Is This What Feminism Looks Like?

Tue, March 6, 2007


For as long as I can remember, I’ve been a feminist and a politico.

I was the geeky high school girl who watched the Watergate hearings on TV, who got excited about going to the mock political convention at the local college and reveled in the belief that I could choose to do more with my life than the mainstream options that limited my mother and my grandmothers.

Even though my mother wanted me to major in something “safe” like physical therapy, I knew in my heart I was meant for a degree in Political Science.

As a teen growing up in 1970′s rural America, I was aware of all that was changing that would make my life different from my mother’s. It was exciting to know that I could choose to be whatever I wanted to be and, hopefully, achieve it with much less difficulty than those who publicly, and not so publicly, forged the path for those of us just coming of age.

The thought of a “sisterhood” — an informal network of women who were out there to help others benefit from the advances they were making — was eye-opening and exhilarating.

As I worked my way through college and law school, and started climbing that corporate ladder, I, naively, had no doubts that if motherhood became part of my life that I would take off a couple of months, find a nanny and head back to that nice little office with a view and the name plate with the title, life neatly wrapped up in my vision then of what modern womanhood and motherhood was supposed to look like.

Of course, as you chuckle reading this, you know that life throws all sorts of curveballs and that’s not what happened in my career path. But, as I thought about what my next chapter would be, I was still motivated by the thought that I was lucky — lucky because in the 21st Century, we had come so far that a multitude of options would be open to me, even as I, for a variety of personal reasons, decided to be a work-at-home mother instead of forging my way back to the world of office dwellers, power suits and pantyhose.

What I didn’t count on was being
attacked for making choices that I thought had been the whole point of the feminist movement. Had the face of feminism changed at some point from one of acceptance to one of alienation?

I didn’t expect Linda Hirshman to like me because an editor asked me to include her name on a list called “10 Women Who Make Us Cringe,” as an example of a woman whose actions or views make us scratch our heads. I understand that no one likes to be questioned and it’s fair to be upset when that happens. But does it really advance anyone’s cause to mock and ridicule someone’s personal choices as a way to try to silence questions about the validity of a theory?

Hirshman is a strenuous proponent of the idea that women should be encouraged to forego choices that work for them and their families for feminism’s purported greater good. And, based on the flames she has thrown my way, suggests that her choices and education were superior to my own, so my choices, contributions and comments should be summarily dismissed as questionable and worthy of mockery.

If feminism in Linda Hirshman’s world requires living a life by her rules or opinions only, and means that we should all be free to engage in ugly, personal attacks on those who disagree with us (and as I’ve learned, I am hardly the first to fall victim to such vitriol), then maybe we need another word to describe the rest of us — yes, we agree with you, Linda, that our spouses and partners should share in the load of daily life, but we also believe we are smart enough to choose a fulfilling life and career path on our own, whatever that looks like for each individual.

The T-shirt (thanks to the Being Jane website) sums up what I believe a feminist looks like — “Powerful, compassionate, balanced.”
This feminist chooses to believe that most of us don’t mock each other’s lives or whether one person’s contributions are better than, more accomplished or noteworthy than another’s.

Belittling another woman’s choice of college, career path, level of success or motherhood status is not part of the face of feminism as I know it.

Let’s get back to being supportive of each other and find that network that I believe did exist when I was that starry-eyed, Gloria Steinem-worshipping college girl. As a mother of a daughter, I know I want it to be firmly in place and working like a well-oiled machine when my first-grader starts making life choices on her own.

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30 Responses to “Is This What Feminism Looks Like?”

  1. David Says:


    I am so disappointed with people who demand that feminism reject one of its many faces. To me, feminism is about choices. It’s about the underlying premise that women have everything they need to make those choices.

    For the life of me I can’t understand why Ms. Hirschman feels obligated, or even qualified, to judge the choices you’ve made in your career or your life. I honestly think that’s the kind of attitude that feminism tries to stop.

    Seriously, life is hard enough without worrying about what self-appointed “judgemental” [her words] academics, out there on the fringes of a philosophy, thinks about your life choices.

    Joanne — rock on, rock star.

  2. Lawyer Mama Says:

    You’re so right, PM. I always thought feminism was about having choices, not demanding that women fit themselves into a single mold developed by corporate America.

    Luckily, in real life (as opposed to BlogLand and HirshmanLand) I’ve found most women to be those sisters you wrote about – supportive and wise. Of course, there have been one or two who, like Ms. Hirshman, have judged other women’s choices and found them wanting. I’d like to think they are just a very vocal minority.

    Great post, by the way!

  3. bubandpie Says:

    I lot of responses to LH assume that she has somehow misunderstood what feminism is about – she missed the memo that it’s about choices. Her point is precisely that “choice feminism” has failed if it hasn’t gotten women (in appreciable numbers) into the top positions of power. And I get that – I can agree that it’s desirable to have women well-represented at all levels of power in our society.

