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Jun 19 2012

Are Stay-at-Home Moms Really Killing Feminism?

By at 1:39 pm

rich mom pushing expensive strollerBeing a “real feminist” is apparently when you write an article for a national publication deliberately denigrating other women, and get paid to do so.

That was what I learned from reading Elizabeth Wurtzel’s essay in The Atlantic, “1% Wives Are Helping Kill Feminism And Make The War On Women Possible.” The essay is fairly mean-spirited. Here, for example, is the first paragraph:

Most of all, feminism is pretty much a nice girl who really, really wants so badly to be liked by everybody — ladies who lunch, men who hate women, all the morons who demand choice and don’t understand responsibility — that it has become the easy lay of social movements. I am going to smack the next idiot who tells me that raising her children full time — by which she really means going to Jivamukti classes and pedicure appointments while the nanny babysits — is her feminist choice. Who can possibly take feminism seriously when it allows everything, as long as women choose it? The whole point to begin with was that women were losing their minds pushing mops and strollers all day without a room or a salary of their own.

The piece would be more potent–and meaningful–if it were a well-reasoned argument for the importance of economic equality within the institutions of marriage or domestic partnership. But instead of being that kind of positive fare, Wurtzel–a corporate attorney who graduated from Ramaz, Harvard, and Yale and also wrote Prozac Nation–opted for the attention-grabbing approach of going negative. She reiterates again and again that “there really is only one kind of equality” and that means women need to work.

Being a mother isn’t really work. Yes, of course, it’s something — actually, it’s something almost every woman at some time does, some brilliantly and some brutishly and most in the boring middle of making okay meals and decent kid conversation. But let’s face it: It is not a selective position. A job that anyone can have is not a job, it’s a part of life, no matter how important people insist it is (all the insisting is itself overcompensation).

At least one commenter complimented Wurtzel’s “testicular fortitude” in writing this piece. Irony, anyone?

Full disclosure: I prefer to define myself by my brain rather than my relationship with my vagina. I believe very strongly that women are the equal of men, and moreover, that any distinction valuing men and women differently, regardless of how much money they make, should be nonexistent. What many call “feminism” I simply call “equality and “humanity.”

Just like men, I feel, women should and must be respected as individuals–both in the home and in the workplace. That, I believe, is the construct upon which true equality should be based. That, I naively believed, was regardless of their class or color or creed or choice of occupation.

And now, Ms. Wurtzel, in addition to her full-time paid job, has taken up the mantle of demeaning women herself.

For the record, I am that most odious of beings to Ms. Wurtzel. I’m an Ivy League educated mother who opted out of her law career to find a much lower paying job as a journalist/writer in order to be at home with my three (four in October) children.

There was plenty of guilt involved in that decision, but it was mainly guilt about not making as significant a financial contribution to the household as I otherwise would by working outside it. My family and I believe, however, that the contribution I am making to my family is just as great, if not greater, than the contribution I would make to the legal profession. Unquestionably, I’m privileged to be able to make that choice at all.

But Wurtzel seems incapable of attributing value to anything if it doesn’t have a dollar sign before it. Feminists would certainly disapprove of valuing women on the basis of the size of their breasts–so why is it okay to value women on the basis of the size of their paychecks?

Wurtzel hammers home the point that mothering children is not a “job,” largely because it goes unpaid. On the one hand, I could put forward all the studies that show how much one would have to pay external people to do the same things that a mother at home does.

And on the other hand, I could simply say this: I don’t really care whether or not Wurtzel thinks mothering children is a job. All I can tell you is that I’m damn sure that it’s hard work. It’s way beyond “okay meals and decent kid conversation.” But then again, Wurtzel wouldn’t know that–while I’ve done her work, she’s never done mine.

It’s hard, worthwhile, and lifelong work to accomplish what I plan to by investing my life in this mothering “business”: creating good, honest, articulate, sensitive children. Ideally, if I do my job right, they will be children who will grow into adults who will argue points they believe in with respect for those who disagree with them, rather than self-congratulatory condescension and vitriol.

All of this bitchy bickering, of course, is beside the real point, which is this: Is the solution to the American dilemma of the “war on women” really to tear down women who stay at home with their children? I’d argue that the solution to the war on women actually resides in precisely its opposite–reevaluating the paradigms that currently operate in the American workforce and working, whether from a home or a desk, to change them.

As a corporate lawyer, for example, I quickly learned that “paternity leave” was nothing more than a joke. It was a sleight of hand meant to exemplify corporate benevolence–facilitating a man’s ability to be home with his partner who had a baby for two weeks, and then doing nothing whatsoever to facilitate his relationship with his child going forward. Wouldn’t lobbying, whether on a large or small scale, for corporations and public institutions to actively encourage equal or shared paternity/maternity leave be more effective in espousing the cause of gender equality? Wouldn’t this empower women across all classes to be able to make better childcare decisions–the decisions I’m able to make, personally, due to my own situation and that others aren’t be able to–for themselves and their families?

Similarly, while practicing law, I learned that there was another name for “part time work” at my law firms, an option offered to those women who wanted to continue to practice law after the birth of a child. It was called “part time pay.” In other words, there was the implicit acknowledgment that women who opted for this choice would be paid a set salary for working a set number of days a week, but the billable hours on any given case or project, due to the law firm dynamic, don’t respect part time schedules. So there was the universal acknowledgment that a lawyer’s hours have an unfortunate tendency, due to that whole “billable hours” dynamic, to overflow into the unreasonable territory fairly quickly. So wouldn’t ending the practice of billable hours in favor of another pay model in the legal profession facilitate the ability to live a more reasonable, family-friendly life in the practice of law?

No, because it’s much easier to write a piece that gets your name out there–a piece that uses inflammatory language and that triggers more insulting diatribes than interesting dialogues.

Congratulations on your essay’s publication, Ms. Wurtzel. Don’t spend the whole check for the piece in one place, lest your choices be judged–and keep patting yourself on the back for your integrity.


Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on Kveller are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

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