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
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.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:
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.
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."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.
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 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?I'll drink to that. And now I'm off to read the paper. Join me?
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.
Labels: Feminist Manifesto