THE WAY WE WOMEN ARE:
THE LOVE THAT WOMEN DARE NOT SPEAK
Globe and Mail:
August 2, 2006: JUDITH TIMSON
If you ask a woman whether she loves her children, chances
are that, even if she's ready to send them to Siberia, she'll say "of
course." Society demands that she declare her maternal love from the
rooftops if necessary. (I've gone hoarse from that one.)
But ask if she loves her work and you may get silence. Or a conditional
answer that she still puts "the family first."
Why is that? Because a woman's love for her work, says a controversial
American academic and author, is "the love that dares not speak its name."
Linda Hirshman, a former philosophy professor at Brandeis University,
wants women to stop worrying that they'll appear to be bad mothers and admit
how much their work means to them. She even wants them to put work first.
She fomented a mommy-blogger blab fest, including an "I Hate Linda" website,
when, late last year, she published a scathing essay in The American
Prospect chiding highly educated professional women for leaving their jobs
to look after their kids.
"Bounding home is not good for women and it's not good for the society," she
Moreover, if women continue to drop out of professions like law, she warned,
then "it's only a matter of time until people figure out that women aren't a
good bet for education and opportunity."
Her sinus-clearing essay (as one male commentator wryly put it) has now been
expanded into an equally bracing book, Get To Work, A Manifesto for Women
of the World, a little red-covered polemic that will make her detractors
see even more red.
It is a sharp tirade against the wasted resources of all homeward-bound
women who, as she sees it, are sacrificing their education, economic
independence and a chance to attain real prestige and power through work by
choosing to dwell solely in the land of "laundry and kissing boo boos."
Her research was limited to flipping through back issues of
The New York Times wedding announcements and contacting elite women to find
out, some eight years later, what they were up to. She found that 85 per
cent of them, many with postgraduate degrees and sterling professional
credentials, had left the world of "serious adult work" to raise their
Of course, unlike many women, they had married big earners and could afford
to go home. Yet, in Ms. Hirshman's all-or-nothing view, any woman who leaves
a challenging job to go home to tend her kids instead of using the full
resources of her mind does not have "a flourishing life."
Get To Work could be viewed as just another patronizing lecture to women on
how to live their lives, with a twist: This one doesn't romanticize the
family, it romanticizes the job. She gives little weight to the importance
of hands-on mothering. Its tone is such that I was surprised to learn she
has a grown daughter, two stepdaughters and a second husband to whom she has
been "happily married" for 17 years.
Yet Get To Work also rings profoundly true to me on several fronts.
Ms. Hirshman maintains that "the thickest glass ceiling is at home" and that
men will continue to avoid doing their fair share -- 50 per cent -- of
housework and child-rearing as long as women allow them to --which most of
us do. She urges young women to seriously look at a potential marriage
partner's attitudes toward domestic equality and to negotiate a fair deal
before walking down an aisle.
If men are forced into serious household duty, then corporations will no
longer be able to expect them to work 80-hour weeks, she says, and voilą,
the work/life balance problem will be solved.
But it's not that simple. When my children were young, I had a helpful
husband and, at different times, varying child care situations -- all with
pretty good results. But when push came to shove and one of us needed to
stay home with a sick child, I, like many women I knew, was the one who
rearranged my schedule. That was the cold, hard reality of our working
However, a recent Statistics Canada study indicated there could be
significant change on the domestic front. It said that Canadians are working
more than they were 10 years ago, with women putting in extra hours at the
office and their male counterparts increasingly pitching in with the cooking
and cleaning. For men, the longer working hours were "almost entirely from
unpaid work around the house" while the increase among women was from paid
Does this mean, as one news report said, "that traditional divisions of
labour are blurring?" I see too many men walking their kids to daycare or
spending time with them in the park to doubt that men are doing more
domestic duty than in the past.
It's probably not just fairness that has driven men to this. It's because
their wives simply aren't there. Not only are the wives working longer
hours, some of them are even making more money. Salary rules. So here's
another new cold, hard reality: If the woman makes more money than the man,
he will be pushing a swing set.
But what if you don't want to be the one at the office working your fingers
to the bone at a high-paying job just to justify your education? The truth
is that not everyone can achieve real power and prestige through work, and
not everyone -- male or female -- wants to.
Ms. Hirshman is not wrong when she urges women to take their work very
seriously. Never quit a job until you have another one (our own mothers
would have given us this advice). Bargain "relentlessly" for a just
household (can you do this without turning your marriage into a
But she also advises them to "consider a reproductive strike" and have only
What about biology -- about the desire for a bigger family, the deep and
legitimate need many women have to be with their very young children, to be
the one who cuddles them and, yes, kisses their boo boos? And what about the
lack of attention and care that many modern children live with? Their lives
need to flourish as well.
When my children were young, I threw the laundry in, kissed the boo-boos and
also did meaningful work -- but I sacrificed income and opportunity by
becoming self-employed, because, once I had children, the one thing I knew I
had to do was control my own hours. Not every woman can do this. But, in Ms.
Hirshman's view, I was still not working to the top of my abilities or
Much of what Ms. Hirshman says is difficult to read because it's hard and
cold and not cuddly at all. She's saying that if men don't step away from
the work arena to have kids, then women shouldn't either, or they will never
have as much power in the world as men. But she's also saying that until men
step up to their domestic responsibilities, women will never equal them in
the outside world.
Get To Work may be a take-no-prisoners approach, but it reinforces how
important fulfilling work is in anyone's life, male or female. We are not
doing our daughters a favour if we don't impress upon them the need to use
their education to get the best and even highest-paying job possible. To
take work seriously, to love what they do, and to guard and to value it in
Ms. Hirshman ends her book with an anecdote about a couple of married
doctors. The wife works at her medical practice part-time "which enables her
to spend time with their children and do most of the errands and housework
as well as volunteering at a soup kitchen." Nothing wrong with that.
The husband, on the other hand, practises medicine full-time, working very
long hours, sometimes sacrificing his time with his family.
It turns out he's doing research on children's cancer. Ms. Hirshman
concludes: "So there it is. He probably won't, but he just may, find a cure
for cancer. And she never will."
I'd like to argue with that, but, somehow, I can't.