How to Bring Down The Patriarchy (With Caveats)
I had not heard of Linda R. Hirschman until reading her obituary just now, but I’m sorry that I hadn’t heard of her work earlier. But when I read that Ms. Hirschman managed to offend both men and women with her views on feminism, I knew the obit, however short, was worth a read. And I was not disappointed.
Ms. Hirshman argued that being a stay-at-home mom was not a choice just like any other choice a woman makes about how to live her life. This choice, she argued, was not a neutral choice, but was, for highly educated and affluent women at least, a cop out. Interviewing a number of women who had graduated from top universities and gone on to excellent and stellar careers she found that a significant majority had dropped out to be stay at home mothers—something she characterized as a very, very bad choice.
In order to change the patriarchal system, she argued, women had to work within the patriarchal system. As long as men ran all the white shoe law firms and were a significant majority of all corporate boards, nothing would fundamentally change for women. Women, she insisted, should not work in the arts or the non-profit world where they would have no real power — instead they should go the centre of true power — the law firms and corporations that actually run the world.
As for women who wanted to have children:
“Marry down, so you have the power in the relationship and he has to do the dishes (though her contention that a starving artist would be a useful househusband was one of the more dubious points in her article) — or stop worrying about the dishes altogether.” (New York Times, Nov. 9, 2023)
I want to make two points about this quotation from the New York Times article: the first is bravo, yes, marry down. Indeed, as Ms. Hirschman implies, this is the only way to dismantle the patriarchy — by redistributing money and power from men who care primarily for money and themselves, to those who care about women and children. This is what we might call action feminism, or more crudely “putting your money where your mouth is” because it actually helps bring about equality between the genders. In comparison, complaints and howls of protest about the injustices women experience are a so-distant-as-not-to-be-worth-considering second.
The second point is to ask: why the editorializing from the New York Times — why are starving artist stay-at-home husbands a dubious choice? I believe Ms. Hirschman is absolutely correct in this choice. Men with more remunerative or successful careers are less likely to accept the stay-at-home dad proposition. The male artist, should he truly be starving, would jump at this opportunity.
And now for the caveats.
- Women who work in high powered and highly paid careers still contribute to gender inequality. To be so successful at work means that some people (a lot of them women) will not have a chance to rise to the top and earn the associated rewards and privileges. It is hard to have equality when there’s so much pay inequality around.
- Women in highly paid careers are not perfect feminists — this means they may still be criticized for being interested only in an incomplete equality by everyone, men especially included.
- Women who choose not to have children or avoid relationships with men are really no better than the women who stay home. Why? Because neither group has a strong incentive to change the patriarchal working system that confers most of the benefits of work and wealth to men.
- Avoiding romantic relationships with men simply leaves more choices for those men at the top of the patriarchal system. To dismantle patriarchy the solution is to reduce the choices for those men who benefit most from it. The way to do this is for women to marry down.
- Not having children simply means that a woman usually ends up putting her career first. In so doing, she is just acting like a man, who also puts his career first. Patriarchy is a system — not a movement, you can only beat it by joining it.
In the end, for feminism to be for everyone, it should be about caring for everyone. What that means is caring about women and children, yes, but also caring about men who care but don’t feel cared for — the starving artists that the New York Times pooh-poos, and many others.