    The problem is that right now society is constructed in such a way that the only people who get those positions of power are the ones who are willing to hand themselves over, body and soul, to their jobs. And women, by and large, are not willing to do that. It’s the Rumpelstiltskin employer: he’ll show you how to spin straw into gold, so long as you promise to hand over your firstborn son. Most men aren’t willing to do that either – but the people who are willing to do it are usually men.

    So LH comes along and says that something’s wrong with this scenario: oh, wait – I know what it is – it’s the women! They’re making the wrong choices!

    The women aren’t the problem. Rumpelstiltskin is. And the women who are willing to trade their families for a heap of gold are the LAST ones who are going to change anything. LH’s attack on you should serve to demonstrate exactly how committed a woman like that might be to the welfare of her feminist sisters.

  4. PunditMom Says:

    B&P, I agree with you … there are parts of Hirshman’s positions that make sense. But I don’t think it’s women’s fault and it doesn’t do us any good to have someone using personal attacks in an attempt to support their views.

    To make a change we need more women in positions of power and authority, but the price is so high, especially as the rules are currently set in a world that is still run by men and where the rules are, for the most part, set by men.

    We don’t need blame, we need people who are willing to change the way people people define “success” and become decision-makers in the workplace. I don’t see that happening by strapping on the golden handcuffs — we need open discussion about viable alternatives to the way things are done now.

  5. Sarah, Goon Squad Sarah Says:

    I think if more of the outspoken feminists were more supportive of each other there wouldn’t be such a stigma attached with N.O.W.

    It’s like we’re trained to be on the defensive at all times. I don’t know why Linda Hishman (and women like her, she’s not alone) feel like the only way be a strong woman is to work outside of your home. Her attacking your education was completely out of line.

    Being a strong woman is making your own choices. That is what it is about.

  6. Mom101 Says:

    Absolutely stellar.

    Just caught up on the events of the past week and you have held your own with dignity and grace.

    I’d say final score; PM 10, LH -649

  7. Paige Says:

    Fuckin-a right, PunditMom!

    I’m breathless, speechless just dying to write someone and say “PunditMom is the new feminist icon! Call her now. Make her tell you this now. Put it in Times Square NOWWWWW. Women need to understand that THIS is what feminism SHOULD be about: the freedom to choose, not this needless trashing of other women.”

    I’m printing this out and saving it for my Avery Lane.

  8. Her Bad Mother Says:

    Linda Hirshman is a d-bag.

    I know, I know, lameass response. But it’s just so much quote-unquote POST feminist nonsense to insist – as she does – that there is only one right way to represent women in living as a woman, that women have an OBLIGATION to forgo the (critically important work) of nurturing children and families in order to contribute to the feminist corner of the public sphere. Which, bullshit.

    As a political scientist who fully intends to abandon both politics and science in order to devote more time to family, I have only one thing to say to Ms Hirshman…


  9. Mayberry Says:

    Let me add my AMEN! too!

    (and a finger wave a la HBM to you know who.)

  10. PunditMom Says:

    This week has been a double-edged sword — tring to deal with the personal attacks has taken me a little while.

    But I really can’t thank you all enough for your support and encouragement and enthusiastic, kind words.

    This LH incident was unexpected, but the outpouring of blogosphere support means the world to me.

    Talking with a friend a few days ago (pre-LH) about my experience as a blogger and interactions with others, she said, in amazement, “The relationships you’ve made by blogging are real, arent’t they?”

    YES, they are! That’s something that I’ve realized for a while — they are real — even without face-to-face contact, there’s a sisterhood developing out here, and I think we are forging a new way to connect. We agree, we disagree, we discuss and we support each other’s efforts to do that.

    I SOOO can’t wait to meet all of you!

  11. PunditMom Says:

    Oh, not just a sisterhood — I apologize to my male blogger friends, especially David and GF. You two have been wonderful supporters, as well!

  12. Mamma Says:

    I go away for a week and look what happens!!

    I hate that as women we continue to find ways to try and “separte” ourselves from each other. It’s like we’re still all in highschool and trying to eliminate each other so we can have all the cute boys to ourself (ves?) It infuriates me!!

    Hang tough PM! I’m in total agreement with you. Sorry I wasn’t around to lend support during the bulk of it.

  13. karrie Says:

    Well said, PM.

    LH does raise some valid points, but her elitist rants make it difficult to take her seriously.

    I can only imagine what it was like to be her student and offer a dissenting point of view.

  14. kristen Says:

    Feminism is absolutely about choices, point blank. And if highly educated women decide to leave their jobs for something much more challenging (read: motherhood) then why not provide them with some support instead of saying they’re a detriment to the working society.

    Way to perpetuate the myth of moms having to do it all.

    Who would she have raise our children? That’s why I want to know. Let the poor and uneducated stay home and raise kids.

    Sweet. So my kids can go to school with fucking lunatics.

    Now that’s just plain brilliant.

  15. Oh, The Joys Says:

    Well said. Well said.

    Choice and respect. THAT is what feminism is about to me.

  16. Kelly O Says:

    Nicely said. I hate that this fuels ridiculous either-or debates: Either you work outside the home or you’re a traitor to your sex. Either you stay at home or you don’t care about your kids. Eff you, Linda Hirshman, you tool.


