Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Possibly the biggest misuse of feminism that I've ever read

Have you ever wondered what capitalist radical feminism would look like?

Well Linda Hirschman attempts to show you. To try and summarise she says that priviledged women have tended to 'drop-out' of the work-force to look after children, and this is setting back the cause of feminism.

It's possibly what Betty Freidan might have looked like if she didn't have a bit of a red past. She'd have an interesting argument in there somewhere if she laid off with worshipping at the gods of power and status. Linda Hirschman claims the fact that priviledged women aren't working affects the rest of us because:

As for society, elites supply the labor for the decision-making classes -- the senators, the newspaper editors, the research scientists, the entrepreneurs, the policy-makers, and the policy wonks. If the ruling class is overwhelmingly male, the rulers will make mistakes that benefit males, whether from ignorance or from indifference.
I thought that particular argument had been reasonably throughoughly disproved by Margaret Thatcher.

There's been quite a go-around on this issue already on American blogs. I didn't read the original article until now, or I would have written about it earlier. I did read, and was disturbed by, a lot of the comment. For instance Ampersand went to some length to prove that the number of women who are staying at home with their children hasn't increased - as a way of disproving her argument. While I agree that it does help a debate if it reflects reality in some way, to me this begs a much larger question: Is it a failure (or rejection) of feminism if mothers are not working while raising their kids?

I say no. I say that if feminism is to have any meaning it can't take the world as it comes. Feminism can't just accept the fact that the work of reproduction is completely devalued in our society, and try to stop women doing it (or even more disturbingly try and make sure that wealthy women don't have to do it). Feminists have to fight for a world where child-rearing is valued, not just with platitudes, but with resources. They also have to fight for a world where women aren't the only people who are doing that work. These two aren't mutually exclusive - in fact I believe that one is pretty useless without the other.

In the meantime there are often no good options for women who are raising children in a heterosexual relationship. You do paid work and still have a huge amount of unpaid work to do as well, or you deal with the huge power imbalance and all the isolation of not doing paid work (or possibly you do paid work, more than your share of unpaid work, and then have the job of making sure your partner does 'his share' of unpaid work). And I do believe Linda Hirschman was right about the reason for that (even if all her conclusions were fucked); as one fighter for women's liberation once said to me 'we reached a brick wall when we realised we couldn't change men.'

Feminists may not have found a way to change men, yet. But that's no reason to give up on half the feminist project, accept the world the way it is and go after power for women instead.


  1. Anonymous10:13 am

    "Feminists may not have found a way to change men... yet."

    Yeah, you know what, I get the impression that you wanted them to change men.

  2. I agree that part of the solution is the more equal division of reproductive labour between men and women. But I think in order for that to happen we need to change society quite fundamentally. For instance, the wage gap means that it's usually a better idea financially for the women not to work. I think defining raising children as 'work' would help, but that would need to happen in the context of other changes to make it a less individualistic enterprise.

  3. Maia- if you haven't already I think you might find Unbending Gender by Joan Williams worth a read.