Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Something That Has Recently Sparked My Interest

On Feminist Writing:

I think that, with all of the feminist rhetoric about a woman’s right to choose in the modern age, Linda Hirshman’s criticism of many college-educated women who choose to stay home with their children is pathetic. For the past 40 years, feminists have repeatedly told women to be equal to men, that we can choose to be anything we want to be. It seems, though, that if that choice is to be a stay at home mom, it is a wrong choice.

If anything, Ms. Hirshman and her assessments about the obligation of educated women to remain in the workplace are injudicious at best. She seems to forget that, aside from the core idea of choice and opportunity, we should want more educated women at home, applying that knowledge to raising their children.

College educated women, especially those with advanced degrees, understand the value of education and are providing an environment that can cater to that importance. They read books on parenting, know the importance of reading to their children, and can use the knowledge they do have to help with homework and school projects. They can even volunteer to apply those much needed abilities to often understaffed schools. Further, many of these well educated women elect to take one additional step and put the education of their children into their own hands – they are educating their children at home.

Of all the possible results that could come from such a situation, why is the loss of women in the work place the focus? Shouldn’t the focus be on the fact these mothers are showing their children that, even with a college education, their choices are still limitless? That their little girls can grow up to be doctors, nurses, writers, or moms? And if the mother has a part-time, work-from-home job, doesn’t that better illustrate to children what work is and why it is important? Doesn’t it show boys that women (like their moms) can be have any job or be a stay at home mom – that doesn’t lessen her mind or value?

When feminists lament the loss of women in the workplace, they are missing the bigger picture. They are missing the fact that brilliant women are raising children to accomplish as much as they did or more. Feminists don’t want to recognize that these mothers are giving their children a score of opportunities that working moms often can’t. These moms are raising children who value education for education’s sake, not for the job it can get them or how much money they can make. These children are learning that they can get an education and truly do anything with it they want – work, volunteer, or stay home with the kids.

The greatest possible result from this working mom exodus is that these moms get to spend their time with their children while they are children, to see all the wonder and joy that these children bring to their lives. They can take that expensive college degree in art, pile the kids in the minivan, and share in the wonder as those children see an impressionist piece for the first time at the art museum. The architect can experience the awe with a child as she shares the concepts of line and space while they admire a building. The writer can enjoy her daughter’s discovery of Wuthering Heights as they read the book together and then write about the experience.

Ms. Hirshman’s greatest lament is the loss of women with advanced degrees trading the workplace for the home. However, as a woman who as done so, I am most concerned about Ms. Hirshman’s misplaced sense of responsibility and her misguided invasion of privacy. I took my master’s exams three months pregnant, and the day my first child was born, I told my husband that there was no way I could leave this baby and work full time. Only out of necessity for money did I work full time for a year and a half, and the minute the opportunity presented itself to quit and work elsewhere for a few hours a week, I took it.

To me, as it is to many women, once children are born, the responsibility is to them. Insinuating to a well-educated mother that her children come second to her job is an affront. It is like saying, “You are smart enough to work. Aren’t you smart enough to know you shouldn’t be home with the kids?” If these women are so smart, why are feminists second-guessing them? The right to choose when and where I work is my right as a woman, and no one, especially Ms. Hirshman, has the right to tell me, or any other mom, where she should work.

Moreover, it is none of her business. When feminists begin to dictate when and where women should work, where will it end? Will a woman be forced to become a doctor instead of a nurse since it is more revered and we need more women doctors? Will a woman be told to study business instead of French since it is more lucrative and does not perpetuate the stereotype of the female French teacher? The right to choose is the feminist mantra, but it would appear a limited mantra. The right to choose obviously does not extend on the quality of a woman’s life with regards to work, if we listen to Hirshman and women of her ilk.

It seems that Hirshman assumes that once a woman trades in her sensible pumps for comfy houseshoes, she will no longer be a “liberated” woman. Suddenly, this woman will become nothing more than a limp existence of herself, living only to cook, clean, and wipe the snotty noses of her young wards. It is disturbing that this is the vision of the modern feminist movement. She may cook and clean more, since she is home and the husband is not, but that is not the sole value of her existence. She can now teach her sons the value of housework to the benefit of any woman they may one day marry. Now it is no longer women’s work. It is just work. That liberated woman is still liberated, whether she works in the house or out; plus she has the opportunity to pass those liberated ideals down to her children who will then accept them as fact, not as a field of study in a university.

It is not as though once a woman leaves the workplace to be a mom that she leaves her brain at the office. She takes that knowledge with her into the home and shares that knowledge with her family, making them strong and more educated as a result. If anything, we should encourage mothers with degrees to get back into the homes, to use that mind to learn all they can about their children, show them the value of education, and pass that love of learning on, thus encouraging the future of this country to become better educated themselves.

While this exodus may result in fewer women in the workplace, the resulting generation that will be better prepared for that same workplace is a fine trade-off. Ultimately, it really doesn’t matter what feminists think of educated women leaving the workplace; what matters is that women have the choice and opportunity to do so, and isn’t that the idea behind feminism in the first place?


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