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    Wednesday, November 30, 2005

    More on Hirshman's "Stay-at-Home Feminists"

    Bitch Ph.D.'s response to the Hirshman article rocks my world:

    In my observation and experience, yeah, sure: liberal men will "feel squeamish" about sexism. But--and I say this as the currently money-earning half of a marriage with a stay-at-home partner--a person with a demanding job and the social/economic power that goes along with being the breadwinner, even if that person is a woman and a feminist, is not going to spend a lot of time "feeling squeamish" about unequal work on the home front. Partly this is because professional jobs take up a lot of mental energy; you're thinking too much about the job to be thinking about who's doing the laundry, especially if the laundry is getting done without your thinking about it. Partly this is because domestic work is a pain in the butt: no one who doesn't have to do it is going to spend a lot of time thinking about it. And partly it's because the nature of domestic labor (like most labor) is that if it's done well, it looks effortless and therefore becomes invisible. ...

    In fact, I believe that this is the single most irretrievably gendered division-of-labor issue for couples who want to be, or think they are, equals: the person whose job it is to monitor that equality is the person who has the least power. And in most cases, that's the woman. That's why "don't put yourself in a position of unequal resources" is absolutely crucial advice: if you're going to have to monitor your marriage to make sure that it's an equal partnership, then that is in and of itself part of the labor of the relationship. That "counts," and having to do that "extra" work will be a lot more palatable, and possible, if you ensure from the outset that all other aspects of your marriage distribute resources equally. Otherwise you're stacking the deck against yourself, and at some point, yes: it is going to be "easier" to "choose" not to pursue a demanding career and have children and keep a clean house and play the referee in your own marriage. To begin with, don't, for god's sake, change your name when you marry. What are the arguments for changing your name? "It's easier?" "It will make us more a family?" "It will be better for the children?" Do you not realize that already, even before your marriage begins, you are conceding that making things "easy," making the two of you "a family," worrying about "the children" is your job, not his? If having the same last name makes such a big difference to the two of you, let him change his damn name. ...

    I have also been thinking since of my own career angst and the ways that all of this is, in the end, easier said than done. It's really very difficult not to internalize the fear of pursuing power and status and convince oneself that one wants neither, and it's also very difficult not to internalize the fucked-up priorities of a fucked-up society and convince oneself that power and status are more important than a balanced life. This latter is probably part of the problem with analyses like Hirshman's that focus primarily on the feminist problems of a privileged class, even though it's also probably true that the privileged class probably feels the crunch between "power and status" and "contentment" most acutely.


    Left Center Left has this to say:

    Even if one doesn't agree with Linda Hirschman's points, the observations are great. Like her look at life chances of New York Times Wedding page brides and grooms:

    Every Times groom assumed he had to succeed in business, and was really trying. By contrast, a common thread among the women I interviewed was a self-important idealism about the kinds of intellectual, prestigious, socially meaningful, politics-free jobs worth their incalculably valuable presence.

    Or, this:

    these daughters of the upper classes will be bearing most of the burden of the work always associated with the lowest caste: sweeping and cleaning bodily waste. Not two weeks after the Yalie flap, the Times ran a story of moms who were toilet training in infancy by vigilantly watching their babies for signs of excretion 24-7. They have voluntarily become untouchables.

    Of course, the ideological division that Hirshman diagnoses just rephrases the split in the bourgeoisie itself, between those who trade in money and traditional power and those who are invested in cultural and humanistic betterment. Half of the gay men I know can be mapped in one camp or the other. And as someone who tends toward the latter, I don't know that I have much room for being judgmental about the kind of ideological-turned-material subjugation that marks contemporary gender inequality.

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