TBR: Get to Work

Welcome to the "I read it, so you don’t have to" edition of the Tuesday Book Review.  Yup, I’m discussing Linda Hirshman’s Get to Work: A Manifesto for Women of the World, which is her somewhat expanded version of the American Prospect article that caused all the fuss last winter.

The tone of the book irritated me immensely.  Hirshman is so in love with her self-image as the lone prophet in the wilderness that she attacks her possible allies .  For example, she writes scornfully about "stay-at-home dads who contend that their decisions mean there is no such thing as a gender ideology about who should care for home and familiy."  Err, actually, SAHDs encounter gender ideology up close and personal every day.  And she quotes long passages from bloggers and others without attribution, which strikes me as intellectually dishonest.  (Bitch, PhD is one of the few bloggers who she cites by name.  Phantom Scribbler is also mentioned in the endnotes.)   Finally, she plays sleazy rhetorical tricks, such as painting all of her critics with the brush of a few of them (e.g. anti-feminist conservative wingnuts hated her article, so if you disagre with her, you must be an anti-feminist wingnut.)

I’m going to try not to repeat what I previously wrote in response to the original article, but most of my complaints at the time still hold.  In particular, Hirshman still doesn’t get that the problem isn’t just that gender ideology affects which of the available choices people pick, but also that the choices are far too limited.  So, what’s new in the book?

First, Hirshman expands somewhat on her advice to young women who want to have equal power in their relationships — get a practical degree, take work seriously, lower your standards for household cleanliness, have only one kid.  The only part of this that I thought was particularly interesting was her acknowledgment that having a job that you’re passionate about can increase your bargaining position as well as making a lot of money, as long as it doesn’t pay so little that you’d starve on your own.  But if you’re interested in understanding marital bargaining, reading Kidding Ourselves, not Get to Work.  (Hirshman does credit Mahony for much of this section.)  Ironically, this section reminded me a lot of Sylvia Hewlett’s writing — both of them are determined to save young women from the mistakes they don’t know they’re making.

Second, Hirshman does acknowledge that feminism would be smaller under her definition, but she argues that a smaller, more focused movement would be more effective.  In particular, she argues for a policy goal of removing the tax penalty on second earners.  (Interestingly, this is also the "marriage penalty" that the religious conservatives whom Hirshman reviles also oppose.)

3 Responses to “TBR: Get to Work”

  1. Phantom Scribbler Says:

    Oh, how irritating. Does that mean I’m going to have to actually look at the book to spot the endnote? Perhaps it’s just best not to know…

  2. Alan Says:

    “Sleazy rhetorical tricks”–great way to put it! I take Hirshman to task for that (and much more) in an “open letter” published just today:
    (The first page consists of the site editor’s commentary, along with some background; my “letter” begins on page 2.)
    Come check it out, please–and I’d welcome your comments as well.

  3. Ailurophile Says:

    I know you mentioned Rhona Mahony, and how much of Hirshman’s idea was originated by Mahony in “Kidding Ourselves.”
    I read “Kidding Ourselves” for a paper I wrote and I liked it. Mahony does offer some of the same suggestions as Hirshman but with much more nuance and minus the hectoring tone.
    However, both Hirshman’s and Mahony’s advice to “marry down” takes on a hollow ring when one reads the NYT’s series on unemployed men who don’t do much about the house, either. Rather than “marry down” or “marry an older man” etc. etc. I say, “Marry a kindhearted man who truly values you, your marriage, and your future family, and is willing to be flexible and compromise.” Marrying someone who “should” want to stay home with the kids because he is younger or earns less or whatever doesn’t always work. My advice is to look for inner qualities rather than demographic ones. But my advice probably won’t find a publisher, either.

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