Creative Destruction

July 6, 2006

Katha Pollitt on Flanagan and Hirshman

Filed under: Feminist Issues — Ampersand @ 7:05 am

Ann at Feminist Law Professors directed me to this excellent Katha Pollitt piece about the two leading generals in the Mommy Wars:

Caitlin Flanagan, scourge of upscale working mothers, meet Linda Hirshman, champion of same. You’ll like each other, you have a lot in common: a bomb-throwing writing style, a gift for oversimplification and a deep conviction that your life is the one true path to happiness and glory. […] Here’s another thing you two agree on: Whatever women are doing wrong is feminism’s fault.

In the article itself, Pollitt spends relatively little ink on Flanagan, instead concentrating on Hirshman, who Pollitt finds some good in – but still criticizes.

Hirshman’s weakness is her assumption that the social problem of women’s inequality can be solved if enough women make the right individual decisions. She mocks “the same old public day-care business that has gone nowhere since 1972.” But really, isn’t the stay-home vogue at bottom a response to the fact that society has failed to adapt to working mothers? Isn’t choice feminism itself a way of dealing with the whole complex range of resistance to women’s equality, by throwing up your hands and saying, Let each woman make her own tradeoffs? Unlike Flanagan, who wants women to give up the struggle, Hirshman wants individual women to fight harder and smarter, and that’s great. But it only goes so far. If better personal decisions could bring about gender equality, we wouldn’t be having this conversation today.

I agree with this critique of Hirshman. But I’d add another weakness: her unkindness. Her writing – especially in the initial Prospect piece that made her a household name (well, among certain households!) – has a sneering tone which makes it unpalatable not only to many stay-at-home mothers, but also many people who are friends of stay-at-home mothers. Hirshman – and Pollitt- are right to say that feminism shouldn’t blindly condone all choices made by women. And one choice we shouldn’t condone is Hirshman’s choice to be gratuitously cruel to women who have chosen, or “chosen,” stay-at-home motherhood.

Pollitt also writes:

“Choice,” moreover, assumes people have, and know they have, real alternatives. But what if the “choice” is the forced, or at any rate predictable, result of a lot of previous choices you didn’t realize you were making?

This reminds me of this old cartoon of mine, which – despite the lame-ass drawing – is imo one of the best political cartoons I’ve done:

Another Mom Screwed....

By the way, Pollitt – who is my favorite non-academic feminist writer – has a new book out. Anyone who wanted to take this as an occasion to hit up my Amazon wish list, please feel free. 😛



  1. I just realized that you did this cartoon as well: I think it’s also one of your best.

    Comment by the angry black woman — July 6, 2006 @ 8:11 am | Reply

  2. Thanks, ABW! I agree, that one is one of the best – or perhaps just the best – political cartoon I’ve done.

    Comment by Ampersand — July 6, 2006 @ 1:05 pm | Reply

  3. aw, you can call me ‘angry’. 🙂

    Comment by the angry black woman — July 6, 2006 @ 11:10 pm | Reply

  4. Did you know that the identical posting appears on Alas, A Blog? Did you copy it from him? What are the rules for this sort of thing in the blogosphere; I’m sort of new.

    Comment by Linda Hirshman — July 7, 2006 @ 11:11 pm | Reply

  5. Linda, read the byline one more time. It’s the exact same poster. Most of us here at CD have another blog, and Alas, A Blog is Ampersand’s. Indeed, for those of us that have primary blogs, most of us have done at least one cross-post, just like the one you see here.

    So no, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with this picture.

    Comment by Off Colfax — July 8, 2006 @ 1:36 am | Reply

  6. What are the rules for this sort of thing in the blogosphere;

    The ‘rules’ are just as you’d expect – credit the source, by way of a link, if you quote someone.

    As Off Colfax pointed out, Barry AKA Ampersand is the author of the piece and posted it to both sites, so this doesn’t apply.

    Comment by Daran — July 8, 2006 @ 3:36 am | Reply

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