Tuesday, November 29, 2005

And God said, let there be stay-at-home moms

Ross Douthat is back with more "telling it like it is" social conservatism, this time critiquing Linda Hirshman's piece in the Prospect:

I'm not going to argue with [Hirshman], since in general I think she's fighting a losing battle, and because her prescriptions - encouraging women to opt out of the less-than-lucrative liberal arts majors in favor of higher-salaried tracks like economics; suggesting that women start marrying down, or younger or older, so that their hubbies will be more amenable to sacrificing their own careers to help out on the home front; proposing a nationwide natalism strike, in which women refuse to have more than one child - are interesting without being even faintly realistic. (She also writes that "conservatives justified the unequal family in two modes: 'God ordained it' and 'biology is destiny'" - and since I believe in 1) God and 2) biological differences between the sexes, which make women more likely than men to choose children over a full-time career, I guess I have to plead guilty on both counts. But I think I'm right.)

I'm not sure if the battle Douthat is fighting is a winning or losing one, but either way, it merits a response, because it makes no sense whatsoever and yet is being passed off as a serious discussion of a serious issue. Obviously a person could, like Douthat, believe in God, and, unlike Douthat and the conservatives Hirshman mentions, not use this belief to justify a woman staying in the kitchen and so forth. Hirshman is not saying that anyone God-fearing is a conservative, but that conservatives are (mis)using faith to support their own political goals.

Also, Douthat says he believes in "biological differences between the sexes, which make women more likely than men to choose children over a full-time career." Fair enough. But to him this means that "biology is destiny." That's a bit of a leap, isn't it? Conservatives want individuals to fight their "biological" inclinations in all sorts of ways--why shouldn't women, who are "biologically inclined" to throw tupperware parties, use the same willpower used by ex-gays, monogamists, etc., and become businesswomen?

But it's the "I think I'm right" that really does it. Isn't it a given that people who write down their opinions--online or off--think that they're right? Isn't the point to actually be right, or at least to argue convincingly that one is right, rather than to merely assert this?

Still, Hirshman's argument isn't entirely sound, but not for the reasons Douthat provides:

What better sample, I thought, than the brilliantly educated and accomplished brides of the “Sunday Styles,” circa 1996? At marriage, they included a vice president of client communication, a gastroenterologist, a lawyer, an editor, and a marketing executive. In 2003 and 2004, I tracked them down and called them. I interviewed about 80 percent of the 41 women who announced their weddings over three Sundays in 1996. Around 40 years old, college graduates with careers: Who was more likely than they to be reaping feminism’s promise of opportunity? Imagine my shock when I found almost all the brides from the first Sunday at home with their children. Statistical anomaly? Nope. Same result for the next Sunday. And the one after that.

There's a problem with this sample--the Times brides are not merely educated women, but educated women who want their weddings written up in the Times. Only a certain (perhaps traditional?) sort of person would want this. While, as David Brooks points out in Bobos in Paradise, changes in the NYT Weddings pages reflect changes in society, as long as the weddings are not selected at random, they're bound to be skewed towards those newlyweds who go in for not just marriage but also the whole mystique of the wedding itself. Hirshman gives other evidence as well, but she keeps mentioning the the NYT-bride example throughout the article, as though it were especially convincing. It's not. Otherwise, though, her overall point--that the glass ceiling is at home--makes a great deal of sense, and her other examples seem to support it.


Anonymous said...

As if you wouldn't want your wedding written up in the NY times. I would think any NY gal would want their wedding written up in the NY times.

Phoebe said...

Nope, some prefer to be written up in "Only Simchas." The city's a big, diverse place. Not everyone has the same goals.

If I were ever to get married, my main concern would be registering for the following items/animals:

1) espresso maker
2) wheel of parmesan
3) longhaired dachshunds

Maybe when I'm a grown-up I'll see things differently, but somehow I doubt it.