicer than Betty. If anyone was suited to steer a radical and judgmental movement into useless choice feminism, it was the confrontation-averse Gloria Steinem. Under her uncritically accepting eye, feminism expanded to embrace every oppressed group. Steinem's biographer, Sydney Ladensohn Stern, put her finger on the difference: "Betty...is a big thinker. I didn't think of Gloria in the same league. She's a good consensus builder, but was defending an ideologically narrower viewpoint--political correctness--and she seemed insecure about how much she was willing to stand up and say what she really stood for...she was a careful operator." Salon.com's Laura Miller shares the telling story that a college friend once dragged the strangely passive activist by the leg down a hallway, shouting, "Why don't you ever get angry? Get angry!"
Part of this failure was personality. But partly it was also because feminists were stared down by women on the other side. Almost from the beginning, antifeminists, like the opponents of the Equal Rights Amendment, organized by Phyllis Schlafly, claimed that feminism wanted to control peoples' personal lives. (Would that they were right!) Schlafly charged that passage of the ERA would lead to men's abandoning their families, unisex toilets, gay marriages, and women in the army. All of this has now happened, with no sign of the world's ending yet, yet Schlafly succeeded beyond her wildest imaginings.
Schlafly's domesticity was never some bliss of choice; she advocated a religiously dictated, sex-driven dependency. It was 1976, when Indiana was on the verge of becoming the thirty-fifth state to ratify the ERA, when Schlafly says she realized she needed to seek support from the churches. For her vision, she says she got "1,000 mainline Protestants, evangelicals, Catholics, Mormons and orthodox Jews" to attend an anti-ERA rally in Springfield, Illinois. "That is when the pro-family movement was invented," she says. "It was a coming together of believers of all denominations who would do two things--come into politics for the first time and then work together for a cause they shared."
Instead of challenging the legitimacy of orthodox religion as a source for public policy, feminism made the fatal error of denying the charges: We're not feminazis and we don't want to tell you how to live your life. We only want to give you opportunities. Whether individual women take their places in the public world is up to them. It's their choice.
So while Steinem was giving cocktail parties in the Hamptons for Cesar Chavez, and Schlafly was putting the tradition in traditional family, feminists retreated to the arena they could defend--that the public world should be open to women who wanted to work there. Building on the innocuous prohibition of employment discrimination based on sex, in the race-oriented ?1964 Civil Rights Act, conventional women like Ruth Bader Ginsburg at the ACLU began a legalistic, culturally circumspect campaign to open the office doors to women.
In the drive to offend no one, the feminist movement abandoned the home front. The radical Friedan didn't turn her attention to the family until 1981, in The Second Stage, and by then she had lost her edge. The tone of the book is dispirited and full of useless, grandiose, and wishful rhetoric ("women and men even now are transcending sex-role polarization...we can transcend that false antagonism between feminism and the family...and move beyond sexual politics"). All that transcendence was unworthy of the sixties radical she had once been, and the book was ignored. Real change occurred in the public world. But between the politically correct antipatriarchal spinsters like Steinem and the carefully bow-tied Justice Ginsburg, the family slipped away, untouched by the corrosive principles of feminism.
The result of this was the preservation of the most intransigent of patriarchal institutions in our society. And that's where the trouble lay. Feminism did not lack the resources to recognize the problem. Very radical early writing included Pat Mainardi's political analysis of housework, which is riveting to this day. "Here's my list of dirty chores: buying groceries, carting them home and putting them away; cooking meals and washing dishes and pots; doing the laundry digging out the place when things get out of control; washing floors. The list could go on but the sheer necessities are bad enough. All of us have to do these things, or get someone else to do them for us. The longer my husband contemplated these chores, the more repulsed he became, and so proceeded the change from the normally sweet, considerate Dr. Jekyll into the crafty Mr. Hyde who would stop at nothing to avoid the horrors of-housework. As he felt himself backed into a corner laden with dirty dishes, brooms, mops and reeking garbage, his front teeth grew longer and pointier, his fingernails haggled and his eyes grew wild. Housework trivial? Not on your life! Just try to share the burden."
Instead, institutional feminism adopted a set of formal policies about housework. The National Organization for Women recommended "provision of independent Social Security coverage, including disability, in the homemakers own name, portable in and out of marriage, and continuing as the homemaker leaves and re-enters the paid workforce" and demanded that unpaid caregiving be included in the calculation of the gross domestic product. Such policies, however, never took on the core problem--the conventional assignment of the household to women. Even in 2006, NOW's "family" initiative is all about building caring coalitions and funding child care and family leave in the public sphere rather than taking on the inequality where it lives.
The final step toward choice feminism came as women got to the workplace in large numbers in the 1970s and 1980s and then found themselves doing everything. It turned out they would be allowed to go to work, but at the same time they wouldn't be allowed out of the home. And instead of asking Why do I have to do it all in order to have it all? they decided they really didn't have to have it all, cut their ambitions off at the knees, and reverted to choice. Instead of thinking their way out of the dilemma to the path of status and power, they simply appropriated the language of choice from the liberating choices the movement started. Thus, although it was really a backlash, the language of choice anointed any decision at all about what life path to follow.
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.