Everybody Loves to Hate Linda

In the lead piece in Sunday's Outlook, Linda Hirshman says she stopped reading the mommy blogs when the vitriol tended toward the vomit-inducing (literally: as in “you make me vomit”), but that doesn’t mean the mommy bloggers stopped reading her. And so in response to her piece on the vehemence of the response to her views on women and work, the Linda Hirshman anti-fan club is out in respectable force. Also out in respectable force: bloggers rising either to defend fellow online journalist Jason Leopold in the face of Joe Lauria's piece on his dubious ethics in Outlook this week or to commend Lauria for his account.

Starting with Hirshman, the most interesting response is from the non mommy-bloggers on Hirshman’s argument that it is a failure of feminism that many well educated women are fleeing the workforce to stay home and raise their children.  No one attacks the argument head on, really, or at least not without chiding Hirshman’s tactics as well as her message.

At Powerline, Paul Mirengoff posts that Hirshman’s questions about what is best for women sounds like “the kind of stuff best left to one’s support group—or one’s psychiatrist.”

In the Corner at National Review Online, Jonah Goldberg calls Hirshman the Sally Field of Philosophers, which is a little backward because, as Hirshman notes, the bloggers don’t like her, they really don’t like her.

His take is that Hirshman’s surprise at the breadth of online criticism against her shows she’s an internet neophyte (with her book blog now up and running one could argue she’s caught on quickly enough).  Additionally, her scapegoating is weak: “She does manage to blame — shock! — evangelical Christians for much of the push-back against her book and for the pernicious support this society gives to women who want to devote a few years to raising their kids.”

The story came out on father’s day, so a few daddy bloggers took time to reflect on the women (and children in their life).  James Harris at dadspoint (“Fatherhood in the 21st century”) is “proud to call” himself a feminist. He says “It is a core value of how I treat women and educate my sons.” He’s hopeful that “the personal is political” can mean something again. Implied in that statement, perhaps, is that the situation Hirshman criticizes means the personal has slipped from the political radar. Another dad sort of shrugs at the Catch-22 Hirshman highlights in her writing. “On one level, she's probably right. If you drop out of the workforce, you harm yourself by making yourself economically dependent, and to the extent that this serves as an example for others, you hurt others…” But: the problem here is having kids is great. That’s his Father’s Day conclusion. “If you don't raise children, you are also missing out on an important part of the human experience.”

And then there were the moms. They were the ones Hirshman responded to in the piece and they are keeping up the volley, for the most part.  The majority of bloggers don’t react to the piece itself so much as reiterate their initial outrage.  The most interesting, new points respond to Hirshman’s assertion that faced with personal attacks in the vein of “I wave my middle finger at you” she stopped reading “the unmediated content of the Internet.” This statement irked many who toil, unmediated, on the internet.

Alison Byrne took offense, asking “In other words, promote intellectual debate until someone disagrees with you.”

Karen Braun, who blogs at spunkyhomeschool.blogspot.com, also criticized Hirshman for admitting that she tuned out some critics. Braun is a college-educated mother of 6 who, as her blog name might suggest, homeschools her children. She notes that it might be possible that “the ‘queen bee’ of the working woman has been dethroned by a growing number of little bees busy in the blogosphere and she doesn't like it? Today, the voices of stay at home moms can be heard by anyone willing to click over and read what we're saying…Slowly women are catching a vision, one blog at a a time, for what their heart told them was true all along - being a wife and mother is the most lucrative career around.”

The conversation continues, with some nuance, from women writing that the negative reaction to Hirshman is not simply about the issue, but more about “her arrogance dictating what women should do,” and that Hirshman needs to acknowledge the value in raising children as not just a series of backbreaking repetitive tasks, but also the most important job any person, man or woman, could undertake.Others suggest that the conversation needs to shift to the public policy arena, with more realistic options affordable childcare and flexible employment.

And Brad Wilcox and Elizabeth Marquardt at Family Scholars respond directly to Hirshman. Marquardt takes issue with Hirshman’s broad characterization of the site as evangelical. She then asks: “Since when does getting a paycheck from “the man” make for a life well-lived?” and Wilcox chimes in with statistics that seem to suggest it doesn’t.

Hirshman was online, responding to 500+ messages on her site. She shared some personal stories and noted that one main theme emerging is the need for “regime change”.

