Somehow I missed this public argument between Jeremy Adam Smith and Linda Hirshman when it happened several years ago.. how? Anyway, with all this leaning in and out the argument is as fresh as if I cooked it up this morning for you.
So what’s really behind Hirshman’s attack on caregiving fathers? Dads like me and Rebeldad are not really her target. Instead she is attacking the very idea of caregiving, a position ably dissected by my colleague Chip. Hirshman has argued that if taking care of children “were the most important thing a human being could do, then why are no men doing it?” I’d like to turn that around: if no men are doing it, Linda, then why are you attacking me and Rebeldad? It is as if she finds the very fact of our existence threatening–as do a lot of people.
In fact, men take care of children every day, which in her masculinist mind might make childcare a more worthy activity. But instead of allowing the reality of male caregiving to modify her ideas, she simply denies that it exists. To Linda, childcare isn’t something to be shared equally and happily between men and women; that’s not her agenda. Instead childcare is an unpleasant, undesirable task that the privileged classes should outsource to women who have less education, less money, and fewer options. I don’t see how this is going to make the world a better place.
I’m totally on Jeremy’s side with this argument because
he’s a friend and he’s right, Hirshman has missed some critical steps in her thinking about feminism and maternal desire (though I still appreciate some of her contributions), but no doubt about it, the woman can write a rather snappy jab.
The Dialectical Smith didn’t even stay home a year, but lived exactly the life the mommy activists dream of. He posts: “You know, my wife and I tried [both working part time] (she . . . is fortunate to have a unionized part-time teaching job that provides full health care) and I must say that it was extremely difficult to maintain . . . I’m interviewing for jobs. For our family, it might better for one of us to work full-time while the other stays home . . . I’m sort of thinking that maybe it’s my wife’s turn to stay home.” A few hours later: “Well, for us the issue is resolved: yesterday I accepted a full-time job . . . Poof! I’m no longer a stay at home dad and now it’s my wife’s turn to stay home — actually, she’s still thinking about whether she wants to go back to work. I hope she doesn’t; I want her to have time with the boy.”
Poof. I’d hate to be the woman with the desk next to Dialectical Dad, taking family leave while he minds the workplace.
Further on the issue of neo-liberal economics and its hold over feminism, the discussion is currently getting quite a head of steam on it (I’ve written about it a lot over the years, too) and here are two worthwhile articles on the matter.
“Feminism’s Tipping Point: Who wins from leaning in?” by Kate Losse in Dissent:
The fact that Lean In is really waging a battle for work and against unmonetized life is the reason pregnancy, or the state of reproducing life, looms as the corporate Battle of Normandy in Lean In. Pregnancy, by virtue of the body’s physical focus on human reproduction, is humanity’s last, biological stand against the corporate demand for workers’ continuous labor. For Sandberg, pregnancy must be converted into a corporate opportunity: a moment to convince a woman to commit further to her job. Human life as a competitor to work is the threat here, and it must be captured for corporate use, much in the way that Facebook treats users’ personal activities as a series of opportunities to fill out the Facebook-owned social graph.
By arguing that women should express their feminism by remaining in the workplace at all costs, Sandberg encourages women to maintain a commitment to the workplace without encouraging the workplace to maintain a commitment to them. And by launching a feminist platform, Sandberg is able to contain the broader threat that a feminist critique poses to Facebook’s business, simultaneously generating more power for herself and her organization — Silicon Valley “revolution” at its finest. This maneuver, as I learned in my years at Facebook, is how the game is played, and both Sandberg and Zuckerberg play it well. The question the rest of us have to ask is, what does the game do for those not at or near the top? Are workers playing or are we getting played?
“Hijacking feminism” by Catherine Rottenberg in Aljazeera:
This, unfortunately, is how the “truly liberated” woman of the 21st century is increasingly being construed. What is particularly troubling about this feminist moment – especially since both women espouse liberal ideals – is exactly how little emphasis either Slaughter or Sandberg ultimately places on equal rights, justice or emancipation as the end goals for feminism.
The move from a discourse of equal rights and social justice to “internalising the revolution” or, in Slaughter’s case, “a national happiness project” is predicated on the erasure or exclusion of the vast majority of women. Put differently, the feminist project these women advocate does not and cannot take into account the reality of the vast majority of US women. A national project it is not.