Sunday, March 11, 2007

What would Linda Hirshman say?

I am sure that mean-feminist pundit Linda Hirshman would love to think that we are all sitting around wearing "WWLHS?" bracelets as we judge our lives by her standards.

Not gonna happen....but I did think of Linda this weekend as I read the Time Magazine article "The Zeal for the Job" about "why we work...successful professionals: the choices they make, the paths they pursue." Time praises people who have followed their passions into interesting, zig-zagged career paths. Robert Norton, 37, had jobs as diverse as tour guide, fish exporter, real estate agent and baseball translator. He then went to law school to fill a demand for Japanese-speaking lawyers.

Hmmmm, what would Linda Hirshman say? It doesn't sound like he'd fit Hirshman's definition of a "serious" lawyer to me. (See my June 2006 post, The Flawed Philosophy of Linda Hirshman for more about her work.)

I think it's wonderful that people can look at life as a journey to explore, not a ladder to climb. I can't wait to read a new book mentioned in the Time article, The Escape Artists--True Stories of People Who Turned Their Obsessions into Professions. My only question is, why don't we celebrate these interesting paths and career transformations when motherhood is a step along the way?

Okay, motherhood is a lot less exotic than selling chocolate in Jamaica and exporting sea urchins from Maine, but I would argue that motherhood cuts deeper to a person's core, leading us to explore who we really are. Motherhood is a turning point, one that may well throw us off our original path, but that doesn't mean that our original path was "right" or that leaving is a failure or disappointment. When 1970's feminists get impatient with Gen X women who have taken time out from careers to raise families, I want to shout, "Our story has not been written yet!" I know women who are doing amazing things at all stages of their lives. They may be unsung heroines now, but they are leaders nonetheless. When I consider that my daughter will be out of the house by the time I am 50, and I may have another 30-40 good years left in me, God willing, it really hits me that our generation is pioneering a new kind of life path. I can't even conceive of "retirement" except as I see it practiced by my creative, brilliant, entrepreneurial neighbors who are technically retired but busier than ever before.

And as for us women who are looking for flex-time/part-time/telecommuting options: we may be getting flack from some people but I truly beleve that we are on the leading edge of the future workforce. Linda Hirsman's criticism sounds like something straight out of the Industrial Revolution, where raw materials went into factories and came out products. Linda insists that a rigid path like student--->law school--->lawyer--->partner is the way to meaningful work.

A "Creative Class" model of work is replacing this outmoded industrial model. I came of age in Silicon Valley in the 1990's, where work was about creating something new and taking the risk of launching it into the world. This thinking has influenced so many industries, including publishing. Self-publishing used to carry the stigma of "vanity" press. Now self-publishing feels to me like any other startup. I published Mojo Mom on my own and was accepted by a national distributor who places my book in stores alongside the products of the major publishers. My work competes in the marketplace of ideas.

My father-in-law's career contrasted with my husband's provides another telling example. My father-in-law was an inventor who worked at General Electric for over 40 years, straight out of Stanford grad school. In another era, with a good publicist, I am convinced that he could have been known as "a Thomas Edison of the late 20th century," but he worked in relative anonymity within the GE system. My husband attended Stanford as well but used it as a leaping-off pad in Silcon Valley: he bailed from the Ph. D. program after a year and a half to start a software company with two friends. They pooled a few thousand dollars together, ran T1 lines into their apartment and started the world's first Open-Source software company. That was almost 20 years ago and my husband is still a major figure in that field. So while he's had career longevity akin to his Dad did, a 3-man start-up and General Electric couldn't be more different.

And in case you're wondering, yes, Mojo Mom has led to some interesting paying gigs. I am going to work tomorrow for a stint of training at UNC's Kenan-Flagler Business School. I am convinced that I'd never have had the opportunity to work as a consultant at the business school if I hadn't taken a career diversion that went through the land of stay-at-home-Mom-hood, and led me to write my book. WWLHS about that?

3 Comments:

Anonymous Kristin Harling said...

Following our passions is what has led us into motherhood. Could there be a braver 'obsession' to follow, a job less exotic or less appreciated? Society is just now beginning to appreciate the value of motherhood. As a women's studies minor in college, I often struggled with picking a camp in the difference feminism vs. sameness feminism debate. For those who don't know, difference feminists believe that men and women are inherently different, and the key to feminism is to celebrate and honor that which is feminine. Sameness feminists believe that men and women are inherently the same, and the key to feminism is to show that women can do the same things men can do. Much of academia encourages these dichotomous choices. As a mother of two kids, founder of a non-profit and part time worker outside the home, I feel they are both true. The feminists of the 70's saw to it that the agenda of sameness feminism was advanced. It is our work to do the much more onerous job of shifting our entire culture (including the 70's feminists) to value those things traditionally considered feminine, particularly motherhood. I believe that I will do great things on this earth that will leave lasting impressions, but nothing I ever do will be more important or have a more lasting impression on this planet or this culture than being a mother. I see it less as a step along the way and more as an end in itself. Perhaps there will come a time when I see something other than mothering as my primary job, but I can't see it right now, and I am GLAD about that. There is nothing more fulfilling for me than being a mother, not to say I want to be with them all the time and do nothing else or that there is something wrong with someone who doesn't feel the way I do. We all benefit from our separate lives, but they are my primary focus. The old business model is dying away, and at the same time as our culture opens its eyes to the wisdom if its mothers, the technology available makes it easier for us to be the mothers we want to be and do the other work we are here to do, as well. This ties right in with bringing more value to other 'feminine' jobs, like the caring professions. The reason we do not, as a culture, value teaching, child care, elder care and nursing is the same reason we do not culturally value motherhood. It is also the same reason we have not been so respectful of the earth. There is a basic lack of respect for that which is feminine.
My mothering enhances every other thing I do. In addition to the practical skills gained like nonverbal communication, conflict resolution, multitasking, and anger management, I have gained emotional literacy skills of compassion, patience and unconditional love, not to mention all the things our children remind us of, like radical joy, serious play and living in the moment.
From what other job do we get those kinds of resume builders? Mothering is an amazing thing, and life is a beautiful winding path. Anyone burning a straight and narrow trail is missing a lot of beauty and joy. Well, I suppose that is plenty of my two cents.

12:45 AM  
Blogger Pecos Blue said...

Here here! Nice blog glad I stopped by.

9:42 AM  
Blogger PunditMom said...

I can guess what choice things she'd have to say, but I wouldn't write them here!

4:52 PM  

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