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Choice Feminism–2

I posted the link to Hirshman’s article yesterday, before I had a chance to read it.  Now I’ve read it.

Before I go into anything else, I disagree with the entire premise of the argument. (This was substantively what she and I were debating over email a few months ago too.)

She writes:

As a result of feminist efforts — and larger economic trends — the percentage of women, even of mothers in full- or part-time employment, rose robustly through the 1980s and early ’90s.

But then the pace slowed. The census numbers for all working mothers leveled off around 1990 and have fallen modestly since 1998. In interviews, women with enough money to quit work say they are “choosing” to opt out. Their words conceal a crucial reality: the belief that women are responsible for child-rearing and homemaking was largely untouched by decades of workplace feminism. Add to this the good evidence that the upper-class workplace has become more demanding and then mix in the successful conservative cultural campaign to reinforce traditional gender roles and you’ve got a perfect recipe for feminism’s stall.

The decline in the percentage of moms in the workforce during the late 1990s is hardly evidence of feminism’s stall.  The numbers are accurate, but they are only a small piece of a larger demographic reality, which is that the percentage of all women and all MEN in their 20s and 30s during those years (which are the prime childbearing years) declined. (See this chart at table 579.) Why? I don’t know. Perhaps Hirshman anticipated this argument. "People who don’t like the message attack the data," she writes. It’s true that I don’t like the message, but that doesn’t mean that this isn’t a flawed analysis. I don’t see how anyone can say that a decline in the percentage of working mothers, in the context of a decline of all people in that age group,  has anything to do with feminism or women, one way or the other.

More later.

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One thought on “Choice Feminism–2

  1. I haven’t had time to read Hirschman’s piece in all yet. However I wanted to add to Alison’s new comment above. There is an overall decline in labor force participation for men and women that many researchers (I read) are arguing is about staying in school longer and delaying the “growing up” period, which spills over into slight delays in age of first year of marriage and first birth.

    It totally bugs me that women’s labor force participation is always the jumping off point for all things wrong with women and feminism. I’d really like to read about other things that are to blame – I think it makes it seem too simple or easy to say that it is just about a choice to stay home with kids. That appears to me a simplistic and very much upper class (largely white) point of view. I just don’t think feminism stalled because the current 20 somethings claim that they are going to be different when they start having children.

    side note – I apologize upfront if this makes no sense. I’ve been sick and taking lots of medicine, so I make no guarantees. 🙂

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