One of the more provocative responses to yesterday’s post, “The ‘Elite’ Talk Back” was by the original article’s author Linda Hirshman. When I saw the comment initially, I steeled myself for criticism. Instead, my points were ignored (dismissal perhaps being the ultimate form of criticism) and Hirshman instead wrote an oddly personal response to The Truth Behind the Mommy Wars: Who Decides What Makes a Good Mother‘s Miriam Peskowitz, whose Playground Revolution blog entry I had referenced.
I’ll urge you to read the comment in its entirety. Basically, it boils down to this. Hirshman and Peskowitz, both feminists, both authors, have different definitions of what is fodder for feminist analysis, as was revealed in Hirshman’s interview with Peskowitz for the original article. Hirshman believes that the family must be redefined and “that perpetuating hierarchy with women on the bottom by psychological, ideological, economic or any other means is immoral whether it occurs in the family or in the pages of the New York Times.” Peskowitz doesn’t agree, believing that the family structure is rather more personal and complex and difficult to categorize as patently feminist or not. And, unlike Hirshman, she believes that there is still work to be done in making the workplace and society more family-friendly. Hirshman writes that she decided not to use any of the Peskowitz interview in her article “because I am trying to open a discussion of the justice of the traditional gendered family”. Peskowitz’s views did support her arguments.
But, surprisingly, Hirshman does not go on to offer evidence in support of her hypothesis that the family ought not to be immune from feminist criticism. She does not offer why she believes Times brides are a good indicator of feminism at work. She does not say why she did not challenge the patriarchal notions of money and power. She does not offer additional evidence to show how government and business are supportive of mothers and how the only real problem lies with us.
Instead of engaging in real debate, she simply simply dismisses Peskowitz’s views: “So I don’t blog on about my roofer or my morning sickness or whatever qualifies as sincere feminism in the weird space the internet creates.” And goes on to blame Peskowitz herself for her side-tracked career.
Literary Mama asked Miriam Peskowitz if she’d like to respond to Hirshman’s comment and here is her emailed response:
Wow. How does an author/blogger/mom even respond to a personal attack like that? The post is clear evidence that writing about the Mommy Wars and about the judgment that’s dished out to all mothers doesn’t exempt one from taking it on the chin. Ouch.
Yes, once upon a time, I had a low-paying, high-prestige full-time job. Unfortunately, it didn’t come with onsite childcare, paid maternity leave, or other supports for working parents. Not wanting to totally ditch my career, I took an unpaid leave of absence. I found part time work elsewhere. Then I quit the first job. My story of career sacrifice is shared by moms throughout America. 25% of us are out of the paid workplace, 37% work part time. Some feminists can only see us as disappointments. I disagree. Instead of judging us, why don’t you look at where the problem is: The problem is not that smart women make bad marriage decisions. At core it’s about how the workplace hasn’t changed to support family life. Not nearly enough.
If that makes me a bad feminist, well, that’s okay. Call me names. I’ve got better things to think about, like getting moms and dads across our nation, and in every neighborhood and economic class, to start thinking about how the frustrations our families face are structural, how they’re not about our own individual failures but about a lack of paid family leave, fair wages for women and mothers, realistic work hours, reliable and affordable childcare, or chances to get back into the workplace after some time out. And that’s just a start.
I’d like more of us to feel comfortable speaking out, and imagining what real change for mothers, fathers and families might look like. I’d like us to call our politicians, write to our newspapers, pressure our corporations, in short, use any of the usual tactics available to us as citizens in a democracy. I’d call that keeping our eyes on the prize. We need real social change for family life, and we need it now.
In my book The Truth Behind the Mommy Wars: Who Decides What Makes a Good Mother (Seal Press, 2005), I tried to write about all of us. About white women and black women. About a few affluent moms, and a few welfare and former-welfare moms. About ordinary middle-class school teachers. About daycare workers. About women who are honestly trying to make a go of it in a society that doesn’t help. About women and families who are kept absent from our national media, which much prefers to focus on the affluent, as if only the rich matter. I stand by my comments, especially as they’re echoed throughout the blogosphere. We’re all having a time of it out here; there are few good family choices for mothers or for fathers. Our national media insists that only the upper economic sliver of families matters. That’s a travesty.
Well, it’s late, and I am a tired and very pregnant woman itching to get to bed. But I can’t end without defending the mom-and-dad Internet, where we real moms have morning sickness, sick kids, and other frustrations. Real dads sometimes quit their jobs and stay home to care for kids. We do boring things like fold laundry and cook dinner, day in and day out, as do our partners and spouses. We work, earn a living, feed our spirits, and find ways to get our kids to sleep through the night. Sometimes we have homes that need new roofs, and yes, we write about all of it.
On our blogs we write about the work that fills our days. It may read like boring trivia, but it’s the stuff of everyday life, and it matters. We have joys and regrets, happiness and anger. These lives don’t come with fancy names or titles, but they’re honest and they’re real. We’ve created an interesting and connected world. We’ve ended the awful isolation that can affect so many moms and dads. We’re here, we’re real, and we come from all walks of life. I’m sorry to hear us described by Hirshman as “weird.”
To end, I’ll assume that most readers of Linda Hirshman’s post will realize the odd way my words were out of context, and leave it at that. Since I was never asked permission to tape record our telephone interview, readers should know that they are not reading my transcribed words but an oddly remembered version of a conversation.
I’ll say it again: Amen to that.