Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Slugs, Snails and Domino's Tails

I came across this and it made me quite angry. The author, who is a university professor, is apparently concerned that increasing numbers of women with high profile educations (what she charmingly calls Elite Women) are choosing to stay home and focus on raising their families, rather than having successful careers.



Half the wealthiest, most-privileged, best-educated females in the country stay home with their babies rather than work in the market economy is how the article begins, and it continues in much the same tone.

The author's views can basically be summed up in three points:

1. The work involved with being a stay at home mother is so repetitive and uninteresting that it couldn't possibly stimulate you mentally or do your education and your intelligence justice. Also, it's not important, and you are not contributing to society unless you're out there "wielding real social power".

Betty Friedan’s original call to arms compared housework to animal life. In The Feminine Mystique she wrote, “[V]acuuming the living room floor -- with or without makeup -- is not work that takes enough thought or energy to challenge any woman’s full capacity. ... 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.”

Here’s the feminist moral analysis that choice avoided: The family -- with its repetitious, socially invisible, physical tasks -- is a necessary part of life, 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.

Measured against these time-tested standards, the expensively educated upper-class moms will be leading lesser lives. At feminism’s dawning, two theorists compared gender ideology to a caste system. To borrow their insight, 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

It always gets to me how whenever "feminists" talk about staying home and taking care of a family, they basically sum it up as "vacuuming", "dusting," or "cleaning bodily waste" or something similar. Clearly vacuuming is not a challenging task, but I'd like Ms Friedan to tell me if she thinks a Judge, Politician, Banker or whatever profession she considers challenging and fulfilling enough, really gets to spend their entire working day on deeply fulfilling and challenging things that make a difference to the world. As far as I'm concerned, being a Stay at Home Mum is just like any other job: it involves some mindless tasks (vacuuming, cleaning -hey, I see it as the equivalent of filling endless forms,) but it also involves very important, challenging, world-shaping tasks. Answering a child's questions. Teaching a child what it feels like to be loved, how to be responsible, how people behave in a healthy loving relationship, how to think, how to be a person. Personally, I think training the next generation is as close as you can hope to get to changing the world.

One of the reasons I'm writting this blog is as a way for Matilda to get to "know" me when she's grown up, and to share in the experiences I might have forgotten by then. I really hope she reads this post and instantly discards it, because she KNOWS that being her mum has always been a pleasure, a joy, a challenge and an adventure (with several bumps on the way) but could NEVER be reduced to crude manual labour. I feel so lucky to be able to stay home with her that I can't put it into words.

2. Oh yes, did I mention how you're responsible to yourself and your fellow women to try as hard as you can to wield social power? That touching sentiment basically means you ought to jump in the hamster wheel, yelling "SHOW ME THE MONEY" (in three different languages, if you have an Elite Education.)

The best way to treat work seriously is to find the money. Money is the marker of success in a market economy; it usually accompanies power, and it enables the bearer to wield power, including within the family.

There are three rules: Prepare yourself to qualify for good work, treat work seriously, and don’t put yourself in a position of unequal resources when you marry. So the first rule is to use your college education with an eye to career goals. Feminist organizations should produce each year a survey of the most common job opportunities for people with college degrees, along with the average lifetime earnings from each job category and the characteristics such jobs require.

Oh there you go, now we're getting to the bottom of it. Never mind making a difference to society, all you need to know is average lifetime earnings. Peter and I have made a lot of effort to create a budget that will allow us to do what we do: me to stay at home and him to work in a job which he likes, and which also has predictable hours, relatively low stress levels and is conductive to actually *gasp* spending as much time as possible with his family. If I used my degree we'd have a lot more money. If Peter used his PhD from Cambridge (is that Elite enough for you Ms Hirshman?) to get a job in, say, finance, we'd be rich and we'd see a lot less of each other. Instead we shop from thrift stores, only eat out on special occasions, drive a VERY old car and we never think we're making sacrifices. We just think we're doing what we have to do to live what we think of as a happy life.

3. In case I haven't convinced you yet, I'll use my final and strongest argument. If you don't agree with me, you're stupid and you don't know what's best for you. Let the Feminist Sisters tell you what to do, you sad little bourgois.

The privileged brides of the Times -- and their husbands -- seem happy. Why do we care what they do? After all, most people aren’t rich and white and heterosexual, and they couldn’t quit working if they wanted to. We care because what they do is bad for them, is certainly bad for society, and is widely imitated, even by people who never get their weddings in the Times.

Finally, these choices are bad for women individually. A good life for humans includes the classical standard of using one’s capacities for speech and reason in a prudent way, the liberal requirement of having enough autonomy to direct one’s own life, and the utilitarian test of doing more good than harm in the world.

To paraphrase, as Mark Twain said, “A man who chooses not to read is just as ignorant as a man who cannot read.”

This is my personal uber-peeve. You really can't have an intelligent debate with people who will stoop low enough to use that argument, because, ultimately, they believe they're smarter than you and refuse to hear what you have to say. I find it especially ironic that what the author seems to be saying is: "We must stop the men telling us what to do. Now go do what I tell you, so that we can make it happen."

I won't even gratify this with further discussion, but how about this little gem: A good life for humans includes the classical standard of using one’s capacities for speech and reason in a prudent way, the liberal requirement of having enough autonomy to direct one’s own life, and the utilitarian test of doing more good than harm in the world. Yes, and that is completely different to, say, using your autonomy to direct your life towards using your capacities for speech and reason to teach other human beings how to develop their own capacities for speech and reason, abilities they will hopefully some day pass on to their own children, along with the values they have been brought up with; I think it isn't unreasonable to describe this as doing more good than harm in the world.

Peter pointed out yesterday that if all men went out to work and all women stayed at home with the children, then women would have much more social impact than men, by shaping the beliefs, values and personalities of the future generation; I completely agree with him. But then, Mzzzz Hirshman would probably say that he's just a man wanting to maintain the status quo.

Matilda now can:

  • Crawl up the stairs really quickly and steadily
  • Give hugs on request
  • Clap
  • Wave
  • Follow simple instructions, such as "Go to daddy", or "Get your teddy."
  • Bite! She has 2 teeth

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  • Answer the question "What does a snake do?" ("Shhhhhhhhhh")
  • Stroke Domino without poking him -sometimes.

One thing she can't do, however, is stay clean for any length of time. I don't know if other girls are Sugar and Spice and All Things Nice, but mine certainly isn't. She's into everything, she's busy discovering the world, and she has the muddy face to prove it. (That, and I don't mop as often as I should.)

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Matilda showing her teddy who's boss:

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Matilda and her Organic Teether:

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