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Friday, June 22, 2012

Women, Stop Oppressing Yourselves!

Being a mother isn't a real job -- and the men who run the world know it.

I really like The Atlantic. I feel like it publishes thoughtful, interesting articles on areas that interest me. Which is why when I read Elizabeth Wurtzel's piece "1% Wives Are Helping Kill Feminism and Make the War on Women Possible," I cringed. Because she's not just talking about one-percent wives. She's talking about any woman who chooses to stay home. Or doesn't she think I can read?

Wurtzel's point is that feminism is a movement meant to get women into the work force, and that anything else is not only against that aim, it's also stupid.

In the first paragraph, she says, "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."

Okay, so at least we know right off the bat that she's missing "the whole point," since "the whole point" of the feminist movement is to give women the freedom to make their own decisions about their own lives. Some women decided that they were losing their minds pushing mops and strollers all day, and went to work. Hurray! That's awesome! That doesn't mean that those who chose otherwise are wrong or against feminism.

If Wurtzel's stringent definition of "choice" were to be applied to abortion, this is what it would look like: Who can possibly take pro-choice seriously when it allows for everything, as long as women choose it. The whole point to begin with was that women were losing their minds pushing out babies with out a room or a salary of their own."

Just like pro-choice doesn't mean every woman who supports it must have abortions, feminism doesn't mean every woman who supports it has to work. It's her choice.

"Let's please be serious grown-ups," she says, "real feminists don't depend on men. Real feminists earn a living, have money and means of their own.

Funny, last time I checked, serious grown ups were able to respect the choices of others without condescension.

Oh, and speaking of condescension, here's a tip: In an article that's purportedly pro-feminism don't ever say this. "Men know better." That's game over, right there. Opinion invalidated, point missed.

 Wurtzel goes on to say, "If you can't pay your own rent, you are not an adult. You are a dependent."

Again, I must disagree. If this were even remotely true, it would mean that 10 years ago when I was getting black out drunk and partying every night, I was a real adult. And now that I'm responsible for two other human beings, and I'm not ruining my body and making bad decisions, I'm back to being a child.

Being an adult boils down to responsibility, not money.

On top of this, even getting married is considered weakness in Wurtzel's world.

"When it's come up, I have chosen not to get married. Over and over again, I have opted for my integrity and independence over what was easy or obvious. And I am happy. I don't want everyone to live like me, but I do expect educated and able-bodied women to be holding their own in the world of work"

I'll just be over here, staying at home, and wondering how marriage is easy and obvious. I'll also tackle how being single is tied in any way to my integrity or independence. This might take me a week or two. After all, I'm just a feeble-minded wife. And privileged. And apparently living in an awesome city.

"To be a stay-at-home mom is a privilege, and most of the housewives I have ever met -- none of whom do anything around the house -- live in New York City and Los Angeles, far from Peoria. Only in these major metropolises are there the kinds of jobs in finance and entertainment that allow for a family to live luxe on a single income."

I would like to introduce Ms. Wurtzel Hi, I'm Darlena Cunha. I live in Gainesville, Florida. I am a stay at home mom because the money I would earn for work in my field would not cover the cost of child care for twins. It's nice to meet you.

 And here's where my thoughtful disagreements end. At the risk of weakening this piece, I have one more response. To this statement:

"...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) ...Which is to say, something becomes a job when you are paid for it -- and until then, it's just a part of life."

I would like to say, please, go eff yourself. You are the problem, not me. You are the well-educated, highly paid lawyer who just wrote a 1,000-word article shaming women for their choices.

Now, admittedly, on the first definition of job is "a piece of work, especially a specific task done as part of the routine of one's occupation or for an agreed price." If one keeps reading, though, she'll find this definition is also valid, "anything a person is expected or obliged to do; duty; responsibility."

The definition of work is pretty cut and dry. "Exertion or effort directed to produce or accomplish something; labor; toil."

I'm pretty sure neither education nor money gives someone the right to make up her own definitions of words. Words have meanings. That's why we can use them so effectively.

 In conclusion, this is wrong.

"Feminism should not be inclusive, and like most terms that are meaningful, it should mean something. It should mean equality."

The point of feminism is to be inclusive, and by including all choices and a woman's ability to make her own choice for her own "serious grown up" self, we will achieve equality.

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  1. "But let's face it: [Being a mother] is not a selective position."

    I saw this addressed really well in a piece of fiction I read awhile ago. Character A asked a woman how she could have walked away from her child all those years ago and the woman replied, "I thought that anybody could be a mother, but I was the only one who could do the work in my field. By the time I realized I had confused the two, it was too late."

    As for everything else, Wurtzel strikes me as childish. She picks pieces of things that fit her belief system and throws those out without really thinking about the bigger picture.

  2. I actually think Wurtzel had a germ of a point under there. Wealthy, educated, well-connected women who have their children with nannies all the time so that she can go get pedicures and shop? I don't know how many of these women actually exist - I have no access to that cohort, there may be 10 of them in the whole world for all I know - but part of her essay addresses them, and I think it's fair to say on the macro level, they are bad for feminism. These are exactly the kind of women who could be taking on leadership roles and changing the culture at the top within organizations, but instead they're content to indulge themselves. There is something inherently childish in that. If that means I'm judging their choices, I'm okay with that. I think we (women, as a group) shut down conversations far too easily because we're scared of being perceived as judgmental.

    Of course, I don't think it should be illegal for a woman to make a choice I don't agree with (which is why I don't think the comparison to abortion really holds up - nobody is seriously proposing compulsory work for women, while abortion rights seem to be eroding by the hour), nor do I mean it as a personal comment on the state of her soul. A bad choice, even a childish choice, does not make a bad person. I can also acknowledge that other people don't have the same goals that I do. Something being "bad for feminism" might not matter to another woman, and that's okay. It's not an accusation, you know? A lot of people seem to have read this article and interpreted it as, "you are personally bad for feminism," and I don't think that's true at all. But that's where I think I differ from Wurtzel, obviously. She's willing to tear apart someone who makes a choice she wouldn't make. For her, "bad for feminism" is also "bad," in all senses, all the way down. People are reasonable to read what she has said as a personal attack.

    And, she also utterly demolishes her credibility with ridiculous sweeping claims like "women who can't pay their rent are dependents." This is someone who has apparently had to turn down marriage proposals (plural!) from the 1%, so maybe we can't expect her to have contact with normal human beings. But, I work a full-time job that requires a college degree, and I could not pay the rent on my own if my husband left tomorrow. Our current rent is more than I take home, and believe me, there is nothing luxurious about this place. I'd have to downsize to a studio apartment to make it on my own, and even then money would still be very tight. If I was alone with the kids? I literally do not know how I would survive unless my husband was paying a good chunk of child support. Wurtzel clearly has no idea what housing prices are like relative to incomes. Granted, I live in a high-cost area, but this is where the jobs are. I'm sure I could live unemployed in Detroit for pretty cheaply.

    And, as you mention, the cost of daycare for two kids often exceeds an average salary. It is a logical short-term solution for a woman to stay home, given this. It's not shirking adulthood, it's not dependence, it's simple economics, and I don't think I'm being hyperbolic for saying this - lack of affordable childcare is not just bad for feminism, it is a goddamn crisis for anyone who cares about women. We do not actually have choices if we can't afford daycare! But if everyone Wurtzel knows is rolling in money, I guess she can make sweeping statements about SAHMs without realizing she sounds like a total idiot.



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