Thursday, July 06, 2006

"Opting In" versus "Opting Out"

The choices for young women seem to be shrinking. Having a family excludes making partner at the law firm, and having a career excludes being a "good mother." Lisa Belkin raised the cultural antennas when she penned the short article, " The Opt-Out Revolution", detailing a few stories about extremely wealthy women who chose to "Opt-Out" of high-paying careers in order to stay at the home full-time.

The New York Times fanned the flames of this trend by publishing on its front page a story about female undergraduates at prestigious schools planning on staying at home full-time. This then resulted in a backlash from Linda Hirschman, published at American Prospect, who wrote that women who "opted out" were doing a disservice to women everywhere. Panic ensued.

I felt this fear first hand when I attended a Women's Leadership Conference at Harvard, featuring thirty undergraduate women who were leaders on campus. We came together for a week to network, do leadership training, and talk about issues facing younger women in leadership positions. The grand majority of the week was spent dealing with anxiety around solving the all important "work-life balance." However, the conversation was repetitive and never seemed to offer a solution. Rather, it seemed like squandering an opportunity to actually talk about and enhance leadership.

Meghan O'Rourke in brings up a new perspective to the debate, and complicates some of Hirschman’s claims. O'Rourke writes that women need to recognize that there is a collective struggle, and that in order to achieve full equality, women need to literally work for it. At first, I was put off by the article. It seemed to merely reinforce the problems that plague the "opting out" debate. It focuses on a small number of privileged, elite women who actually do have a financial choice and the luxury to make it. It further privileges a heterosexual norm of relationships. Relatedly, it is difficult to swallow the idea that "all women" are in a "collective struggle." It further ignores the feminist issues of who is left in order to support the "working woman." Those legions of women who hold domestic jobs as nanny's, day care providers, maids, et cetera are rendered invisible even more by being ignored as "working."

Those criticisms aside, however, the Slate article give suggesions for practical important issues based upon practicality, in a much easier to swallow form than Hirchman. For example:

"If you buy her argument, then even if you find it hard to leave your baby at home, and even if you find the workplace sometimes less-than-fulfilling, it's important—to society as a whole—that you work. This sounds extreme, but of course it's the lesson every man is taught when he's a boy: Your responsibility to society—the way to become an adult—is to work. "

Even easier, she says that you can choose to partner with someone who is only willing to do the household/child-rearing work fifty/fifty, and must be as devoted to that as you are. However, there must be more creative solutions out there that tons of younger women have been employing. Solutions, I'm willing to bet, that haven\'t been written about in the New York Times. Personally, I've been sticking with the idea of finding a partner as committed to living a feminist life as I am. But I want to hear more. So share your thoughts!

Happy Fourth,

1 comment:

byrdeye said...

Uh, everyone has limited options. How many options does a man have?

1) Become a wage-slave to attract women and eventually support a family.

2) Marry a wealthier woman who can help support you.

Now, since most women prefer to marry up in wealth, most men are essentially still stuck with option #1.