Monday, December 18
In her recent treatise Get to Work: A Manifesto for Women of the World, Linda Hirshman came off as a bit inflexible. She commanded women: Don’t major in art, don’t have more than one child, and always bargain for a gender-neutral division of household chores. Pundits–some sympathetic and some hostile–couldn’t get enough of Hirshman’s reaffirmation of equality feminism, which asserted that feminist women can live their ideals only through public lives of work and activism, not private lives of family and domesticity. A former union-side labor lawyer from Chicago who stopped practicing law to teach it and then decided to pursue a Ph.D. in philosophy, Hirshman taught at Brandeis University and is number 77 on conservative media critic Bernard Goldberg’s list of 100 People Who Are Screwing Up America. Hirshman spoke to Campus Progress about the philosophical choices of the privileged, why men should be forced to take parental leave, and the ethics of abortion up until birth.
Campus Progress: Some stay-at-home mothers reenter the workforce once their children go to school. Do you think this could possibly be a functional middle ground between working all the time and staying at home?
Linda Hirshman: Women go back into the workplace as their children get older, but they do not go back into the workplace with the commitment that the men go back with. They don’t work as many hours, many are working part time, they are harmed by the time they’ve taken off, and they are not rising as fast or as single-mindedly.
You write that women should always work. Where does this thesis fit in for women with extremely low incomes who simply can’t afford to enter the workforce because they don’t earn enough to pay for childcare?
This is what philosophers call a situation of extreme scarcity, and in situations of extreme scarcity, moral condemnation is not appropriate. So for example, if people acted badly in concentration camps or when they are starving to death in Chad, you couldn’t go and say, “They aren’t behaving in a Kantian way, and they weren’t fully using their capacities,” because you need for there to be moderate scarcity for there to be moral choice.
So one of the reasons I didn’t write about the “really truly needy,” as Ronald Reagan called them, is because that would be immoral for me to criticize their decisions. They don’t have enough maneuvering room to make morally interesting decisions. As with most philosophers, I do not write about situations of extreme scarcity. I’m interested in people who are in a situation where they have enough maneuvering room that they can make choices we can evaluate morally.