The feminist sisterhood, divided.

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June 30 2006 7:26 PM

Femme Frat Brawl

The feminist sisterhood, divided.

One of the week's consistently smartest discussions has been taking place in The Highbrow Fray. Meghan O'Rourke started brains a-churning with her nuanced analysis of Linda Hirshman's Get to Work: A Manifesto for Women of the World.

For many readers, the central point for debate is the definition of a "good" life. MutatisMutandis argues that Hirshman's argument is rooted in status quo feminism:

Despite any possible hullabaloo from the conservative side, in essence this is a Conservative position with a capital C, and not a radical one. It involves implicit acceptance that society will largely stand as it is, namely materialistic and careerist, and explicit acceptance of its norms: Only people who make (a lot of) money have really "valuable" lives. And therefore Hirshman requires that women do more to conform to the demands of this society; she is not set about changing society itself.

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Carstonio speculates that "Hirshman is really a mole for anti-feminist groups."

Can one only change a careerist society by infusing its icy materialistic heart with humanist sentiment? seg makes a good argument that this is so:

Women may have entered the workforce, but corporatist culture has done little to accommodate the needs of the family in response. Maternity leaves are miniscule when given, and often result in demotion. Paternity leaves are nothing more than a joke—men do not have the choice to spend adequate time with their families. Clinton's family leave act was controversial, charged with "hurting business". Safe, affordable day care does not exist for most of the country's employees—and as I'll return to in a moment, day care for most is not a choice, but a necessity. Working hours in the United States grow longer, not shorter, leaving little time for our families.

In my opinion, it would be in everyone's best interest if this culture could change—men, women, and certainly children. But if the culture is going to change, then somebody is going to have to force it to bend. When women opt out of the work force, they strip themselves of the economic power to make demands. Why should corporations listen to us if we're not of some value? Only by staying in the work force can we earn real power, And have a fighting chance to really create family values.

What are the moral hazards of pursuing material success? rundeep provides a stark illustration of ambition's conflict with idealism:

To act as if women have not made significant strides in the professions and in business in the last 20 years is just plain unrealistic. But here's another nasty little fact: women are often the biggest stumbling block to other women in the workforce. "You wanted your babies, now you stay home with them" is something I have heard from people who would otherwise happily declare themselves feminists. Or it's more insidious. A good friend of mine, ostensibly a decent person, objected when women at her firm elected to tack their four-week vacation onto her 12 week paid maternity leave. She led a fight to force these employees to take vacation at some other time during the year because it was intended to reward work and not motherhood. So I wouldn't be so complacent about "women encouraging women" in the workplace, especially if one-half of them are moms and the others aren't. Indeed, if Hirshman were the CEO, do you have any doubt that she would fail to promote women who elected to spend "too much time" at home.

For a truly galling anecdote of professionalized misogyny between women, check out candoxx's testimonial account. But nixie_watervixen notes one way in which women who don't work professionally subtly demean their professional counterparts:

I think that women who accept jobs and school spaces and plan to leave before they enter these schools and the prestigious jobs right after them, are doing a major disservice to the women in this country. They are reinforcing the idea that women are not to be seriously considered for demanding, high-powered careers because it is unlikely that they will stick with those careers anyway.

If women should be redoubling their ascent of the corporate ladder, several despondent men seem to be on the verge of hurling themselves off. TJA writes:

I'll tell you right now, having a choice IS liberating. How do I know? I am a man. I HAVE no choice. I feel limited and imprisoned. Society tells me I must work and can never take time from SUPPORTING my family in order to BE with my family. I would LOVE to have this choice that the feminists so easily dismiss as a mirage.

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