  17. Damselfly Says:

    Even if feminism weren’t the issue at hand, it’s still not a good idea to criticize others’ choices. I think you are brave for tackling this issue!

  18. jane Says:

    I’m a mother of two and a practicing attorney. I’m writing to let you know that Hirshman doesn’t speak for me. Where do I start? First, personal attacks are a sign of intellectual weakness. Second, she suggests that you owe the state a tuition refund, the implication of which is that the only value of education is its application in the workforce, a notion I vehemently reject. Third, she mocks blogging. On her blog. Fourth, she invokes feminism in support of her rail against mothers. With feminists like her, who needs mysogynists.

  19. Shannon Says:

    You have explained it perfectly. Ms. Hirshman crosses the line from feminist to elitist, ironic considering inclusivity and equality are two of feminism’s greatest goals.

  20. Pecos Blue Says:

    The point is that we can define ourselves and choose to what we want to be remembered by. I understand the “I don’t want to be remembered for having a clean house” but I am not at all to be ashamed to be remember by raising a kind, compassionate and loving son. I will be proud to achieve this.

    One thing to remember about “the man”(corporate world) is that they will no more remember your accomplishments than a clean house will! My own quote! I like it : )

  21. Amanda Says:

    Damn. I really thought things (people, women) were moving forward and allowing for, and accepting, different interpretations and approaches to child rearing and earning a living. What really stings is the fury and contempt. Is there perhaps a bit of resentment that she feels she is carrying the entire movement? Wasn’t all of the fighting to create choice and opportunity?
    I know in my situation, while I may not hold the highest position, I have considerable weight in what I am able to contribute through my opinions and performance. I have carved out a situation that allows me to have incredible involvement in strategic planning and implementation of new initiatives, while getting to accomplish these things from a home office and a traditional earning my keep office.
    Regadless of whether points shared in her article had merit, being slammed hurts. I’m sorry.

  22. Gunfighter Says:

    I wasn’t offended, PM… I knew what you meant.


  23. Anali Says:

    Wow, I miss your blog for a few days and all sorts of stuff was happening!

    I agree that feminism should be about making choices that make us happy with our lives. My mom stayed home with my brother and I when were young and I really appreciate that. She sacrificed a lot for us. She started working as we got older and I appreciate that too.

    Your post reminds me of something my mom told me a while ago. She was walking down the street minding her own business. It might have been in the 70′s or early 80′s; I’m not sure, but a woman came up to her and called her a “Housewife B–ch!” I couldn’t believe it!

  24. Anonymous Says:

    OK I don’t agree with Ms. Hirschman — but I did want to point out that the ability to make choices to stay at home or step off of the career track or downsize on a career is essentially a white upper middle class choice. I wanted to point out how many single woman or women whose husbands work in lower paying jobs, and which include many women of color, HAVE TO WORK in the male dominated, uber heriarchical world in order to provide for their children. And Ms. Hirshman’s point about elite women staying in the work force does resonate for me to the extent that the more women who make it to the top so to speak — who really gut it out — the more they can struggle to change the structure to positively influence all working mothers, college educated and pink collar, and service workers. Don’t attack me, please — I am a former litigator who has been home for the last 2 years with my 3 kids after having struggled to gut it out and work in law for 6 years after the birth of my first child. BUT I do feel that I have let down young female lawyers a bit. So there is a sense that I should get back in there and help change the status quo. And I do know my husband was much more equal in terms of house and child care when I worked! So equality in my house has taken a dip as well.

  25. CrankMama Says:

    My name is Rachael and I am a feminist… Great job, Jo!!

  26. Kelley Says:

    We don’t need blame, we need people who are willing to change the way people define “success” and become decision-makers in the workplace.

    Absolutely, PM.

    I have so many thoughts about all of this, and I have tried (over two days!) to boil it down to a brief comment, but there’s just so much more than I could fit here. Suffice it to say: way to go, PunditMom!

  27. Cooks on the Coast Says:

    I’ve always considered myself a feminist and I’m also a former lawyer and stay-at-home mom. I married a Marine who is currently deployed for a year. If I didn’t stay home as the one constant in my girls’ lives, who would be raising them? It is easy to belittle someone else’s choices when you haven’t walked in their shoes. Stay strong, girlfriend!

  28. Pavlina Says:

    You page does not display properly in Windows Firefox. Refresh attempts do not always work. It is hard to read because of that, I though you would like to know.

  29. my minivan is faster than yours Says:

    I found you through Mom-101. My girlfriends and I were just chatting this weekend about a study that showed how few women consider themselves feminists because of the negative conotation, and it’s so sad.

    My MIL is an uber liberal radical feminist college professor (my words, not hers), but when I chose to stay home to raise her grandchildren, of course it became a great thing. Go figure :)

  30. Doopliss Says:

    I plan on reading your whole article (or whatever it’s called on a blog like this), but that T-shirt must be a joke–both its existence and the message it carries.
    I will get back to this.

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