Are Stay at Home Moms "Letting Down the Team?"
- Friday, February 24, 2006
Are stay at home moms a threat to civilization? Those of you who are shocked by this question should take note of the fact that ABC's " Good Morning America" program devoted segments to this question on two successive days, featuring the arguments of Linda Hirshman, a prominent feminist thinker.
"I am saying an educated, competent adult's place is in the office," Hirshman told "Good Morning America." In other words, moms who stay at home with their children have given themselves to a calling that no educated or competent adult should desire or accept
Hirshman threw herself into the debate over motherhood last year, when she responded to a spate of media reports that indicated an amazing trend--large numbers of highly educated young women on elite college and university campuses indicated that they did not intend to pursue a career outside the home, but to give themselves to being wives and mothers.
Hirshman's response was vehement and verbose. Writing in the pages of The American Prospect, Hirshman argued that "feminism has largely failed in its goals." As she explained, "There are few women in the corridors of power, and marriage is essentially unchanged. The number of women at universities exceeds the number of men. But, more than a generation after feminism, the number of women in elite jobs just doesn't come close."
According to Hirshman's diagnosis, this problem is largely traceable to the fact that too many women are staying at home with their children. In particular, she attacked the notion that women should feel free to choose motherhood as a life calling. In attacking "choice feminism," Hirshman asserts that women who give themselves to mothering undermine the status of all women and threaten the emergence of an egalitarian civilization.
In her article in The American Prospect, Hirshman reviewed a wealth of data. Interestingly, the statistics she expects her readers to find so disappointing will be the cause of surprise and hope for those who value the family, parenthood, and the responsibility of child rearing. As she explains, the census numbers for all working mothers have fallen modestly since 1998, after having leveled off around 1990.
Concerned by these statistics, Hirshman decided to undertake some research of her own. She selected a sample of young women who had been identified as brides in the "Sunday Styles" section of The New York Times in 1996. Hirshman believed that "the brilliantly educated and accomplished brides" of her sample would be indicative of the way this generation of young women is approaching career, marriage, and motherhood.
As Hirshman relates: "At marriage, they included a vice president of client communication, a gastroenterologist, a lawyer, an editor, and a marketing executive. In 2003 and 2004, I tracked them down and called them. I interviewed about 80 percent of the 41 women who announced their weddings over three Sundays in 1996. Around 40 years old, college graduates with careers: Who was more likely than they to be reaping feminism's promise of opportunity? Imagine my shock when I found almost all the brides from the first Sunday at home with their children. Statistical anomaly? Nope. Same result for the next Sunday. And the one after that."
This section of her article is startling, to say the least. Like Hirshman, I must admit that I am surprised by her data. Nevertheless, the fact that so many talented, highly educated, and promising young women were giving themselves to motherhood is a source of genuine hope and encouragement.
Hirshman went on to describe additional findings in her research. "Ninety percent of the brides I found had had babies. Of the 30 with babies, five were still working full time. Twenty-five, or 85 percent, were not working full time. Of those not working full time, 10 were working part time but often a long way from their prior career paths. And half the married women with children were not working at all."
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