The Corner

Economy & Business

Feminists against Choice

Rae Paoletta meditates in a cat yoga class at a cat cafe in Brooklyn, N.Y., March 13, 2019. (Jeenah Moon/Reuters)

It’s been a joke for years that half the women you see sitting around Starbucks in yoga pants at 11 a.m. seem to have degrees from Harvard Business School or Yale Law School. That lots of extremely expensively educated and capable women are choosing to spend many of their prime years shuttling their kids to violin practice and making Rice Krispie treats for bake sales does not fit the preferred feminist narrative, which is that it’s retrograde and maybe demeaning to be a stay-at-home mom.  Naomi Schaefer Riley writes in Commentary, “The idea that women’s M.B.A.s turned out to be of no more use than the MRS degrees that their mothers and grandmothers received was more than many people could bear.”

There are data on this: Scholars Pamela Stone of CUNY and Meg Lovejoy of Harvard cover the terrain in Opting Back in: What Really Happens When Mothers Go Back to Work. Lovejoy and Stone are not pleased by what they find, because they’re feminists.

Larding their account with lots of sneering about “privilege” and “the patriarchy,” Stone and Lovejoy effectively tell these women (who typically never return to their high-powered, high-status, high-paying jobs after a stint as homemakers and instead tend to go into less stressful but more rewarding careers in philanthropy or the nonprofit sector) that they’re betraying the sisterhood. The choices that make such women happy as individuals make Stone and Lovejoy unhappy as feminists.

The authors frame such choices as illusory. You might even call them manifestations of false consciousness. Choices with which they disagree can’t properly be called choices:

Their affluence, their understanding of the privilege of their position, their professed perfectionism, and their strong sense of personal agency led them to adopt the narrative of choice.

Weird how feminists feel it’s okay to tell women how they should think. Why can’t these women understand their duty to make choices that will cost them happiness in order to satisfy the larger goal? That goal is the demands of the feminist collective and its obsession with measuring women’s success by, inter alia, what percentage of CEOs or senior partners are female.

The very women who are best positioned (and indeed expected) to surmount barriers and close gender gaps instead pursue career-family strategies that work for them individually, but that ultimately exacerbate and increase gender inequality overall.

(Emphasis in the original.) Expected? Expected by whom? Feminists seem to expect women to measure success almost entirely in career terms, meaning postponing or entirely forsaking having children while pouring their lives into jobs, even jobs they may not find meaningful or rewarding. Most women understand there is much more to life than climbing the greasy pole of corporate success. Feminism is frustrated by this and other obvious truths.

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