Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Biffing the Obvious

One would think that, given the harsh lessons of recent history, the Left would have yielded, if ever so slightly, to the allure of reality. While it is hard to deride at least some of the Left's goals, as soon as the means to those ends, no matter their apparent advisability, involves recourse to collectivism and denial of human nature,

In Homeward Bound, Linda Hirshman derides what she terms "choice feminism," the notion that women can, and should, choose how to live their own lives.

In Hirshman's view, choice feminism is just fine only so long as it leads to the correct -- collectively speaking -- choice. She "found that among the educated elite, who are the logical heirs of the agenda of empowering women, feminism has largely failed in its goals." (As a side note, the moment a word processor blows a logic-gate aneurysm when faced with such a sentence, will constitute the onset of machine intelligence, Turing test be damned.)

Unfortunately, according to Hirshman, the unreconstructed family is the true barrier to the onslaught of women in elite jobs.

As a result of feminist efforts -- and larger economic trends -- the percentage of women, even of mothers in full- or part-time employment, rose robustly through the 1980s and early ’90s.

But then the pace slowed. The census numbers for all working mothers leveled off around 1990 and have fallen modestly since 1998. In interviews, women with enough money to quit work say they are “choosing” to opt out. Their words conceal a crucial reality: the belief that women are responsible for child-rearing and homemaking was largely untouched by decades of workplace feminism. (emphasis added)

Of course, the belief about that belief conceals a glaringly obvious conclusion: the belief is not mere belief, but reality itself. It is a singularly puzzling fact that many of those claiming Evolution as ground truth possess the most astonishing antibodies to its implications. Primary among them, in this case, is that essence of stubbornness: Human Nature.

In an attempt to discern, without a hint of irony, the lives of women most able to "[reap] feminism's promise of opportunity" she was shocked, shocked to discover her selected covey of professionally elite brides (as culled from the NYT marriage announcements), nearly without exception, chose to raise their own children, rather than outsource that task in favor of professional advancement.

I'm sure even the casual progressive reader can see the problem here: "30 years after feminism started filling the selective schools with women, the elite workplaces should be proportionately female. They are not."

The problem is with choice feminism, "because feminism wasn’t radical enough: It changed the workplace but it didn’t change men, and, more importantly, it didn’t fundamentally change how women related to men."

Great as liberal feminism was, once it retreated to choice the movement had no language to use on the gendered ideology of the family. Feminists could not say, “Housekeeping and child-rearing in the nuclear family is not interesting and not socially validated. Justice requires that it not be assigned to women on the basis of their gender and at the sacrifice of their access to money, power, and honor.

This is a Jaw meet Floor with loud, anvil-like clang assertion. Nowhere in the article does Ms. Hirshman ever begin to acknowledge the possibility that men and women have unique natures, stubbornly resistant to the blandishments of those who are certain how society should look, because they know how people should think.

Here is where an intellectually honest philosopher would pose societal counterexamples to the patriarchal family and traditional gender roles. Or, failing that virtually impossible task, because history is singularly bereft of such examples, said philosopher would surely make a stab at why this universal phenomena does not reflect some essential components of human nature (See Evolution, antibodies to).

Ms. Hirshman attempts no such thing, yielding instead to the Left's sectarian preference for assertion over analysis, implicitly assuming the meaning of terms such as "flourishing" and "just":

Here’s the feminist moral analysis that choice avoided: The family -- with its repetitious, socially invisible, physical tasks -- is a necessary part of life, but it allows fewer opportunities for full human flourishing than public spheres like the market or the government. This less-flourishing sphere is not the natural or moral responsibility only of women. Therefore, assigning it to women is unjust. Women assigning it to themselves is equally unjust.

(Also, Ms. Hirshman yields to the Left's other reflexive rhetorical flourish -- passive voice. Note the use of the word "assigning." The structure of the sentence completely elides the agent, and, in so doing, completely avoids what is the crux her position. Where passive voice is not simply bad writing, it is nearly always dishonest.)

