June 5, 2007

The Mommy Wars is getting old

In Sunday's Washington Post, feminist Linda Hirshman wrote an editorial about the income gap between American men and women. Even in our supposedly equal 21st century, a woman's salary is a mere 69% of her male counterpart's. This is indeed a sad statistic.

Hirshman, however, does not spend her time lamenting the woes of our social system and the misogyny that still exists. Instead, she blames women for choosing the wrong major in college. It turns out that women choose majors that usually don't lead to lucrative careers. (Example: I studied history at BYU, a major which is king to all other majors in the "So what are you going to do with that?" category. Well, art history or English may have history beat. Might I add that I minored in English too.) Women are still more prone to enter into the field of education versus engineering, the liberal arts versus the hard sciences. And so, they get paid less because a teacher's salary is far less than a New York investment banker's. The math is pretty simple.

What pushes the salary gap even further is that women are more prone to give up their jobs after they have children. New mothers reason that it would be more economical to give up their teaching jobs rather than for their husbands to give up their banking/engineering jobs simply because their husbands make more money. And so, the income gap between the sexes is continually strained.

I agree with Hirshman that the salary gap is a problem in our country, but I don't really agree with her solution. She basically hints in her editorial that women need to choose more "masculine" majors that lead to more lucrative careers that inevitably lead to women remaining in the workforce rather than opting out to stay at home with their new babies. I see a lot of problems in this rationale.

1.) A woman should choose whatever major she wants. If she wants to study ancient Greek tablets and spend her life digging around in Athens, then she should do it---even if she makes $35,000 a year. Women shouldn't be forced to choose a career simply because it will lessen the income gap. Doesn't this reasoning go against the root of feminism?

2.) Throughout the editorial, Hirshman turns her nose against stay-at-home moms. She frequently alludes that SAHMs are giving up their lives by quitting their jobs to raise kids; she even makes a snide remark about how these women gave up their careers to "pick up socks."

I have a few bones to pick with this premise. Once again, it should be a woman's choice if she continues to work after she has a family or if she wants to stay at home with the kids. Linda Hirshman, no matter how accomplished she is, shouldn't have the gall to tell people what they should do with their lives.

Secondly, this whole "Mommy Wars" thing revolves around the premise that women all have incredibly satisfying jobs. If this was the case, then I think a lot more women would try to balance their career and their family life, but the truth of the matter is that a lot of women don't love their jobs. They work because they need to work. They work for a paycheck. Not every woman in America gets to go to college, head to grad school, and then land her ultimate dream job. Many Americans---both men and women---are just trying to make a living. Thus, there may be many women in the U.S. who would like to stay at home with their kids, but are unable to do so because their husbands got laid-off or because they are divorced or because they just need to make ends meet.

3.) This may be getting a bit off-topic, but I think we Americans just place too much emphasis on work. We allow our jobs to define us; we demand that we gain so much satisfaction from it. And for those people who truly love their jobs, I commend them. That's awesome! I would love to have a job like that (but I can't because I live in Fayetteville). But I think a significant percentage of Americans---and the rest of the world---just work because they have to. We have to pay our rent, after all.

Honestly, I seriously envy the women who have a hard time choosing between working or staying at home---because this means that they have a husband who earns enough to support their family, and that they have had the opportunity to gain an education, and that they have been lucky enough to find a really great job that forces them to make such a hard decision.

Anyway, Hirshman's article just left a bad taste in my mouth. I pride myself as a feminist and I doggedly support women who try to walk the tight rope between a career and a family, but I would never feel comfortable telling another woman what she should do with her life.

So Linda, just lay off the young college girls of America. They're just trying to exercise their independence.

3 comments:

  1. Hmm, sounds like "blame the victim" mentality instead of acknowledging what needs to change are society's values.

    I thought the income gap referred to women who are in the same jobs as men, and yet still receive lower salaries? Because I've read that's the case too.

    And instead of more women going into "profitable" jobs, we have to analyze our society and ask the question, why aren't teachers/nurses/social workers or other "pink collar" jobs worthy of higher income? Is it because society says the jobs are easy (of course they're not), or because the type of intelligence that goes into these professions is not valued by society? In other words, wanting to make the world a nicer place is not considered "smart." Hmm...

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  2. Welcome back Caroline! I've missed your insightful posts that draw me away from my montonous desk-bound days...

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  3. Great post Caroline! So many things to think about. I am one of the women who majored in whatever the heck she wanted (and loved every second of it- yay art history) and now I am not a huge fan of my job. It is indeed a means to an end, like most of America. I don't wish I could be at a more profitable job, I just wish I could be a student forever and always spend my time in classes and lectures! (plus I envy the schedule of a student- time for long lunches and naps ;-)).

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