She also said, as many have noticed, “I have an unnatural taste for judgment,” which is why she encourages readers to hit her Web site: gettoworkmanifesto.com and contact her there.

Father's Day Outlook wasn't all about Hirshman. Many Iraq-focused bloggers pick up on the Baghdad embassy cable and note how perilous it is even for employees at the "fortress-like US embassy in Iraq." Most express disappointment and sadness at the details in the memo, and very little surprise at how grim the picture actually is. Finally, as noted above, Linda Hirshman wasn't the only online personality featured in Outlook for whom bloggers expressed concern. Joe Lauria wrote about the reporter Jason Leopold's dubious tactics in obtaining his Rove "scoop." And while many bloggers excoriate Lauria, some are concerned for Leopold and his journalistic ethics. One, in particular, is Jeff Gannon, who is still blogging away at jeffgannon.com after his brief moment in the White House press corps spotlight. He says: "Get this guy some help--fast." Wise words from a man who would know from the perils of online journalism.

By Rachel Dry |  June 19, 2006; 4:14 PM ET
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Sunday's Outlook piece by Linda Hirshman is the first time I've heard about the controversy set off, apparently, by her article last December. In Sunday's article she said that "women who quit thir jobs to stay home with their children were making a mistake . . . "

I'm just wondering . . . let's assume for a moment that, per her direction, no mother quits her job to stay home "with children;" (I'll ignore her choice of phrase for the moment -- no actually, I won't -- I think a more accurate phrase would be " . . . stay home to raise their children . . . " Stay-at-home moms (and dads) aren't just hanging out with the kiddies, they're working at raising the next generation!!!)

Anyway, I digressed . . . has anyone mentioned to Ms. Hirshman that, if no mothers stay at home to raise their children, that means (a) we will need to create a huge number (probably millions?) of day care slots; (b) another huge number of those slots will have to be subsidized or free, because on minimum wage no one can pay for day care (in Fairfax County, VA, monthly day care for a prekindergartener is $800 or more); (c) if we're going to need millions more day care slots, we're also going to need qualified and highly trained, carefully screened day care teachers . . . 90% of whom will likely be women . . . but that's ok, because since no mothers are going to stay home to take care of their children, lots more women will be available to work in the low-paying, highly frustrating and undervalued positions of day care teachers. And while we're at it, let's factor in the cost of infant care. And let's add sick child day care to the mix, because presumably if mothers don't take off work when children get sick, someone else has to take care of them . . .

I don't know for sure, but does anyone else see the vicious circle Ms. Hirshman's philosophy put into practice could cause?

So whatever happened to "the best interests of the child?" Sometimes that means a stay-at-home parent (usually mom) and sometimes it means available day care or a caring, stable relative. Yes, I agree that quitting her job puts a mother in the unhappy position of potentially jeopardizing her career (by the way, not all mothers have "careers" per se, many millions of mothers have jobs that they find just to keep food on the table, which is another undervalued strength women exhibit but keep right on doing -- because they HAVE TO!

Ms. Hirshman misses the mark on so many counts with her so-called philosophy (when did Philosophy become law, telling us "how to live?" I must have missed that turn of events.) I will defend vehemently her right to an OPINION. Thankfully, we live in a country where that is our political and human right.

Just as it is a mother's (or father's) right to decide where to put her/his priorities. Whether that's staying home for some period of time to raise children full-time, or work and raise children, or not to have children at all, or . . .

It's unfortunate that "having a career" is so highly valued and parenting is so far down the scale. We value athleticss more than parenting; not a new argument, I'm aware.

But to say that it's not valuable at all, or to classify it as "a mistake," is insulting to anyone who is making a choice they hope or believe is in their children's best interests. If more of us, including our welfare, social services, educational and judicial systems put children first more often, we would all benefit.

Especially the next generation.

Posted by: Linda Schade | June 20, 2006 01:22 PM

Ugh. Contrary to what James Harris wants to think, the personal ISN'T political. That's a bunch of tired rhetoric from the 60s that has no basis in objective reality. I make personal decisions based on my personal needs, wants, and opinions, and I don't give a flying fig if someone else is offended by those decisions. Epidimeological psychiatrists will tell you that nearly everyone makes decisions that way.