What is her solution to a problem for which she has given no evidence of understanding at anything remotely approaching a human level?

... feminists will have to start offering young women not choices and not utopian dreams but solutions they can enact on their own. Prying women out of their traditional roles is not going to be easy. It will require rules -- rules like those in the widely derided book The Rules, which was never about dating but about behavior modification.

Wow. "Start offering ... require[d] rules." Once stripping the sentences of their overburden, through ellipses and brackets, the Left's inner self is just as ugly as it ever was.

But why is choice feminism such a bad, very bad thing? Because

... these choices are bad for women individually. A good life for humans includes the classical standard of using one’s capacities for speech and reason in a prudent way, the liberal requirement of having enough autonomy to direct one’s own life, and the utilitarian test of doing more good than harm in the world. Measured against these time-tested standards, the expensively educated upper-class moms will be leading lesser lives. At feminism’s dawning, two theorists compared gender ideology to a caste system. To borrow their insight, these daughters of the upper classes will be bearing most of the burden of the work always associated with the lowest caste: sweeping and cleaning bodily waste. Not two weeks after the Yalie flap, the Times ran a story of moms who were toilet training in infancy by vigilantly watching their babies for signs of excretion 24-7. They have voluntarily become untouchables.

It is an astonishing achievement to write a paragraph as ugly, ignorant and dismissive as this. Ms. Hirshman appears utterly incapable of comprehending the very real possibility that, when given an actual, you know, choice, actual women just might view "flourishing" in an entirely different way than she.

What this article also demonstrates beyond any possibility of contradiction that the moment someone dons the crown of "liberal" or "progressive," critical thought has come to a dead halt.

Never mind the further proof, as if such was needed, of just how anti-human the Left really is.


Blogger Bret said...

I don't know Skipper, your sound a little harsh to me. In an ideal world, perhaps women would be equally represented at every level corporations, academia, and government. Men would be equally represented in childcare, etc.

The fact that things aren't ideal is perhaps unfortunate. It may well represent a loss of range of choices for women (and to some extent, men).

The author is simply lamenting that and wishes things could be more ideal. The fact that she has no realistic solutions isn't surprising, since there are none and won't be until at least after babies are all developed in and birthed from testtubes.

June 28, 2006 5:51 PM  
Blogger Oroborous said...

It's hard to know how finely to shred Linda R. Hirshman - while her absurd ideas can be literally disintigrated, and she herself is obviously deranged and easy to rebut, there's probably nothing more that needs to be said.

Who would take this tripe seriously ?
Only fellow travellers in her warped sub-culture, and they have no influence on politics or popular culture anymore.
It's more freakshow than movement.

Suffice it to say that Linda Hirshman retired as the Allen/Berenson Distinguished Visiting Professor at Brandeis University, so she definitely meets her own standards for "the educated elite", the "expensively educated upper-class" - and yet, if we apply her own criteria to her life, we find that she has failed to "[use] one’s capacities for speech and reason in a prudent way", and has therefore failed to live "a good life", instead settling for a "lesser life".

She might as well have had some kids, since now she has ashes for a legacy, and no progeny.
But hey, at least her self-esteem appears to be intact, so she has that hollow prize to keep her warm at night.

June 28, 2006 9:54 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

I cannot describe how little time I, a mere reporter at a remote, provincial newspaper, spend worrying about the makeup of the elite workplace.

But I do marvel that feminists, and not only ones of the obtuse version presented here, have not questioned more the fact that while their participation in the workforce was rising from around 50 to 75%, men's participation was dropping from around 95 to 75%.

Such a deal.

June 29, 2006 12:21 AM  
Blogger Brit said...

Fully flourishing is overrated anyway. I'm a bloke and I haven't done it in ages.

In fact, I think the last time was on the Bakerloo line between Piccadilly Circus and Charing Cross, and I only just escaped the policeman.

June 29, 2006 1:40 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

You can't do that at work either, Brit. Can you say "sexual harassment"?

