A Feminist Call to Arms? Or a Big Fat Eye Roll?

Last week, when we brought you The Good, the Bag, and the Ugly, we mentioned the incendiary essay by Elizabeth Wurtzel, 1% Wives Are Helping Kill Feminism and Make the War on Women Possible. But we can’t just leave it at that.

We suspect, dear readers, that more than a handful of you are the well-educated, well off stay-at-home-mothers who are the subject of Ms. Wurtzel’s scornful essay. And, like us, you might feel besieged upon reading, “…when I meet a woman who I know is a graduate of, say, Princeton -- one who has read The Second Sex and therefore ought to know better -- but is still a full-time wife, I feel betrayed” because according to Ms. Wurtzel, well off non-working women “go shopping at Chanel and get facials at Tracy Martyn when they should be wage-earning mensches.” And Ms. Wurtzel's anger is palpable: “I am going to smack the next idiot who tells me that raising her children full time -- by which she really means going to Jivamukti classes and pedicure appointments while the nanny babysits -- is her feminist choice.”

Thankfully, I’ve never claimed to make a “feminist” choice, have no idea what Jivamukti is, and was employed outside the home for the first 8 years of motherhood, so I hopefully won’t get smacked.

What is clear, though, is that Wurtzel’s depiction of well-heeled, well-educated stay-at-home mothers is an offensive caricature. One is tempted to think she did her research by watching “Real Housewives” television and following Manhattan society pages. Most insulting is her claim that upon exiting the work force, women “forget all but the lotus position” leaving their husbands to believe that their wives and therefore, all women are “dumb.” Really? At this point, her chacterization become so outlandish we can forget about indignation and just go with a big fat eye roll. What's the point of arguing with someone utterly detached from reality?

Ms. Wurtzel clearly has a penchant for provocative topics, having published a memoir of addiction, Bitch Rules, and most famously Prozac Nation. Perhaps the working mothers debate was irresistible; perhaps her offensiveness was meant to break up the ennui; perhaps she really feels feminism can be helped by authoritarian proclamations.

The one thing she is right about is that not earning a paycheck of one’s own is, in fact, an uncomfortable position. While I have been acutely aware of this in my time at home, I am also certain that my choice to stay home is the best possible choice for me, for my children, and for now. But hopefully not forever. And that is exactly where Ms. Wurtzel's essay is most wrong: the line between working and at-home mothers is fuzzy and impermanent, and we can only address any "war on women" by recognizing that we are all in this together, working or not.

10 comments:

Alex Dumortier said...

Interesting topic. I can think of at least one friend who graduated from Princeton who appears to be slightly ill-at-ease with her choice to be a stay-at-home mother. On the other hand, within the American upper class, there is a well-trodden path for this choice which typically involves volunteering on behalf of one or several philanthropic or artistic organizations. Depending on the level of involvement, this can be very similar in terms of commitment and responsibility to a corporate job.
As far as the essay goes, I didn't read it, but I'll just say that the media places a massive premium on provocative writing without particular regard to its coherence. I think that is the context in which one should place an essay like this one.

Anonymous said...

My goodness. That woman's (she is no lady darling) article is the height of bad taste and ignorance. Is it possible she is suffering from some sort of midlife biological crisis? Please keep the thoughtful writing coming.

EHP said...

Alex, you hit the nail on the head: provocative writing without too much coherence... of which, I believe the author has made an entire career.

As always, thanks for reading and your thoughtful comments.

Elizabeth said...

My definition of feminism has always been that women can and should choose what she wants to do, whatever it may be, whether it's breaking a glass ceiling somewhere or managing a household and volunteering for a dozen different organizations (which carries a LOT of value for both the volunteer and the organizations).

Thank you for the thoughtful post. I haven't read the article, but have read about it.

Lindsey said...

Amen. xo

Anonymous said...

Humpf. Well..I hope she doesn't call me when there's an emergency or she's in a bind. Perhaps I'm defensive, but us stay at home moms are quite capable at juggling, are generous with our time and are more than willing to help out working moms. I will read the article-but am feeling my blood pressure rise reading this!

Kate said...

Wow. She has some serious money issues and probably needs to up that Prozac doseage. I enjoyed this piece in response to her vitriolic article: http://www.nationalreview.com/corner/303146/elizabeth-wurtzel-should-get-out-more-robert-verbruggen
My experience with stay at home moms, and I work part-time so I am in the middle of the spectrum, is not the Chanel shopping, spoiled Housewives of New York kind of women she despises. I know stay at home moms who choose to be there for economic reasons. They budget, clean their own homes, and cook dinner for their families so they can sit down together at the end of the day, which as current research points out, is one of the most effective ways to raise happy and healthy children. Does that count for nothing?

EHP said...

Thanks for the link, Kate. I knew there were stats on stay-at-home mothers like that! I was thinking of digging some up but was just too lazy, or maybe just too dumb - I am a wife at home, you know ;) But seriously, he's right - one would think the Atlantic would require some type of research.

Kristen said...

That article made my blood boil. My reaction was that she needed to spend a little more time outside of Washington or Manhattan. You summed it up so well that the line is "fuzzy and impermanent". I've been on both sides and have always found myself trying to balance it all, with no paid help. Here's another response article that I loved: http://blog.sfgate.com/morford/2012/06/26/101-easy-steps-to-having-it-all

EHP said...

Kristen, I *just* read that article and really, really liked it. Great insight: do what you love, love what you do :)

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