Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Oppression from unexpected quarters

An interesting (if somewhat galling) article at the American Prospect argues that the continuing gap between men and women in elite positions (despite their even levels at college, e.g.) reflects not so much a glass ceiling in employment as a glass ceiling at home -- that relationship expectations (their partners' and their own), and particularly those relating to marriage and child-rearing roles, continue to put demands on women that put them at a nearly insurmountable disadvantage in their careers.
Conservatives contend that the dropouts prove that feminism “failed” because it was too radical, because women didn’t want what feminism had to offer. In fact, if half or more of feminism’s heirs (85 percent of the women in my Times sample), are not working seriously, it’s because feminism wasn’t radical enough: It changed the workplace but it didn’t change men, and, more importantly, it didn’t fundamentally change how women related to men.
By framing feminism as not about power (and its gendered distribution) but about *choice*, the movement did nothing to address the fundamental expectations of home life, with the result that the "work" and "family" option tracks look much as they did 40 years ago.
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. To paraphrase, as Mark Twain said, “A man who chooses not to read is just as ignorant as a man who cannot read.”
You may or may not agree with the author's prescriptions, but it's hard not to see much truth in her analysis. Worth finding the time to read it all (isn't there a holiday coming?)...

(via Salon's "Broadsheet")

1 comment:

Knotted Knickers said...

Thanks for the link. I've been trying to convince my students of more or less the same thing for years - except I think it's unfair to blame feminism. Feminism is not just about "choice." Transformation of gender roles within the family as well as the workplace was always part of second-wave feminism (see, for example, Judy Syfers' Why I Want A Wife", 1971, and Pat Mainardi, The Politics of Housework", from the same era), so it's a bit unfair for Hirshman to set up feminism as a straw figure here.

I was glad to see the reference to Rhona Mahony's 1995 book, Kidding Ourselves: Babies, Breadwinning and Bargaining Power, since I was going to add it to the comments anyway. :-) Mahony explains the same phenomenon with game theory, and offers practical solutions. I've assigned this book in my family communication class several times. Reading this article, I'm wishing I'd ordered it for next quarter's class. Sadly, students are likely to tell me everything's changed since then - that book was written in 1995 for pete's sake! At least I can assign this article instead.