Go Back to Work-Or Else

More than half of the most educated women in America have stopped working full-time. Author Linda Hirshman calls that mass career suicide. Agree or disagree, you’ll want to read this.

By Debra Dickerson

LH: Don’t cover up gender inequalities with the mommy mystique of, you know, climbing trees and eating apples and being there for every boo-boo! I raised my daughter and stepdaughter with great attention. But I knew what a world without good work felt like. I wonder if women have forgotten what it was like when you didn’t have a prayer of landing a well-paid, interesting job.

MORE: Most people would say the feminist revolution worked, and you’re saying that it didn’t.

LH: I’m saying it was incomplete. It did a huge amount of good. My god, there were only seven women in my law school class in 1969. But the revolution didn’t finish — because it wasn’t radical enough. It didn’t address the family in an adequately revolutionary way.

Questions About Feminism and Sexism

MORE: Feminists pushed for change…

LH: Yes. But they blinked. When Phyllis Schlafly and the conservative cultural campaign stared them down and played the family card, they blinked.

MORE: Hasn’t sexism caused women to leave the workforce?

LH: I’m not an idiot. The toxic, sexist workplace exists. And it plays a role in what’s going on.

MORE: So this "choice" to stay home is a false choice?

LH: Staying home is the path of least resistance. People don’t like to fight. But highly educated and experienced women have the rare, precious opportunity to be the founders of a new, more just society. What if Thomas Jefferson had said, "It’s too hard"?

MORE: If someone else can pay the rent, though — there’s an allure in that.

LH: It’s a corrupt bargain. He works 60 hours a week and gets all the honor and the power, and he pays for you to stay home and get all of the repetitious physical tasks. The husbands are not villains. The grooms I interviewed from the wedding announcements without exception said they wanted their wives to do what their wives wanted to do. They’d married very accomplished women.

MORE: Women who were still figuring out how to have careers. Your book includes rules, including one that says you should work for money, not for meaning or art. Why rules?

LH: I think people need rules. It’s hard to make good decisions when you’re under pressure and the voice of ideology is loud in your ears — when you’re at the kids’ school and everyone’s looking at you disapprovingly because you didn’t make your own cupcakes. You shouldn’t have to do the full analysis each time the question comes up.

MORE: Why should women whose children are grown care about any of this?

LH: To say that a woman in her 40s or 50s has already made all the meaningful decisions in her life is really wrong. I’m 62 and about to publish a major book. But beyond that, we should care about justice. Women have stopped fighting injustice. That’s part of what it means to be human.

Originally published in MORE magazine, July/August 2006.

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