Ben Vereen and the North Carolina Symphony
The Ant - by Older Son

Guilt (Not!) and Feminism

There has been a lot of discussion this last week on numerous blogs about Linda Hirshman's book, "Get to Work:  A Manifesto for Women of the World" (excerpt Here). She's basically upset that many elite women (namely, women with profitable, elite university degrees who are on the fast track to a career of status and power) are choosing to stay home with their children.

For the first few blogs-worth of posts, I was only paying half attention.  After all, I'm not interested in power (being basically of a libertarian frame of mind), and never would have been part of the power elite even if I had stayed in the financial department of the insurance company I used to work at.  In other words, she's basically not writing about me.  In fact, the thing that irritated me most about the excerpt I read was her dismissal of the arts:

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.

See how "Don't study art" is at the very top of her list?!  Those who do study art obviously are not using their "education to prepare for a lifetime of work" (written with dripping sarcasm!).  Tell that to the hardworking symphony musicians we listened to this weekend (Ben Vereen twice told the audience to support a raise for the symphony!).

My other thought was that this is why I don't identify myself as a feminist, and, instead, say that I have feminist tendencies.  I'm not going to buy into anyone's whole parcel of ideas.  Equal pay for equal work.  Yes.  Women are just as intelligent as men.  Of course.  Women are equal human beings.  Of course.   Women should not be oppressed.  Of course again - no one should. 

It's when some feminists, such as Ms. Hirshman, go on to make dogmatic statements about other peoples lives and how they should live them that I part company.  "Bounding home is not good for women" (quotes from the article).  Really?  All women?  All women are alike and have the same needs and desires?  All are fulfilled by the same things?  "Child care and housekeeping have satisfying moments but are not occupations likely to produce a flourishing life."  Really?  I have no interest in football, but I wouldn't say that it's not an occupation "likely to produce a flourishing life!"  Just because she's not interested in raising children doesn't mean that no one can "flourish" doing so (I'll avoid the housework part since I don't enjoy that - any more than I enjoyed calculating insurance projections at work.  Every job has its drudgery.)(and some women even enjoy housework). 

I have no more patience with women who say that all women should be in the workforce than I have with women who say that all women should be at home.  To my mind, both sides are busybodies who need a hobby - besides telling other women what to do!  I've never had patience with bossy people.  I'm glad none of my three children has that tendency - I would have an extremely difficult time dealing with that.

One blog also reminded me of why this kind of feminism - the "if you don't do things the right way, you're betraying the sisterhood"-type feminism - irritates me.  It operates on guilt. 

Now, I wasn't raised on guilt.  We were raised to do our best - but it wasn't a guilt thing.  Not having been raised with guilt, and not experiencing much of it from my friends' parents either, other people's attempts to impose guilt don't really affect me.  Now, don't get me wrong, I can make myself feel guilty.  But that's my business (and I'm trying to get rid of it).  However, someone else trying to use guilt to motivate me just makes me angry.  And it lessens my respect for them ("You mean, you don't have any reasons better than that!"). 

Which is why I could relate to this part of L's post, "Failure to the Cause I Never Joined" at Homesick Home (emphasis mine):

...My husband and I may be happy, but what I`m doing is bad for me, and bad for society. Thank you, Linda, for caring.

The first day or two after I read her piece, I was righteously angry at Hirschman -- and boy, let me tell you, this palpable anger felt good. I was able to savor it, like a fine gourmet meal. Alas, after a while, this feeling faded, leaving only a vague sense of bemusement, that this woman really sees something sinister in the fact that lots of monied moms choose to stop working.

Are my feelings normal? Shouldn`t I feel at least a little guilty, for trying to kill feminism? I just realized why I make such a rotten Catholic -- I don`t have a well-developed sense of guilt. Never did, probaby never will -- I must have been out sick the day they laid the official guilt mantle on my Catechism class.

That's probably why I don't make a good Catholic either, or a good feminist (at least in some feminist philosophies).  I don't feel guilty for not following someone else's program.  I have my own. 

Other blogs to check out once you've read the article

The Happy Feminist has a series of posts on this book:  Hirshman Hullaballoo, Part 1: Summary of Hirshman Article, Hirshman Hullaballoo, Part 2:  I Loved the Hirshman Article (which isn't to say that she buys all of it - it's a very balanced post), Hirshman Hullaballoo, Part 3:  Link Roundup (with interesting links)  Was My Mother a Hirshman Feminist?

Tightly Wound weighs in with:  Makes Me Wish for a Scold's Bridle and a Margarita.

And check out Homesick Home.




I was breathless when you told me about the "art" comment in a recent conversation. Reading it here again I was at first struck silent. Not understanding the importance of art is a kind of senselessness, an emotional blindness or deafness. I suppose if you don't "get" art, then you don't miss it. But what a shame to miss all those voices and faces around us in poems, dance, paintings, music. Somehow it is with the help of those voices and faces that we better understand our own. In the end my sorrow for this person is that she is missing one of the most powerful ways to hold and love herself and others - the deeper awareness fostered by the arts.


Nah, she doesn't mind LOOKING at art or listening to it. She just doesn't want to perform it or study it. No money in that. See? She's practical. She's my hero.


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