But I don't that's the kind of flourishing she's talking about. I don't get all this worship of careerism. Whatever it is, it isn't flourishing, unless you enjoy playing chimpanzee status games.

June 29, 2006 7:30 AM  
Blogger Brit said...

I read somewhere that the most sucessful careerists have virtually identical psychological profiles to serial killers (serial killing being another field where women still lag disgracefully behind the men).

June 29, 2006 9:10 AM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...


In an ideal world, perhaps women would be equally represented at every level corporations, academia, and government. Men would be equally represented in childcare, etc.

That, and Ms. Hirshman, remind me of something I once heard in a physics class: There is no such thing as a good theory that doesn't work in practice.

Appeals to an ideal world are as futile as, well, appeals to an ideal world.

That things aren't ideal is more than unfortunate, it is inevitable. Unlike, say, Intelligent Design, where anything is possible, Evolution imposes real constraints on both body and mind.

Which is why I my irony meters routinely shatter when faced with people who both embrace evolution while denying every one of its implications.

Humans have an astonishingly prolonged dependency, the effect of which caused women to be the primary care givers in all known societies. While this may well have been to some degree a victory of necessity over choice, it is extremely difficult to conclude that necessity did not leave some mark on women's, and men's brains.

She doesn't lament that irradicable departure from the ideal; rather, Hirshman acts as if it is simply a patriarchical imposition, which can be dispatched with through the application of progressive thinking.

That is idiocy of the very first order.

She badly needs to read "Mother Nature" by Sara Blaffer Hrdy.

Unless, of course, she shares the progressive allergy to reality.


It is impossible to shred Ms. Hirshman finely enough. Two recent articles in Slate discussed this, both pro and con. Neither came close to mentioning human nature.

Also, a recent piece by Ms. Hirshman in the WaPo was far better at ad hominem attack than considering the possibility that her appeal to collective decision making is demonstrable nonsense on stilts.

My wife sent an email to a female friend of hers several months ago. In it, she admitted she once felt that men were in the cat bird seat.

No longer. She expressed pity at the superficial and constrained lives men, by their very nature, lead.

June 29, 2006 1:43 PM  
Blogger Duck said...

Much of this problem can be traced to the fact that men, when patriarchy was still in full swing, used their priviledged status to make it seem as if everything men did was inherently superior to everything women did. Which it obviously wasn't.

The whold idea of careers is a modern invention. Before that there was only work - work inside the home and work outside the home. Women dominated the former, mainly because that is where the young children were kept, and men had to be shooed out because they would only get in the way of childrearing. This didn't stop women from also taking on backbreaking work outside the home, whether in the fields or elsewhere. Work was never glamorous, never led to personal discovery or "flourishing". It was just a part of the brute necessities of life.

The Reformation brought about the Protestant Work Ethic, and the idea that work success reflected on spiritual achievement or "chosen-ness". I think you can trace the whole idea of careerism, or work as glamorous or conferring status, to this development.

Hirschman is upset that some women have "changed the rules" on her. Here she has built up all these status points, these markers of achievement in the fulfillment arts, and these other women are devaluing her achievements with their "sour grapes" talk. You can see her dilemma, can't you? She's a victim of other women's choices.

June 29, 2006 2:18 PM  
Blogger jwd said...

Duck - you make a great point:

The whold idea of careers is a modern invention. Before that there was only work - work inside the home and work outside the home. Women dominated the former, mainly because that is where the young children were kept, and men had to be shooed out because they would only get in the way of childrearing. This didn't stop women from also taking on backbreaking work outside the home, whether in the fields or elsewhere. Work was never glamorous, never led to personal discovery or "flourishing". It was just a part of the brute necessities of life.

I don't understand what's so offensive about a woman wanting to raise children, or be a "homemaker." I've never understood why anybody - male or female - would want to have kids, only to have somebody else raise them - i.e. daycare, nannies, etc.

June 29, 2006 7:11 PM  
Blogger Brit said...


True, but you're getting your Brits and your Brets mixed up.

