The Duck of Minerva

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More on the Hirshman debate

June 18, 2006

During my guest stint at Lawyers, Guns and Money I got involved in a spat with Unfogged’s LizardBreath over Linda Hirshman’s argument that highly-educated professional women who choose to become stay-at-home moms are the contemporary Quislings of the feminist movement.

Despite our disagreement, I thought LB held up her side of the argument rather well–which shouldn’t be surprising, given her sterling reputation. But I also thought she ignored some pretty important arguments.For example, I claimed that little evidence suggests that the existence of more women law partners and corporate executives would create an environment more conducive to a family friendly workforce. Since most of us agreed that such reforms–not marginal shifts in the number of high-achieving women–would ultimately be crucial to bringing about feminist goals, I don’t think LB’s case held together.

Interestingly enough, the Columbus Dispatch reports today that:

Women are more likely to be treated well by male bosses than female ones, and female workers see their office competition as primarily other women. So says Susan Shapiro Barash, a professor of gender studies at Marymount Manhattan College and author of Tripping the Prom Queen: The Truth About Women and Rivalry. Barash, who interviewed hundreds of women for the book, reported that more than two-thirds said they had received better treatment from male bosses. Barash says that male bosses were more generous in granting flex-time requests [emphasis added].

UPDATE: I should mention that Linda Hirshman embarrasses her many eloquent and thoughtful defenders by writing a dismissive and insubstantial editorial in the Washington Post. I basically agree with this response to it, but, as I add in the comments section, Hirshman’s somewhat askew invocation of the “problem that has no name” doesn’t speak well of her own knowledge of the arguments she’s participating in.

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Daniel H. Nexon is a Professor at Georgetown University, with a joint appointment in the Department of Government and the School of Foreign Service. His academic work focuses on international-relations theory, power politics, empires and hegemony, and international order. He has also written on the relationship between popular culture and world politics.