I was washing dishes when Linda Hirshman first entered the public eye last winter with her assertion that highly educated stay-at-home moms are wrecking civilization, so I missed all of the original kerfuffle. Fortunately, Steve was performing his monthly 5 hours of domestic servitude this morning so I was able to scrape the biscuit dough out of my hair long enough to catch her Op-Ed in today's Washington Post. And I am so glad I did because otherwise I might have gone to my unmarked, unlamented grave without ever reading the lines:
"...women who quit their jobs to stay home with their children were making a mistake... the tasks of housekeeping and child rearing were not worthy of the full time and talents of intelligent and educated human beings. They do not require a great intellect, they are not honored and they do not involve risks and the rewards that risk brings. Oh, and by the way, where were the dads when all this household labor was being distributed?"
As a proud, one might almost say Xtreme, housewife with, you know, degrees, I think I should be offended by this but... meh. Not so much. If you take the time to wade through the original article without getting all shrill, I think she is actually making interesting points. Supposing one was truly committed to capital F Feminism (I am not. I consider myself more of an egalitarian humanist) you can see how frustrating it must be to have the most highly qualified women in the country declining their seats in the Star Chamber in favor of dispensing Goldfish crackers. Imagine the disappointed looks on the faces of Justice O'Connor and Maggie Thatcher when their hand-picked successors for the World Council of 12 (brilliant women, most promising) tell them they are going to have to miss the April meeting AGAIN due to swimming lessons and chronic ear infections with the new baby. It's enough to make the intelligentsia weep. I mean, if big girls cried. Which they most emphatically do not.
My problem, however and small though it is, is with this statement: "child rearing [is] not worthy of the full time and talents of intelligent and educated human beings." As hard as I have tried to put my personal feelings for Patrick aside and look at it objectively, I just cannot get past this assertion. It makes children sound like a tomato plants. Do you know how hard it is to screw up a tomato plant? Very hard. Do you really need to just feed kids and water them and make sure no one backs over them with a mower? Isn't there more to raising a child than that or am I kidding myself? Toilets, sure. I can understand why the idea of a female PhD quitting her research position at the Mayo solely to clean bathrooms might be a societal loss, but should child-rearing and housework really be in the same sentence like that?
I like to think that I have a positive effect on Patrick. That the hours we spend together every day has had some role in creating the brilliant, polite, relaxed, funny kid that he is. More importantly, I like to think that he matters. Not just to me but in general. Would he be the same if I just sent him into the woods everyday? Did you see how hard I am trying not to slam daycare there by coming up with an absurd alternative to his being with me? Did I succeed?
I would like your views. Do you have children? If you do not but would like to, do you have a childcare plan? If you do, do you work (outside the home, I mean, jackassess. I know Mother's Work is Never Done)? Do you want to work or do you have to work or both? Do you like the childcare you use? Do you think there are ways daycare is better for the child than staying home with a parent (I can think of about ten. for both.) Do you consider yourself a feminist? Do you think women with specific training are obligated to use their skills for the greater good?
And here's another question, how long do children require full-time care? Five years? Eight, if you have more than one child? Why can't a woman take a career break and then come back? What is with the notion that once you become a Stay At Home Mother you have fallen into a bottomless pit never to return to the work force? My mother says that the nice thing about being a woman, if you play it right, is that you get to have all these different lives packed into one lifetime. Of course, my mother also says that nice girls never get so drunk they forget to take off their jewelry before collapsing face-first into bed, so what does she know?
Added: GAK! GAK! GAK! I was not saying... I did not mean to imply... GAK! "Why can't a woman take a career break... " what I meant by that is why does Ms. Hirschman's argument center on a notion that one is EITHER a full-time doctor or a stay-at-home mother, why can't a woman do both, just at different times?
Added still later: I am feeling stupid about a couple things. First, in saying that I am not a feminist I meant... well I meant that I was not LIKE THAT. All hostile and judgemental and (one assumes) flushed with indignation. But I could have just said that. Saying I am not a Feminist in this context makes me sound like those women in the 70s who did not support the ERA because they had heard it would eliminate the possibility of alimony. I apologize.
Second, I have no idea at all what I meant about how long children need full-time care. I was trying to get to the point that you can do a lot of different things in life but I wrote it badly.
OK, carry on.