Linda Hirshman wrote what seemed to me to be quite a dreadful op-ed for the Washington Post over the weekend, defending her claim that stay-at-home mothers are betraying the feminist movement, and (I really don’t think I’m exaggerating here) suggesting that her critics were dominated by a congeries of vomit-eulogizing housewives and Christian fundamentalists. And, which I suspect was the main point of the exercise, touting her new book (Hirshman’s professed surprise at the controversy that she’d created didn’t ring true at all to me – I read her original article as a quite deliberate exercise in bomb-throwing). I don’t want to start a discussion over the merits of Hirshman’s arguments; I’m quite sure that this would degenerate into the usual bloodbath . What I’d like to do instead is something that I tried a while back on Israel/Palestine issues without much success – to have a meta-debate about why it is that this is such an emotive topic both for women who have decided to stay at home to raise kids and women who’ve gone to work instead (I note that the element of choice here is mostly only present for middle class and upper middle class women, but that’s another debate). So to be clear – what I’m interested in is why the bombthrowers like Hirshman (and Caitlin Flanagan on the other side of the debate) have become the dominant voices. I’m not interested in back-and-forths about the merits of the two sides of the argument (we’ve had that in response to quite innocuous previous posts such as this one and it hasn’t been very helpful) – rather in argument about why this is such a loaded and painful subject matter in the first place, for women who have made either choice. I’ll keep an eye on the comments section and – be warned – will vigorously delete comments which seem to be wandering off-topic in an unhelpful direction, which seem interested in laying the blame on one side of the debate etc etc. People may sincerely hold such views, and may even be right under the gaze of Eternity, but for the purposes of this argument, I’d like to take these claims as being stipulated. One place to start is this FT article (likely subject to rapid linkrot) from the week before last, which concludes:
The real problem, it seems to me, is the notion that we can’t all be right if we are making different choices. My mother taught me never to say anything un-pleasant about the food other people chose to put on their plates. It might not look good to me but that doesn’t matter – it’s not my plate.
Why does it matter so much what is on other people’s plates? Why do we so often take other people’s choices as being value-judgements on our own in this area of social life? Have at it.