Crazy Linda Hirshman may have a point

Okay. Yesterday I read this Slate review of Hirshman's new book, Get to Work: A Manifesto for Women of the World, and while I think she definitely goes too far by saying it's socially irresponsible for women to leave the workplace to stay home with their kids, I also think she raises some perfectly valid points. Or the reviewer does, at any rate.

1) A recent study found that a full 93 percent of "highly qualified" women who have opted out [of their jobs] want to find a way back in and can't. And, according to several studies, women in the United States suffer a 10 to 15 percent dock in future earnings when they have children—a drop that doesn't affect men.
I worry about this one for myself, particularly working in the sciences, where recent experience and study is key. Granted, I've seen plenty of women go back to work after taking time (as in several years) off to raise kids, but do they all go back doing what they wanted to do before? Some do, I'm sure, but not all.

2) Affluent and well-educated men rarely leave the workforce (and when they do, it's usually to return to school or start a business); a portion of affluent and well-educated women do opt out (and when they do, it's almost exclusively to raise children). When these women choose to devote their skills to childcare rather than to the workplace, they are "perpetuating a mostly male ruling class" — precisely the type unlikely to help make the case for more flexible work arrangements that would allow more women back into the workforce.
I firmly believe that if by some genetic mutation, men suddenly became the bearers and birthers of children, we would see daycare centers open up overnight in every law firm, every bank office, every pharmaceutical company, etc., etc. I don't really like to buy into the shrill feminist cry about those darned male opressors, but sometimes the proof is, as they say, in the pudding. Or the profit sharing. There are a lot more men in high-paying jobs than there are women, and if all those men suddenly wanted to be able to bring their babies in to the office and take 10-minute nursing breaks every couple of hours, while still being able to do their jobs and contribute to the company, I think it would happen. Yeah, I know it's not exactly practical to have child care services at every place of business (mines, lumberyards, restaurants, hog farms), but for the ones where it's not utterly insane to do so, why not? Besides, every daycare center needs employees, so you're creating jobs in the process. It's a win-win.

3) If women really do stay in the work force, even part-time, a few decades from now it may be easier for parents to opt out according to their personal preferences, rather than their gender. If one parent didn't want to assume the bulk of the child-care duties, as may well be the case, two could split it. The demand for elastic or part-time work by men and women alike would lead to more flexible jobs.
Sometimes the only way to get what you want is to force change. I'm not sure this will do it, but it's worth a try. The one thing I'm not sure about here is whether or not both partners working part-time can bring in enough income to do things like save for retirement and buy a house and pay for their kids' college tuition. Then again, I guess if you're working part-time at $35/hour, it's not so bad. (Good luck finding a gig like that now, though.)

I do resent Hirshman's implication that child-rearing isn't really 'valid work,' but I also know that it's not going to be all that long before I'll be at that work-or-kids crossroads myself, and while I can't imagine that either Tom or I will want to miss out entirely on all the 'firsts' of our offspring, I also can see myself losing my mind if I have to stay home full-time. I'd sure like the option of being able to work a few days a week in a job I felt was worthwhile and mentally stimulating. (I'm not saying that raising kids isn't worthwhile and mentally stimulating, but rather that I would not want to leave the house a few days a week to work at WalMart.) The whole issue certainly bears thinking about.

Of course, it's entirely possible the woman's completely guano after all:
She advises women to marry only men who will commit to a 50 percent housework/childrearing division of labor — or else to engage in a reproductive strike, limiting the number of children to one. And she counsels — so much for l'amour! — that young women marry only much older men or men who earn less than they do, in order to have more economic bargaining power.

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