I drink wine at dinner because I like it, not in a calculated maneuver to denigrate water- and beer-drinkers at the next table. My wife and I decided not to have children, because that's what WE decided was best for US; we honestly didn't consider anyone else's opinion or feelings in the matter. And we certainly didn't make that decision as a way of putting down someone else's decisions.

Whatever happened to "live and let live", and "to each his own"? Turning these intensely personal decisions into political theater is wrong on every count I can think of.

Posted by: John | June 20, 2006 01:51 PM

In this article, the writer said

No one attacks the argument head on, really, or at least not without chiding Hirshman's tactics as well as her message.

That's a bit of an unfair assessment. Many blogs wrote very articulate arguments shortly after her original article was published. But her piece this time around was about how she was "attacked" for what she wrote. This week's article was all about Linda Hirshman. It would have been redundant to rehash her original article again. The purpose of Ms. Hirshman's article in the Post was to talk about how the blogs affected her. And that is what most responded to this week.

Posted by: Spunky | June 20, 2006 03:35 PM

The idea that you know what God is or isn't going to do to Dana is call judgment. Guess what to all you Bible thumpers it is a sin to judge. You do not have the right to judge Dana or any other person for the actions that they do unless you are free from sin, are you? You have missed the point of this article, it is about choice, the last time I looked we have that freedom here in America. If Dana had the choice of Plan B then there would be no baby. We must be able to stop pregnancies before they happen or deal with the consequence's after, you can not have it both ways.

Posted by: nallcando | June 20, 2006 03:40 PM

I engaged in an email "debate" with Linda Hirshman after I saw her make her outrageous judgments about stay-at-home mothers last year on "60 Minutes." Although I give her credit for responding to my email and participating in a "discussion" with me, I have to say that she is even more hostile--indeed, downright insulting--in the context of personal interaction than she comes across in a media situation. She loses credibility and her ability to persuade in her complete refusal to acknowledge anything positive about opposing opinions and in her judgmental tone. I also discovered in my exchange with her that she believes that most stay-at-home mothers have domestic help, sometimes a full staff, that allows them to have frequent spa days and tennis lessons and such. That may be true in the rarified air of the wealthy suburbs of New York City, but it's definitely not true for most mothers at home in the rest of the U.S. I, too, find her hubris in declaring what is "right" for women to do for their well-being and career choices to be outrageous. She really seems to think that those of us who, despite being well educated, have decided to stay home to rear our children are not only stupid but under the thumbs of our imbecilic and domineering husbands. Heaven forbid the thought that we might actually be happy!

Posted by: Shippy | June 20, 2006 04:27 PM

Linda was specifically focusing on highly-educated women, not the average working-class woman. Thus, arguments about day care and the like are fairly irrelevant, for I doubt it is difficult for highly-educated people to afford childcare. Linda has good points. While I do not agree with her ideals about the goals of feminism--I am of the school that the goal of the movement is to provide women with equality, as well as choices in regard to how to live life, while she seems to believe that there is only one obvious path for educated women to pursue. She does bring an interesting question to the fore: where is the equality when it comes to raising children? Take two highly educated adults who are married and decide to have children and why is it that the mother will most likely be the one to take time out of her life (and career path) to raise them? It seems to be the default mode for the woman to stay home. Why aren't more fathers staying home, and most important, why aren't more women demanding that it be the father who stays home? Why bother to be a highly-educated woman if you have no other intention but to be a housewife in the end? Why waste the time and money? I realize the last two questions are pushing it a little. However, this has serious implications in the workplace. Men continue to excel and dominate in fields considered most respectable, while women (again, we are focusing on the highly-educated)dead-end and are left to live by others decisions when they could just as easily be the ones making them (in an effort to equalize the gender differential). For those who think that the personal is separate from the political--you're idealist, they are highly integrated. The personal choice of these women staying home results in the rule of the professional and political worlds by men. Effectively leaving out the voice of women no longer by force, but by the choices of these women who choose to "bear the great responsibility of raising the next generation." If you ask me, the best influence one can have on the next generation is by affecting change in the professional and political realms...and women are CHOOSING to drop out of these realms like flies.

Posted by: Z | June 20, 2006 10:35 PM

"Starting with Hirshman" and ... ending with Hirshman, you didn't get very far.

Posted by: yousee | June 21, 2006 02:24 AM

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