Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Dialogue with Linda Hirshman

Linda Hirshman posted a comment to my last piece, "Wake up and smell the money." My reponse to her got pretty long, so I am going to put it up as a new post.

Linda Hirshman said...

Dear Amy,
I am having a little trouble understanding your position. Bennetts is talking about the opt out group and cites the new BLS data that it is for real. Graff says the opt out story isn't true and is a damaging lie to boot. Which is it?


Dear Linda,

As you point out in your latest blog post, the analysis of the labor statistics is in flux right now.

Let's agree for the sake of this discussion that many elite women are "opting out." You see this as a huge mistake, while I insist on seeing it as an opportunity. Perhaps this is in part due to the fact that I became comfortable with career change before having a child. I have worn many hats and I expect that my career will continue to evolve over time. Leaving the 9 to 5 workforce freed me to become an entrepreneur and create opportunities for myself. I feel that entrepreneurship is an underutilized possibility for career-changers of all kinds. I will be speaking to UNC and Duke MBA students on this topic this Friday at their Women in Business Conference, and it will be sure to report back what they have to say on this topic.

I am what you would call a "third wave feminist transformed by childbirth" and I have channeled that transformation into a call for women's leadership. I have become a published author, entrepreneur, media analyst, and activist after "opting out." Not just because motherhood magically transformed me, though motherhood definitely opened my eyes to the non-elite realities of the world. I have said before that I would love for our policy makers and leaders of the ruling class to be made up of people who have had first-hand caregiving experience. I wish we had a much more diverse roster of characters in our Congress: more women, racial diversity, people with substantial careers other than "career politician" and yes, people who have been primary caregivers at some point in their lives.

I view MomsRising.org as a great example of a group of women creating a community that allows them to put their education and talent to use in service of a larger social cause.

My message about "opting out" is that no woman should view being a stay-at-home Mom as a one-way street (or should I say, blind cul-de-sac?). I will probably have a 40 year work career, with 3 years of full-time motherhood in that mix. The mistake comes when women feel like the time home with their kids is the end of their story. It's not, and women need to take charge of their financial future, and responsibility for planning the next phase of their lives.

You would probably say that if childcare is such a great experience for women, why shouldn't men be doing it too? I agree that we are not there yet and I am not sure when we will be. I find this a challenging area, walking the line between individual accommodation and larger structural issues. I have been able to create a relationship that feels equitable, a marriage in which we each feel cared for and generally happy with our roles in home and work lives. Am I accommodating within a sexist system? That's the question I still grapple with. I want to make sure that my own personal comfort level doesn't keep me from looking at the big picture and working for social progress.

Thanks for your comment.


I have just received a copy of Leslie Bennetts' The Feminine Mistake and I will reply with a full review when I've read it.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

I keep thinking about this notion that women who take some "time off" to raise children are somehow doing a disservice to the feminist movement. My mom received a BA in math in the late 1960s. She got married, had kids, and did not work outside the home. She was an educated housewife with 3 children - perhaps some would consider this a waste or resources?Education funds misspent? But during that time, she became active in local politics. I can remember her coming home, and excitedly telling me, "One man may not be able to fight city hall, but one woman can!" She also participated in some of the early environmental activism groups. When my parents got divorced (early 1980s), she went back to school and became certified to teach math. For about 10 years, she worked in inner-city high schools. She would compare for us the differences between our wealthy suburban school and the ones she taught at. She worked a lot with teen mothers as well. Then it was time for a career change again. She went to night school and became a paralegal. She did that for a few years while working for the state and got her master's in legal studies. During this time she rekindled her passion for environmentalism. She currently runs a multi-million dollar federal grant to restore coastal wetlands and is an active participant in the environmental movement. She has told me she is thinking about running for city council.

My mother is a feminist. She raised her children to be feminists. Taking "time off" to raise children was not a blight on feminist ideals, nor did it take away from the feminist movement. If anything, she learned skills during that time that were just as valuable as her formal education. This trend of attacking educated mothers for their childrearing choices seems rather closed minded. But that's just my $.02.

Jessica Gullion

9:54 AM  

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