February 9, 2006

Debating the Choice to "Opt Out"

Debating the Choice to "Opt Out"

Last December Linda Hirshman published Homeward Bound in The American Prospect, taking issue with the idea that a woman can “opt out” of her feminist obligation by saying she chooses to drop out of the work force.

The family — with its repetitious, socially invisible, physical tasks — is a necessary part of life, but it allows fewer opportunities for full human flourishing than public spheres like the market or the government. This less-flourishing sphere is not the natural or moral responsibility only of women. Therefore, assigning it to women is unjust. Women assigning it to themselves is equally unjust. To paraphrase, as Mark Twain said, ‘A man who chooses not to read is just as ignorant as a man who cannot read.

Linda Hirshman, Homeward Bound, The American Prospect, December, 2005

The responses are still coming.

This might come as a surprise to the feminists-with-a-capital-F crowd, but I worked my ass off in my 20s so I could have the opportunity to stay home with my children. Not just stay home, but to work from home as a freelance writer and – hopefully one day soon – a published author. Believe it or not, I purposely planned and structured my career to make it possible for me to one day be at home.

Louise Knott Ahearn, Opting Out — A Career Woman’s Guide to Going Home Without Going Crazy, What Would Betty Say?

MY inner world, my inner heart strings, is inspired by the pure love of children. I mentor unwed inner-city kids . . . and I have four of my own. It’s my choice and this imperious intellectual horses–t of anyone in some sort of philosophical theory telling me what my inner life should be is pathetic. So I’m with you. The bigger issue is economic and social . . . we don’t offer decent maternity leave in this country and the other myriad issues you raised. But there’s much more to my life than any sweeping generalization by someone who isn’t living it for me. And frankly, Betty had three kids and I think she might say more power to ya.

Erica Orloff, commenting on Opting Out — A Career Woman’s Guide to Going Home Without Going Crazy, What Would Betty Say?

Rather than condemn the stay-at-home moms, we should chastise:

1) the men who willingly start families then refuse to take on any domestic responsibility and demand that their wives be detained in culinary servitude without any remote possibility of reaching compromise between bread-winning (i.e. having fun) and diaper-changing for both of the supposed partners.


Becky, Archaeopteryx, Choice Feminism: I choose to be Judgemental

I’m definitely not one to speak out against individual women’s (or, much more rare, men’s) decisions to stay home. I don’t think they’re suffering from a false consciousness, or that they’re necessarily doing something ‘wrong.’ I also don’t speak out against individual women’s choices to wax off all their pubic hair, or take off their clothes for money, or sell sex, or get married, or take their husbands’ names, or wear high heels. But that doesn’t mean that just because it’s a “choice??? it’s universally good, or even if we agree that it is good for that individual woman, that the practice itself shouldn’t at least be questioned. And it’s about time we started examining and questioning the domestic sphere.

Jill, Feministe, The Parent Trap

We’re not saying that no woman should ever make a career sacrifice for the sake of her children. We’re not saying that every woman is duty bound to be on the fast track to conventional prestige. We’re not saying that we should ignore inequities faced by women who are not worrying about getting a place in the boardroom because they are struggling just to survive. But I think it’s worth questioning the assumptions that we and our culture make about our role in every facet of society. We should question why it is still generally assumed that career vs. parenting is primarily a ‘women’s issue.’

Anonymous, The Happy Feminist, When the Political Gets Personal – Updated

Related Content