June 30, 2006 1:04 AM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...



June 30, 2006 4:22 AM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

Women dominated the former, mainly because that is where the young children were kept, and men had to be shooed out because they would only get in the way of childrearing.

Damn straight! I've been planning a big book for years on how men have struggled for centuries to contribute 50/50 to childrearing and housecare, only to be shooed outside repeatedly. Nothing for them to do but go and amuse themselves hoeing the back forty. I mean, what do women want? And don't get me started on how that new-fangled Protestantism invented careers and lured women away from home and hearth. No doubt about it, if you want someone to blame for the excesses of modern radical feminism, look to religion!

June 30, 2006 4:59 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

They were shooed out not because they preferred to raise children instead of chop trees, but because they might get hungry and eat the children.

The point I was trying to make with my questionable socio-historical accounts is that in the past women and men weren't fightig with each other to see who got to work in the fields. I'm reminded of a National Geographic article about some primitive tribe in New Guniea or the Andaman Islands or some godawful place where the women did all the work, in the hut and outside the hut, and the men sat around in a "men's only" hut and smoked some hallucinogenic weed all day. The only "work" they ever did was go off and ambush someone from another tribe and steal his women or animals. How did we get to the stage where men and women fight each other to see who will work?

June 30, 2006 7:37 AM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

Actually, there may indeed be some vague connection between Protestant theology and the modern feminist focus on career as the ultimate validation, as opposed to jobs (drudge/duty you do to make other things happen)or vocations, which imply service and sacrifice for others. Nothing brings out my inner marxist more than to listen to upper middle class lawyers and judges discuss the "career potential" of a depressed separated woman who married after high school, raised kids and works in some clerical or technicians job. They can easily convince themselves that with some night school and a little consciousness-raising she could corner the market in silver futures or take over GM if she just applied herself.

I think most men are a little confused by the feminist inclination to see career success as the ultimate in self-fulfillment, especially as many men who think that way tend to the psychopathic. OTOH, I imagine those New Guinean guys just loved to whine to one another about how good their womenfolk had it and how sitting around all day blowing dope was a lot tougher than the women thought.

June 30, 2006 8:47 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

Boumi Emecheta, author of 'The Slave Girl' and other novels I have not read. 'Slave Girl' was a fine book.

Nigerian woman with five children, abandoned in London, worked as chambermaid, rose at 4 am each day to write novels.

An exceptional woman, to be sure.

June 30, 2006 9:48 AM  
Blogger Bret said...

Hey Skipper wrote: "Evolution imposes real constraints on both body and mind."

Well, I was hoping that since you confused Brit and me, that Brit would make my arguments for me, but since you got that straightened out, I guess I'm on my own.

There are no doubt constraints on who we could become. But who we are and who we could become are not necessarily the same.

At one time there were slave. The situation wasn't ideal. It also wasn't inevitable.

Now women have a glass situation. The situation isn't ideal. Yet your certain that it's inevitable?

How do you know which part is genetic and which part memetic? Which part is immutable and which part changeable?

June 30, 2006 10:20 AM  
Blogger Oroborous said...

It's actually not that hard to believe that a depressed separated woman who married after high school, raised kids and works in some clerical or technicians job could do a better job of running GM than the clowns who've done it for the past ten years, but I do admit that it's a special case.

June 30, 2006 12:18 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...


I wrote a column last week about washing machines making a similar point.

We bought a washer and dryer from New Zealand. Eat that, Detroit.

June 30, 2006 2:38 PM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...


You cannot possibly experience the world the way a woman does.

It is singularly odd that the one thing that makes us human, the brain, is subject to so many gender specific influences, yet many conclude there are no consequent differences.

Men will never aspire to be kindergarten teachers.

No society, ever, has ever had men as the primary care givers.

It is inevitable that women will have a different take on what "flourishing" means than men.

Denying that, as Ms. Hirshman does, is symptomatic of the MAL's disconnect from reality.

July 02, 2006 1:04 PM  

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