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1/29/2007
You've Come a Long Way, Maybe?
An article in the Washington Post yesterday really pissed me off. You've Come a Long Way, Maybe, by Linda Hirshman, debated whether or not women will elect Hillary Clinton to the White House in 2008 and skewered womankind along the way.

Linda Hirshman is, to say the least, a polarizing personality. Most recently, she's turned her poison pen toward the stay at home mom. In her book, Get to Work: A Manifesto for Women of the World, Hirshman is extremely critical of well educated women who opt out of the work force. Hirshman believes that women have a duty to remain in the work force, low quality daycare and family unfriendly company policies be damned, and to force their husbands to step up to the plate. Until then, Hirshman argues that women will continue to create their own glass ceiling and hurt the feminist cause. While I commend her thoughts about forcing men to truly shoulder their share of the burden at home, Hirshman rarely veils her contempt for women who have chosen a different path from hers. While I have not chosen to stay at home, I can still see the fork in the path that led me to my chosen life. That being said, I should have known to relax or perhaps have a bottle glass of wine before reading her article. Ms. Hirshman did not disappoint and, although I did not check my blood pressure after reading the article, I could feel that little vein in my forehead throbbing away.

Ms. Hirshman's latest article basically discusses why Hillary Clinton won't be able to rely on women's votes to win the 2008 presidential election. Her theory is that women do not vote rationally. To "prove" her theory, she surveys six well educated white women who are stay at home moms, supposedly the soccer mom demographic. The results of her survey?
A 49-year-old former public relations executive in suburban Maryland told me she votes the political agenda she learned from her lefty father. She reads The Washington Post, but there are no books on her bedside table. She counts on her husband to tell her what's in the Nation magazine and on the Web.

A 36-year-old former financial sales executive considers herself an independent, reads only the Style and Weekend sections of The Post and the Marketplace and Personal Journal sections of the Wall Street Journal, and also counts on her husband, a Republican, to tell her what's interesting in the rest of the paper.

A former human rights activist told me that she still reads the New York Times, skims the Economist, and gathers political information from PBS's "News Hour," a local broadcast from the BBC and from her church.

Neither the former teacher nor the retired television reporter read any newspapers at all.

There are some constants. Most of the women read People and Real Simple magazines. They all listen to news on the car radio, mostly National Public Radio. And almost all their full-time working husbands consume immeasurably more political information than they do ("He reads 10 times what I do," one told me), reading news magazines and political Web sites and bringing home political information from their jobs. The women gather little information from their almost exclusively female society of other stay-at-home moms.

You can practically see the disdain she has for these women dripping from the page. But it doesn't end there, she also compares the female vote to a high school popularity contest where we apparently vote for the best jock or the guy with the prettiest hair. She goes on to quote statistics:
To this day -- as even my D.C. area correspondents seemed to confirm -- women just aren't as interested in politics as men are. The Center for Civic Education recently reported that American women are less likely than men to discuss politics, contribute to campaigns, contact public officials or join a political organization. About 42 percent of men told University of Michigan researchers last year that "they are 'very interested' in government and public affairs, compared with 34 percent of women."

Worse, women consistently score 10 to 20 percentage points lower than men on studies of political knowledge, regardless of their education or income level. Studies dating to 1997 have shown that fewer women than men can name their senator, or know one First Amendment right. They even know less about the Supreme Court's decision in Roe v. Wade than men do.

As a 2006 study by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press put it, American adults live in "A World of His and Hers." Two million more men than women read either Time or Newsweek; more men listen to radio news and talk radio, read the paper and get news online. Only broadcast television news plays to more women than men, and a lot of that is TV news magazines and morning shows. Not only do fewer women read the newspaper, but almost half the women surveyed said they "sometimes do not follow international news because of excessive coverage of wars and violence."
What was the point of Ms. Hirshman's detailed insult of women and their political acumen? To show that women are more likely to vote for the person than the policy. If Ms. Hirshman's premise is true, then HRC's clear problem is her discomfort with getting personal.

