"To be sure," writes Sandra Tsing Loh in the summer issue of the Atlantic, "attacking feminist criticism as being the extended whine of a privileged, educated upper class is as old as … well, as bell hooks's 1984 critique of [Betty] Friedan's Feminine Mystique." Loh is discussing two recent books about women and the workplace (Linda Hirshman's Get to Work … And Get a Life, Before It's Too Late and Neil Gilbert's A Mother's Work: How Feminism, the Market and Policy Shape Family Life) in her article "I Choose My Choice!" Loh points out that Hirshman's book, which rallies against the opt-out revolution (wherein hyper-educated women choose to become stay at home moms), overvalues the amount of fulfillment women get from their jobs. In his book, Gilbert says that Hirshman (a former lawyer) and her ilk overvalue work fulfillment because "the vast majority of those who publicly talk, think, and write about questions of gender equality, motherhood, and work in modern society are people who talk, think, and write for a living. And they tend to associate with other people who, like themselves, do not have 'real' jobs-professors, journalists, authors, artists, politicos, pundits, foundation program officers, think-tank scholars, and media personalities."
Most American women, you see, are not professors, lawyers, doctors, or even bloggers (I know, you're shocked). Many are cubicle dwellers, spending their 9-5 hours toiling under bad lighting in stale air. "When it came to interactions with different partners, the women ranked interactions with their children as more enjoyable than those with clients/customers, coworkers, and bosses," Loh reports.
Have middle class and lower class women really been the beneficiaries of what Loh called the "extended whine of a privileged, educated upper class?" In some ways, yes, but in many ways, no. I don't really buy Hirshman's trickle down feminism; I don't think that if all of those Harvard Business School grads stayed at Goldman Sachs, life would get any better for the average working woman. Loh writes, "While the economy benefits, for working-class families with young children, so much of a second income is eaten up by child care and taxes and other costs." These women are just as trapped in some ways as the unhappy housewives of Friedan's era.
Earlier this month, Hirshman wrote an essay against "intersectionality" in the feminist movement, which Moe rebutted. Moe used the example of the upwelling of support from Jezebels for those felled by honor killings in Iraq. While of course there are more glaring incidents of violence against women outside the United States, we can't forget that there is still feminist work to be done within our country. And the work isn't going to be done through hundreds of articles written by upper class, educated, white feminists attacking each others' choices in an endless elite media circle jerk (the words "women" and "opt-out" appear in over 6,000 NYT articles). Loh's article is called "I Choose My Choice," and perhaps more writers need to acknowledge that a very, very small percentage of working women in the United States have anything close to a choice in the first place.