The third major point in Hirshman’s Homeward Bound that I take issue with, as have several others, is the idea that educated women who choose to stay at home, to be wives and mothers, are hurting all women.
“A good life for humans includes the classical standard of using one’s capacities for speech and reason in a prudent way, the liberal requirement of having enough autonomy to direct one’s own life, and the utilitarian test of doing more good than harm in the world. Measured against these time-tested standards, the expensively educated upper-class moms will be leading lesser lives.”
I’m genuinely puzzled by this argument. Is it just that educated women are doing more harm than good when they choose not to use their education in the workplace? Or do all women do more harm than good when they choose to stay at home? And this raises other questions: are women who are staying home necessarily using their minds less than women who are working? Maybe they’re reading political treatises, not polishing their silver. Maybe they found the drudge work at the office is more deadening than dusting.
And let’s be honest, economic reality suggests that many of the women who were trapped vacuuming the living room in the world that Betty Friedan describes in The Feminine Mystique can no longer afford to stay home and worry about dust bunnies –at least in their own homes. Today, many women who can afford not to work probably can also afford not to do their own housework. So how do we know that these women aren’t living the Platonic ideal of an examined life, how do we know that they aren’t our next ruling class of Philosopher Queens?
Would a man also be doing more harm than good if he decided to stay at home? Do all men meet their potential? Do all men become members of the ruling elite? If not, why do we bother educating so many of them? After all, Hirshman asks “why should society spend resources educating women with only a 50% return rate on their stated goals?" Why should we spend resources educating anyone then? At most, only a fraction of one percent of all of us is going to go on to do great things in our lives.
Final installment next.