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Bitch Weighs in on Hirshman
posted by Amy

Bitch Ph.D. agrees with much of Hirshman's piece. Here's part of what she has to say:

"I have also been thinking since of my own career angst and the ways that all of this is, in the end, easier said than done. It's really very difficult not to internalize the fear of pursuing power and status and convince oneself that one wants neither, and it's also very difficult not to internalize the fucked-up priorities of a fucked-up society and convince oneself that power and status are more important than a balanced life. This latter is probably part of the problem with analyses like Hirshman's that focus primarily on the feminist problems of a privileged class, even though it's also probably true that the privileged class probably feels the crunch between "power and status" and "contentment" most acutely. And I think these issues are particularly pressing for women at this particular time because, as a group, we're in transition still, and as a society I think we're butting our heads up against the reality that "the workplace" as we've long conceived it is, frankly, incompatible with family life in many ways--a truth we didn't have to face as long as women were taking care of the family stuff outside of the workplace. And to be honest, I cannot bring myself to condemn individuals for making whatever compromises they need to make with current reality, even though I also fear that I can't bring myself *not* to condemn myself for making compromises, or for refusing to."

In response to Bitch's response, Elizabeth writes:

"Bitch offers the following advice: "be willing to be a bitch about housework."  In particular, she suggests:

'My advice is, go ahead and do what needs to be done. But let him know what you are doing every goddamn step of the way, and let him know that it pisses you off. "I've just gotten home from work, it's nice to see you're home earlier than I am. Before I take off my coat, I'll put your shoes away for you, shall I? Oh, and I'll pick up your coat from the floor and hang it up. Okay, now I can take off my own coat and hang it up right away, instead of dropping it on the floor for someone else to pick up later. I see there's no dinner started, I'll just get on that shall I? First, though, I'll clear the mail off the dining room table where you seem to have dropped it when you walked in the door. I'll file it over here where it belongs. Ok, now I'm going to go into the kitchen to get a sponge to wipe off the table, which I see hasn't been wiped since breakfast--I guess you didn't have a chance to do that yet, since you had to sit down and read the paper first, right? Wow, now that I'm in the kitchen, I see that before I can start dinner I have to load the dishwasher, but before I can do that I have to unload it....'

"Oh my god would that drive me insane.  Either as the person doing it, or as the target of it.  I'd rather live in squalor -- or by myself -- than have that kind of running monologue. I might win the battle over the chores, but I can't imagine my relationship surviving it.  As I've written before, I'd rather pick up T's socks than sulk about them all day.  (Although, honor requires me to note that T's gotten much better about moving them to the hamper since he read that post.)"

In all the responses I've read to Hirschman, a few common themes keep popping up: some women don't want to be the bitch in the house, and some think that's what saved their marriages or led to them leaving a marriage where equality just wasn't happening and they were becoming the miserable, martyred bitches in the house. Some women love their careers, and some women were happy to give up jobs they didn't much care for anyway. This obviously isn't the whole picture, but it seems like the comments threads keep leading the discussion back to these ideas.

What strikes me is the number of commenters who were relieved to quit their jobs when they had kids. My own husband has a job which he's very good at and enjoys but which isn't the one he thought he might have when he was in college. But since he became a dad just a month after college graduation, he took the job that would support a kid and provide health insurance. If we could live on one salary, and if that one salary could be mine, he'd quit to stay home with kids in a heartbeat. We talk about this whenever he buys a lottery ticket; if we won, he'd quit tomorrow, and I'd keep on working.

On the other hand, I have a job I love. It's not one Hirschman would approve of, since I'm a fairly lowly composition instructor, but it's work that (almost) never bores me, work I feel good about doing. Most of my students are the children of immigrants and are the first in their families to go to college; each semester, I feel pretty lucky to get to teach a new group of hardworking, motivated people. It's also a job I spent a lot of time and money preparing for and was just a few years into when I had my first child (and my husband's second child). Giving it up then would have been like saying to my two-year-old child, "Hey, this has been fun, but I've got to move on now." Or at least that's how it felt to me. Granted, I taught six hours a week the first years of my kids' lives, so continuing to work didn't mean the heartwrenching decision to spend most of my day away from them when they were babies. Finally, I grew up feeling like I had to be the good, smart, pretty, successful, and kind kid who proved that my own mother wasn't "wasting" her life by being a stay-at-home mom, and maybe this is just the case in my family, but that's a hell of a lot of pressure to put on a kid.

Does it come down, in part, to the question of whether we happened to have jobs we liked when we gave birth? Is being the angel in the house still preferable to being the bitch for some women? And when, oh when, will someone notice the non-elite? You know, the rest of us? Thank god for Miriam Peskowitz, Arlie Hochschild, and Barbara Ehrenreich. Without them, I'd think we didn't exist.