Why can't a woman be more like a man? | Bleader

Why can't a woman be more like a man?

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That's from a fifty-year-old musical, but it might be political philosopher Linda Hirshman's song today. As noted here before, she's down on educated women who choose to take care of children, because she thinks they're harming themselves and setting a bad example for others.

When by Mindy Farrabee on AlterNet asked her about the notion that raising children is the most important job there is, Hirshman laid down a series of personal attacks on those who disagree with her:

"I have no idea what they mean by that. If, in fact, it were the most important thing a human being could do, then why are no men doing it? They'd rather make war, make foreign policy, invent nuclear weapons, decode DNA, paint The Last Supper, put the dome on St. Peter's Cathedral; they'd prefer to do all those things that are much less important than raising babies?

"I love these sayings, because they're so stupid. I'll tell you what I think is actually going on: People think that women's lives aren't important enough to merit a real analysis. We get aphorisms in place of analysis. [This statement is demonstrably false and has been for years--see below.] Why do we say stuff like that instead of actually trying to figure out what's going on here when it's women whose lives are at stake? If you can make an argument for why childrearing--especially in the context that they are at school from the age of around five on for most of their waking hours--why that is the most important job, I'd like to hear that."

Note that "what men do" is Hirshman's standard, as in working all the time. (Note also that in the last sentence she hedges her position considerably.) Ruth Conniff in the Progressive takes a different view:

"Americans are still leading the world in warmaking, foreign policy (which has devolved into warmaking by another name, it appears), nuclear weapons, and, arguably, decoding DNA. But the countries that produced The Last Supper, Saint Peter's Cathedral, and many of the other lasting achievements of humanity tend to have a more enlightened view of the value of raising children than our country does."

Conniff quotes from the new book The Motherhood Manifesto: What America's Moms Want and What to Do About It. Nothing against that, but the best thinking on this topic is The Invisible Heart: Economics and Family Values, by feminist economist Nancy Folbre.  (Did you ever laugh out loud reading an econ book? You will when you see her take down Adam Smith one-handed.)

Folbre lays her cards on the table, and I'd love to see Hirshman try to trump them: "No society oriented exclusively toward individual success--to the exclusion of care for the next generation--can reproduce itself."  The question of who's going to do that used to be settled by forcing women into it. Now it's time to come up with a better answer.

Hirshman isn't helping, but at least she's honest enough to say she thinks it doesn't matter whether your primary parent is educated and ambitious or a time-serving drone. Hopefully that admission will speed the end of this branch of feminism.

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