What annoyed me about the article was not Ms. Hirshman's conclusion about the obstacles HRC faces in an election. I'm with her there. No, what sent my blood pressure through the roof was the argument that women are not rational and are less informed politically than men.

And then I thought about it for awhile.

And now I realize that I am not angry with Ms. Hirshman. Although she clearly chooses to state her arguments in a manner intended to provoke ire, I'm afraid that Ms. Hirshman might be correct. No matter how much I fight to be thought of as an equal there are still women who simply do not care. How can any woman who does care about equality or the future state of our world remain so ill informed? That thought makes me sad. How can we change the world for our children if we don't educate ourselves and vote accordingly? I'm not angry at Ms. Hirshman, I'm angry at every woman out there who doesn't pick up a newspaper and read it, or turn on the TV and watch some news, or read through a news magazine instead of People. Of course there are almost as many men who are equally apathetic, but they aren't my sisters. I expect more of women.

After reflection, I was still a little bit angry at Ms. Hirshman but then she saved herself with this comment in response to a question from Philadelphia during the online discussion of her article.
Philadelphia: If there is a gender difference in terms of attention paid to politics and world affairs, why do you think that is? Is there something about the way women are socialized that would lead them to be less interested or vice versa? Is it because the major players in these issues mostly are men?

Linda Hirshman: From time out of mind, western culture and doubtless other cultures that I know less about have assumed that women are from nature and men are from culture -- in other words, that men are responsible for the built environment and women for making babies. Although we have indeed come a long way, it is hard to see the data and not think that women continue to be socialized, and to choose to be socialized, to occupy themselves with the private, the individual, the family, the children. Just looking at the "baking cookies" submissions to this live chat makes me think about how hard it is to get out of the kitchen. But whatever is is not necessarily right. Women are human, and politics is part of the realm of the human. My work is aimed at breaking the iron bands of men are from culture and so forth. If Elizabeth Cady Stanton -- mother of, god knows, eight or something -- could see that women belonged in the world of politics, surely we literate, liberated, birth control-empowered, law school-educated women can see it too.
I'll drink to that. And now I'm off to read the paper. Join me?

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14 Comments:

Blogger Gunfighter said...

Hiya LM!

I made comments on this article over at PunditMom's... this is a sad indictment. Unfortunately, a lot of it seems to be true.

The feminist revolution, or wmen's movement HAS come a long way... but, it isn't yet complete.

Blogger PunditMom said...

LM, I think it's not just a gender issue, as Gunfighter says over at my place. Plenty of men, as well as women, stay uninformed. Hirshman is crazy to suggest it is just women who choose to be uninformed. As she continues her holier-than-thou indictment against the rest of us, she just causes more of a rift between the sexes and gives the GOP more fodder to ignore us.

Blogger bubandpie said...

Sheila Copps is one of the most well-known commentators in Canada on the issue of women's involvement in politics. What strikes me as the essential difference between Copps and Hirshman is that while Hirshman continues to advance her theory that women need to bash themselves into whatever mold the world offers, Copps is far more willing to acknowledge that women's disenchantment with politics (to the extent that women are disenchanted with politics) needs to be addressed at both levels. It's not just a matter of women picking up a newspaper - it's a matter of changing the culture of politics to be less alienating.

Blogger Lawyer Mama said...

B&P - I do agree. There is an underlying reason for it. I don't think that the answer, however, is to opt out. I think only by opting in and paying attention to politics can we change the alienation. Hirshman just gets my hackles up because of the way she approaches everything. She's far more interested in using ridicule to garner attention than in addressing the problem in a reasonable manner.

Blogger Amer said...

As a stay at home mom, I am not surprised by this article. I find myself more and more intrigued to learn new things and be up to date with current affairs and such, especially within the areas of my own country. Just the other day I had a friend say to me "Do you read the paper every morning?"...YES!!!!!

My goal this year is to encourage those mother's around me to be informed in the upcoming election. Many times, we as moms tend to go with views based upon those around us (other stay at home moms)...Get yourself educated in these issues!

