Meet the New Boss: Feminism and the Home

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Linda Hirshman is tired of women making the wrong choice when it comes to staying at home so now she's giving the orders.

If you've never checked it out, you should surf over to The Mirror of Justice, an interesting blog of Catholic lawyers who currently are discussing an old article by Linda Hirshman that recently has become newsworthy again. There's so much wrong with Hirshman's article, and its underlying assumptions, I'm not sure where to begin. Let's then begin at the end, with her judgment that women are wrong to decide to stay at home and be housewives, because "the tasks of housekeeping and child rearing were not worthy of the full time and talents of intelligent and educated human beings." She refers to the "tasks of housekeeping" as "sweeping and cleaning bodily waste," tasks in other words that make women "untouchables." Educated women apparently should leave such tasks to the genuinely untouchable: you know, the uneducated and unintelligent human beings.

Those familiar with feminism will understand that there's nothing new in those judgments about home life, nor in the deep mischaracterizations of childrearing. Feminism has long been parasitic on misrepresentation. If you believe the feminists, there were no women doctors, lawyers, philosophers, or authors before 1965 which is of course patently false. Nonetheless, the intriguing bit in Hirshman's article is the renunciation of what she calls "choice" feminism and its replacement by what I'll call "judgmental" feminism.

The goal of "choice" feminism was to liberate women so they could choose the lives they saw as most attractive; after Ivy League educations, they could be infantrymen, uh, soldiers; postmen, uh, mail carriers; chairpeople of the board; and even boxers. Unfortunately, however, increasingly elite women (who almost exclusively have been the target of a feminism which cares very little about poor women, except when necessary to support the right of elite women to use abortion as a contraceptive) are choosing to stay at home, as Hirshman reports. According to Hirshman, "[h]alf the wealthiest, most-privileged, best-educated females in the country stay home with their babies rather than work in the market economy." This is a staggering failure rate for feminism, as Hirshman knows. Hanging their hats in the home are the very women who've been propagandized to believe as Hirshman does the home is where the heart of a woman is shackled to the crib.

Perhaps this great migration from the marketplace to the supermarket, from Morgan Stanley to Trader Joe's, expresses some irrepressible desire among women to be with and finding meaning in children? No way, according to Hirshman. Instead, drawing upon all the wisdom of a life spent in academia and away (I can only assume) from sweeping and human waste disposal, she insists feminism failed because it liberated women's choices without changing the family enough. The problem with all these damned Ivy League homebodies is that they just don't understand how miserable they should be!

Well, that's intellectual waste in need of disposal. The return of even Ivy League women to motherhood shows the power of family, of sex, and of children greatly exceeds the power even of dogmatic ideology. This is a lesson being learned in Cambridge, Massachusetts and in Shanghai, China. The human wants to procreate and women typically want to mother. Since education into choice for the market and against children didn't work out the way Hirshman and her peers hoped, they are now left barking commands. "Get to Work!" her manifesto (how radically 1968!) exhorts. Hirshman thinks she's kickstarting a revolution. Well, the truth is Hirshman's revolution is over. When revolutionaries fail, their last effort is the naked grasp at power. Here you go, women: Hirshman offered you choice and you refused it. Now, get yourselves to work or else! Or else what? I don't know, maybe she'll call you "bourgeois."

Joseph Capizzi is Fellow in Religion for the Culture of Life Foundation and Associate Professor of Religion at Catholic University of America.