cafe mama

entering the mind of the married mom

mommies, feminism, and elitism, it's getting personal - December 5, 2005

The discussion, the passion, the politics, and the statistics have been bouncing around the Internet. On one side, we have Linda Hirshman, who has the position that feminism is being undermined by "elite" women who choose to stay at home. She argues that social power and gender politics are being used against women, with their acquiesence, to convince them to give up promising careers in order to take over the "home fires." Hirshman includes everything from childcare to laundry to party planning in her description of the roles modern women have chosen for themselves.

The data that supports her thesis includes about 35 interviews with women whose weddings appeared in the Sunday Styles section on three weekends in 1996. Since many of these women were staying at home with their children, and many of them had chosen to stay home even before their children were born - and had no plans to go back to work - she extrapolated, "elite" (and by "elite" she means college-educated) women are staying home, not because they have to, but because they want to, and because they're bowing to longstanding gender identity roles.

Linda Hirshman believes that feminism has, essentially, failed. She gives lots of tips to young women on how to avoid falling into the same trap. Don't get liberal arts degrees - instead, go where the money is (business, for instance). Find a job for its profit potential, not its idealism. Get married to a man who's your social equal, or inferior. Have only one child. Don't take too much of the home duties upon yourself.

I don't really think, though, that her women are truly representative of the [quote] elite [/quote]. I fit her definition. I have degrees, good ones, an undergraduate degree in English (with honors!) and journalism from Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia. An MBA from Wharton. Early on I chose to be a career woman. I started out in investment banking. I was a star. Then I got a passion for management, I got my MBA and started working for startups of various flavors. I did analysis, finance, product development, marketing, capital raising, operations, human resources, photography, web site design, you name it. I was jill of all trades, and master of not a few.

When I started having children, I was the Chief Operating Officer of a small direct marketing firm. I loved what I did, although I wasn't totally jazzed about the work environment. When I left that job, it was because my new role as mama didn't fit in with the demands of my bosses. They wanted me to care more about their spreadsheets than my baby's health. I cared more about the baby's health.

I left that job, a little despairing. And got married to my baby's father (who I'd planned to marry the whole time, but put off until after the baby). He fit Hirshman's requirements, oddly enough - he was in a less prestigious job, he was less educated than I, he was good at laundry and washing dishes. He loved to care for our baby, especially once he stopped breastfeeding. He adored (and still adore[s]) me.

Soon after I left that job, I started making demands of bosses. I wanted to work flexible hours, at least part time from home. And soon I had cobbled together a life in which I was working 90% from home. I was making less, it's true, than my salary would be had I taken that job at Merrill Lynch in New York City. There, I'd probably be pulling in $250K a year, if not more, working 70-hour weeks. I'd be loving it. But I wouldn't be seeing much of my children. Now, I'm making about 20% of my potential salary. But I'm thoroughly happy. My expenses are very low. And I'm forging a career still.

My career isn't financial now. But I'm doing something else I'd always dreamed of doing - writing and editing parenting and food publications. Sure, I imagined myself in a print publication. But that was before blogs. And I'm creating considerable writing chops, while still using my business, marketing and management skills. I'm hiring people. I'm marketing myself and my business. I'm actually moving forward in my career, by leaps and bounds. And I love, love, love what I do. It's both good and important. It could create some truly significant income down the road. It doesn't sidetrack me from anything I'd hoped to do - become a CEO one day, for instance. I could still be CEO of something. Maybe it will be the lifestyle empire of Weblogs, Inc.. Maybe it will be of play cafe, international. Maybe both.

But I have two kids now and I plan for more. My husband supports me in everything I do. I'm - sort of - staying home with the kids. And in my life, feminism is most definitely NOT dead.

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