Friday, February 20, 2004

Barbara Ehrenreich and the Old Libbers

I see that Harry at Crooked Timber has called attention to the exchange between Russell Arben Fox and me about Barbara Ehrenreich's letter to Slate. Since Russell and I have been emailing each other about it, I though I would share. (I've only got 10 minutes, so excuse any typos and lack of links, please.)

Here are portions of Ehrenreich's letter:

I discovered the magazine while clearing off the kitchen counter and reeled back in horror from the cover line—"How Serfdom Saved the Women's Movement." For a moment I took it personally, as a vicious parody of the themes Arlie Hochschild and I address in our anthology Global Woman: Nannies, Maids and Sex Workers in the New Economy. When my daughter got home from work, she picked up the Atlantic, which I had forgotten during the fun game of carrying-Teddy-around-on-my-head, and commenced an icy diatribe against stay-at-home moms who have nothing better to do than bash their hardworking sisters.

First reactions are important. She was defensive. She felt like her daughter and her legacy were being attacked. Her first reaction was to put down stay-at-home moms. Then she says,

All right, Caitlin, I've read it now and know you didn't mean to satirize me or attack my daughter, who is, incidentally, the best mom I have ever seen in action, despite—and, I would say, also because of—her demanding job as a law professor and human rights advocate.

Now why did she have to add that her daugher was a good mother and a lawyer? More defensiveness?

I did like that she called attention to the fact that modern women seem to have given up on making men more accountable for the guilt of hiring nannies. Leave out the men who also enjoy the nanny's and maid's services and you are into plain old woman-blaming—in this case, for fairly hideous global inequalities. I also liked how she pointed out that nannies are a problem only for a small number of upper middle class women, and their defection from the universal childcare movement is significant.

However, her first reaction to Flanagan's article should be noted. I do think that there is a deep bias amongst libbers of her generation against women who work at home. There is some scorn against those who are unable to be both a law professor and a mother. After all, her end goal isn't really to have men and women spend more time with their kids. Her goal is to set up more childcare centers.

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