I recently stumbled upon this provocative article by Elizabeth Wurtzel from last summer, 1% Wives Are Helping Kill Feminism and Make the War on Women Possible. Her initial point is that ladies who lunch are bringing us all down. In her angry and engaging essay, she argues that being able to choose a lifestyle does not comprise feminism. It is not a feminist choice to choose to be a full time mom, which for the specific subsector of women she is referring to actually means paying a nanny to do it and attending daily yoga classes at Jivamukti. She says, “who can possibly take feminism seriously when it allows everything, as long as women choose it?” She hits a point I see often, in my own life and the lives of people I accidentally get into arguments with on my friends’ facebook feeds. Women see themselves as feminist and their partnerships as egalitarian for reasons they think are unique to their situations, not relegated by social constructions of gender, and they are making independent choices, and it’s just some sort of coincidence that it exactly mimics patriarchal, old-fashioned heteronormative gender roles. (Some day I will write another post about my gripes about marriage name changing that follows a lot of this thinking.) It’s kind of a step backwards from the second wave feminist movement to again see gender norms and gender roles as natural and personally chosen. Does anyone remember the feminist rallying cry of the 1960s and 70s women’s movement “the personal is political?” That doesn’t mean we can make whatever personal choices we want and we are feminists, but it means we should make personal choices that are explicitly feminist, whether it means burning your bra and keeping your armpits natural or working as hard as you possibly can in grad school and (crossing my fingers) getting a rad job afterward at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.
She goes on to make what I think is the one of the most interesting arguments in her piece, which I both agree with and I have a gut reaction against. She writes, “feminism should not be inclusive, and like most terms that are meaningful, it should mean something. It should mean equality. And there really is only one kind of equality — it precedes all the emotional hullabaloo — and it’s economic.”
Part of me feels like, yes! Women should acknowledge that their professional life is and should be as much a part of their identity as men’s professional life is to their identity. It is not feminist to attach your identity only to your role at home, because men sure as hell do not this. As Wurtzel references, when Mitt Romney says that his wife’s job is more important than his, he’s lying. If it was, then he’d do that work. In fact, being a mom does not a job make. Talking about “homemakers,” Wurtzel writes, “Let’s face it: It is not a selective position. A job that anyone can have is not a job, it’s a part of life, no matter how important people insist it is (all the insisting is itself overcompensation)…Which is to say, something becomes a job when you are paid for it — and until then, it’s just a part of life.” This is not to say it isn’t work, in that it is an activity that involves effort, for the women to actually spend their energy on raising their children and producing in their home (not the 1% that Wurtzel is writing about); but it is not actually a job. Women with jobs spend nearly as much time raising their children and doing work in the home, but they have also expanded their sense of identity beyond their roles as wives and mothers to that of workers. These women are being feminists because they are developing their own identities as people in our society. Being an active participant in the economy, not only as a consumer like these fabled 1% mommies, is a basic part of this social identity.
The other part of me thinks that there are other acts of feminism besides those that take place in the formal economy (and this is coming from an economist). I think the amazing book I Love Dick by Chris Kraus is a great example of this. Kraus brings back around “the personal is political” to the world of literature and philosophy. As written by in the introduction of the second edition, Eileen Myles says, “Chris’ ultimate achievement is philosophical. She’s turned female abjection inside out and aimed it at a man… I Love Dick boldly suggests that Chris Kraus’ unswervingly attempted and felt female life is a total work and it didn’t kill her.” Artistic and philosophical acts such as these are also feminist, because they are also grounded in female public identity both in relation to and separate from men. I’ll take this opportunity to plug a friend of mine’s blog, Conversations with Women, that continues in this tradition by publicizing women’s interactions with each other and with themselves as a feminist act.
I know I’m late to the game on this Wurtzel article, as I am in so many things in pop culture, but I think this discussion is still important to continue having as feminists, economists and feminist economists. I’m not sure if she convincingly argues how 1% women are implicated in the war on women, but what she lacks in adherence to the article title she makes up for in a meaningful argument for what feminism is – at least one crucial piece of feminism.
But if you want to avoid an aneurism, don’t read the discussion that takes place in the comments section of her article – too many trolls.