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Hate to tell the folks at Slate, but as I was looking around for articles that I need for another post (coming), I found my way to a 2002 piece from their site. My first thought upon reaching the piece: how funny – it’s a circa 2002 site design! Wow – pre-broadband!

Unfortunately, it wasn’t not their 2002 design. It was their brand new 10th anniversary redesign.

(Also, while I was over there, I was reminded of the whole stay-at-home mom / working women issue that just keeps plastering itself across our cultural windshield. Tempted to post on this. But I won’t. I know better, actually. But I will say this. There’s something a wee bit dysfunctional about a society wherein when we get really riled up, pissing and fuming and not gonna take it any more, we get up on our soapbox and demand MORE WORK!

I should shut up. But here, from the Slate piece:

It is in forcing us to consider the implications of all this that Hirshman’s book is most interesting: If you are a woman who is committed to gender equality, who doesn’t believe that a woman’s place is necessarily in the home, she argues, then you have to think about how your choices shape the collective good. Her stubborn insistence is refreshing. Unlike others, she is willing to come out and say, in no uncertain terms, that the luxury of making our own decisions as if they had no larger implications isn’t ethical at this point in time. If that makes feminism unpopular, so be it; but shying away from persistent inequality by invoking the language of “choice,” she observes, is hardly feminism. If you buy her argument, then even if you find it hard to leave your baby at home, and even if you find the workplace sometimes less-than-fulfilling, it’s important—to society as a whole—that you work. This sounds extreme, but of course it’s the lesson every man is taught when he’s a boy: Your responsibility to society—the way to become an adult—is to work.

Hmm… The lessons that I was taught as a boy – and they’ve served me very, very well in the workplace – wasn’t so much “Work and better society through it, buddy boy!” but rather “You fucking lazy shit! How are you going to get into Harvard with a fucking B+ in Calculus.” Maybe not quite that, but something more along the lines of “Were you to piss away the hard won class advance that I’ve won for us by the bloody sweat on my brow, son, by becoming say a poet or a novelist or even just like an ordinary person who works in a bookshop, let alone raising children full-time or something, then, well, my life, which I’ve given up for you, will have come to absolutely nothing.”

And thus the Ph.d. rather than the MFA. And, look, the Ph.D. rather than being badgered into a law degree or an MBA or something was getting off easy. (Dad’s class antennae are jiggered such that doing a Ph.D. at Prestigious University X was, well, intimidatingly OK… And I don’t think he ever really got how bad the job situation was/is…)

In short, I have absolutely no interest in undercutting American women’s right of self-determination. No way, no how. But I am not so sure that demanding further entanglement in the self-strangling mode of life that we call ours is the way to go about pulling down any sort of betterment. There are other problems with the argument, of course. Is Hirschman’s piece supposed to advance the cause of men taking more initiative in the parenting department? By devaluing childrearing? O’Rourke again:

Until those who care about equality recognize that it will take collective action to create further change, the kinds of policy amendments most women want to see won’t take place, and women will continue doing 70 percent of the housework—while men continue to do less housework after marriage than they did as bachelors.

Do Hirschman and O’Rourke really believe that this class of CEOs and corporate lawyers are really going to turn around and get behind social legislation that “most women want to see”? Really?

In other words, and I’m sure it’s quite idealist of me, especially as an American, but it seems to me possible, if not probable, that women and men both might step back a bit from this problem to ask some really very easy questions about why we’ve been forced into an untenable situation, about the paradoxical relationship between technological progress and the intensification of labor, why we need two incomes when one (or 2 halves) used to suffice, what’s been lost (pensions, health benefits, low cost housing, cheap mass transportation) that forces us to embrace the drives that parasitically inhabit us, keeping us close to the workbench from sun-up to sun-down, and shocking us minute-by-minute with visions of a life terribly ordinary, the unbearable lightness of limited expectations, time for children and their useless living.

(Full disclosure: my wife and I – and we’re very lucky that we can do this, as I’m an academic and she is a writer – split time caring for the baby. Not necessarily 50 / 50. Maybe more like 30 / 70. I will admit that it is not something that comes easily to me, not working. We both are frustrated at times: she doesn’t get to work as much as I do, but it wasn’t easy being a first-year assistant professor and rarely starting work before 1 PM. Neither of us have gotten more than 5 hours of sleep for more than a year. We’re lucky though, that we can work this out. And we’re very lucky that we both get to spend so much time with an absolutely wonderful little person. And if there’s one thing that I’ve learned since having this child, it’s that judging the choices of others, whatever they are, on this front, is a recipe for egocentric, projective disaster…)

Written by adswithoutproducts

June 27, 2006 at 12:47 am

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