I really enjoy reading your blog along with Punditmom...I feel I'm learning. : )

Blogger BlogWhore said...

i am speechless. really. even in 1950, when my granny was rearing 9 kids, she was the the political driving force.

who rules the household, rules the world.... and mommies rule the households.

i don't mean to make man sound like monkies, cause they aren't. be we tend to be more tuned into what affects our lives and our families.

aye?

Blogger Lawyer Mama said...

blogwhore - Man, monkey, I don't even think my hubby would quibble with that one!

Amy - You're making me blush! Thank you so much for the compliment, sweetie. I hope you know that I learn a lot from you as well.

Blogger lildb said...

y'know - ....

....

..

gah.

this might be nearly as polarizing as LH's thoughts, but I have to confess that I attribute a lot of the feminine tendency to shy away from politics to fear. fear of being broken-hearted by what they'll find if they crack that stuff open.

I know it's exactly what kept me from it for so long. and it's what pains me beyond the point of despair now that I maintain a well-informed stance.

politics - it's the only thing that can make me cry on cue.

Blogger lildb said...

I have a choice: I can either remove my first comment and start over, or I can repair what I said in a second comment.

repairing:

I think men face the same fears re: understanding, maintaining awareness regarding our current political climate. I don't think it's distilled for just women.

I wish everyone would become more involved, more aware; not just one gender, or color, or ethnicity; everyone. That's when we'd see change.

I think that LH is way off target; I think that education is what's missing. The education has been diminished to the point that people aren't learning even the basics anymore. Not to blame the instructors; I think curriculum is at fault. Lack of curriculum.

I need to quit before I traipse on into conspiracy-theory land.

sigh.

Blogger lildb said...

please ignore me. I'm drunk.

the end.

*buries head in hands and reminisces about a time when logical arguments came easily and quickly to her lips*

Blogger Lawyer Mama said...

lildb - Hasn't anyone warned about the drunk 'n blog? Or is that the drunk 'n dial I'm thinking of? (-:

Blogger CPA Mom said...

Hi! New reader here, over from Pundit Mom. I see you live in Chesapeake. I am INCREDIBLY close to there.

This is a GREAT post. I feel like I'm recruiting for The Soccer Mom Vote lately but really, have you thought about it? Have you seen our site? We need women like you.

I'm off to read the paper.

Blogger ExPatSW said...

I think Hirshman was eavesdropping on the numerous conversations I've had with my sister expats since HRC announced. We are all professional women, most of whom are living and working outside of the US because we couldn't take the current social policies at home anymore. Given that, one would think that we would discuss HRC's position on those issues that are nearest and dearest. Not so! The prevailing sentiments are that she is worthy because:

1. She is a woman.
2. She is not Republican.
3. She has cojones the size of
basketballs.
4. She deserves to be President
because she put up with Bill's
philandering.

It is embarrassing to admit the above as I live in a country where even the most poorly educated persons speak with some intelligence about their politicians' positions on issues.

Although I am not nearly as well informed or well read as LM, I think I'm a far cry from those of my compatriots who are basing their political views of HRC (or any other politician) solely on superficies.

Blogger ewe are here said...

I think you're right that the most recent Hirschman article does seem to skewer woman kind to a large degree. But, sadly, I also think you're right that she makes some very valid points about women and their interest in politics and current events.

The two sentences that got me early on in the article read:

"My own theory is that women don't decide elections because they're not rational political actors -- they don't make firm policy commitments and back the candidates who will move society in the direction they want it to go. Instead, they vote on impulse, and on elusive factors such as personality."

On the one hand, I wanted to bang my head on a desk - just what we need, someone claiming women aren't rational. But, on the other hand, it immediately make me think of my sister --a woman who is well educated, follows the news, and wants to save the world-- and a discussion we had just last week. She's already planning to vote for Hillary because she's a woman and she 'likes her'. Period. And although I think it would be fantastic to see a woman in the white house, maybe even Hillary, I'm not going to vote for anyone based solely on gender. I need to see substance, and positions, and the ability to do the job.

Hirshman is divisive and inflammatory. But she does get people talking. And hopefully, thinking.

I'll continue to read all my newspapers with you... ;-)

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