When women opt out [of the workforce], and make what they call in preemptive language a “personal choice,” they’re doing harm to two interests I have. One is they’re doing harm to themselves, and insofar that they are human beings, as a political philosopher, I’m interested in every one of them. Secondly, they’re doing harm to others. Opting out makes women dependent, it hurts other ambitious women, and it doesn’t use their full capacities. I want to have a social conversation about it.
That's Linda Hirshman in L.A. Citybeat, explaining why highly educated women who choose to stay home and raise their children are a personal affront to her. She goes on to say that childrearing can't possibly be the most important job in the world, or else men would be doing it; that women quit their jobs every time "their bosses look at them cross-eyed;" and that changing the way the world works is totally hard, so we shouldn't even try.
Feminism was the cause that introduced the idea of the woman looking out for herself. Since time immemorial, The Woman's Burden has been to put everyone else ahead of herself, the child above the mother, the husband above the wife, the employer above the employee, and that if she's just a good mother/wife/employee, someone else will take care of her. Feminism showed us that it's okay to be our own priorities and take care of ourselves. It showed us how we could become conscious of the world around us, and more than that, influence that world. We didn't have to wait for our husbands and daddies to make our decisions for us and tell us what was best; we could decide that, we could run for office, we could earn our own money and look after our own finances. Yes, we had other things to look after in our lives; wives still had husbands, mothers still had kids, and part of being an adult is balancing things and attending to your responsibilities. But for the first time in, like, ever, we were allowed to have a place of significance at the top of the priority list.
What pisses me off about Linda Hirshman is that she wants to write my priority list for me. Yes, I now have the right to place myself above or alongside my family and my job - but I have to put The Cause above myself. I don't actually get to be Number One, not yet, because feminism has to be Number One. If what I want doesn't mesh with her vision of the ideal society, it does harm to her and to ambitious women and The Cause.
I don't buy it. I refuse to believe that the ultimate goal of feminism has always been to make women the same as men (and put down the Strawfeminist - I'm going somewhere with this). Women, I'll gladly admit, aren't the same as men. I am far, far less hairy than any man I know, and I'm so glad about that. I'm shorter than most of the men I know, and I have more body fat, and I look better in a tank top. Now, the fact that I'm different from men doesn't make me unequal to them; my comparatively hairless person is just as good at writing copy as the man who had my job before me, and my body fat percentage doesn't make me any less able to do math or physics. And to me, that's the ultimate feminism: being what I am and being able to do what I do.
I know it's the Strawfeminist who says that women have to turn into men in order to be equal to them. The Strawfeminist says we all have to wear pants and can't wear makeup or show emotion if we want men to treat us with respect; the real feminists are wearing what they want and doing what they want and expecting men to treat them respectfully anyway. Because that's the point: not that women deserve rights because we're as good as men, or as strong as men, or as smart as men, or as capable as men, although all of those things are true, but that women deserve rights because we're humsn beings. We're human beings, and things like basic dignity and respect need to start from that understanding, not the understanding that men are worthy of dignity and respect and that we're just as worthy.
Hirshman says in her interview, "I’m 62. I’m probably not going to change the fundamental way in which the world has worked since people dropped from the trees in the African savanna. I think we’d better just see if we can find a place for women in that world." And I do admire her pragmatism and her desire to see women address the world as it exists in real life, not as it is in their feminist fantasies. But that's not going to change the world. People in wheelchairs do have to adapt to a world designed for and by people on foot, but if that was enough, the ADA never would have passed. Public buildings have elevators and ramps and wide doorways and Braille signs because disabled people got pissed off enough to say, "This isn't acceptable, we're human beings, and we deserve to interact with the world just as much as everyone else does."
Hirshman is 62. If she feels that she's seen enough and done enough and contributed enough, that's her right. But she's not going to talk me out of my feminist fantasy, which is a world in which women are automatically afforded all of the rights that men have. Men are allowed to make their own medical decisions. Men receive 100 percent of the money other men make for the same job. Men get to wear what they want (within reason). Men can be assertive without being called bitches and be rewarded for showing sensitivity. Men can leave the baby with the wife and work, if they want to, and if they want to stay home and raise the kids instead, they become some kind of stay-at-home secure-in-his-sexuality god. And they can do it all without wondering if they're screwing over other guys in the process.
I won't stop fighting for that. I won't stop fighting against anyone who tells me how to dress - man or woman. I won't stop fighting against anyone who tells me what to do with my body - man or woman. If I want to have a kid and go back to work, screw any man who wants to tell me I'm a bad wife and mother, and if I want to have a kid and stay home and raise it, screw any woman who wants to tell me I'm a bad feminist. Feminism, as I've said before, is about educating women, empowering them to make their own choices, and then sitting back proudly and watching them make them. Telling them what decision to make is not part of the deal; telling women what to do is what anti-feminists do.
Acting blindly to oppose the patriarchy is just as bad as acting blindly to appease them; in both cases, you're letting the dominant group dictate your actions. If you choose to wear pants and combat boots because the patriarchy tells you not to, you're giving up control over your life just as surely as the woman who wears skirts and pearls because that's how girls are supposed to dress. If you go to the office, but you really want to be home with your kids, you're no better off than the woman who's home with her kids but really wishes she were at the office.
Get a college degree and go to work. Or get a college degree and have babies and raise them to be good little feminists. Or do both. Wear a skirt, or wear pants, or wear a skirt over your pants (please don't wear leggings), wear makeup or no makeup or Marilyn Manson makeup. But don't do it because some man told you you're supposed to, and don't do it because Linda Hirshman told you you're supposed to. Decide what you want, examine your motives and your conscience, and then do it - not for the patriarchy, not for The Cause, but because you think it's what you should be doing. It may not be what everyone else thinks. Hell, it may not be what I think. But women will never really be liberated until we truly have the right to make our own decisions for ourselves. Just like any other human being.