The Atlantic, June 15, 2012 by Elizabeth Wurtzel
NEW YORK — When my mind gets stuck on everything that is wrong with feminism, it brings out the 19th century poet in me: Let me count the ways. Most of all, feminism is pretty much a nice girl who really, really wants so badly to be liked by everybody — ladies who lunch, men who hate women, all the morons who demand choice and don’t understand responsibility — that it has become the easy lay of social movements. 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. Who can possibly take feminism seriously when it allows everything, as long as women choose it? The whole point to begin with was that women were losing their minds pushing mops and strollers all day without a room or a salary of their own.
Let’s please be serious grown-ups: real feminists don’t depend on men. Real feminists earn a living, have money and means of their own.
If the movement had been serious about being serious then the idea could not have caught on that equal is how you feel. Or that how anyone feels about anything matters at all. Men know better. They look at numbers, and here is how the statistics are running years after women first started screaming and yelling and burning bras: We still earn 81 percent of what men do, and an act to make things more fair was blocked in Congress by Republicans. For anyone who doesn’t care to count, but understands traffic signals mixed with policy speculation, I think it’s safe to say that the day is near when a teenage girl will be forced to get a vaginal probe before she is issued a learner’s permit in the state of Virginia. And this is all because feminism has misread its mission of equality as something open to interpretation, as expressive and impressive, not absolute.
Don’t agree? Try this: smart is how you feel, pretty is how you feel, talented is how you feel — we are all beautiful geniuses. 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. If you can’t pay your own rent, you are not an adult. You are a dependent. But because feminism has always been about men — our relationships with them, our differences from them — as much or more than about money, it’s had few consistent tenets. Hemlines up, hemlines down, choice this, want that — once we get away from the scientific need for sustenance, it’s all gobbledygook. I really don’t consider it my feminist business that an awful lot of strong and solid women — Simone de Beauvoir, famously — are idiots about love and romance any more than I care that Helen of Troy’s face started a naval war, because we are all fools for love. But I think it is my concern that all people, with whatever foolishness, are able to provide themselves with gas and food and lodging.
I have to admit that 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. I’m not much of a moralist — I have absolutely no right to be — but in the interest of doing what’s right both for me personally and for women generally, I have been strict with myself about earning my keep. For the longest time I would not date anyone who would now be called a one-percenter because money and power are such a potent combination, and if I am going to be bossed around, I don’t want that to be the reason. When it’s come up, I have chosen not to get married. Over and over again, I have opted for my integrity and independence over what was easy or obvious. And I am happy. I don’t want everyone to live like me, but I do expect educated and able-bodied women to be holding their own in the world of work.
Because here’s what happens when women go shopping at Chanel and get facials at Tracy Martyn when they should be wage-earning mensches: the war on women happens.
Failing as a feminist is a unique problem of the wealthy, but consequences impact women all the way down the line. It happens that most women — and men — are living feminist lives because of economic necessity, whether they mean to or not. Most families are kind of like Sarah Palin’s was before she made her pit-bull star turn: lots of kids and both mom and dad have to bring in what money they can. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2011 nearly 71 percent of women with children under 18 worked. Most mothers have jobs because they need or want the money and fulfillment; only in rare cases are they driven by glory. To be a stay-at-home mom is a privilege, and most of the housewives I have ever met — none of whom do anything around the house — live in New York City and Los Angeles, far from Peoria. Only in these major metropolises are there the kinds of jobs in finance and entertainment that allow for a family to live luxe on a single income. In any case, having forgotten everything but the lotus position, these women are the reason their husbands think all women are dumb, and I don’t blame them. As it happens, fewer than 5 percent of the CEO’s of Fortune 500 companies, 16 percent of corporate executives, and 17 percent of law partners are female. The men, the husbands of the 1 percent, are on trading floors or in office complexes with other men all day, and to the extent that they see anyone who isn’t male it’s pretty much just secretaries and assistants. And they go home to…whatever. What are they supposed to think? They pay gargantuan American Express bills and don’t know why or what for. Then they give money to Mitt Romney.
Seriously: Did Romney actually tell his wife that her job was more important than his? So condescending. If he thought that, he’d be doing it. Being a rich mom — even with five sons, bless her heart — is not even sort of a job. Housekeepers there, servants there: it’s not just that being a wealthy wife is not work in the way that being a corporate litigator or a corporal in the Army is work, it’s that it doesn’t even involve picking up Lego pieces and putting away GI Joe dolls or much of any of the stuff that makes being a mom a job.
Hilary Rosen would not have been so quick to be so super sorry for saying that Ann Romney has never worked a day in her life if we weren’t all made more than a wee bit nervous by our own biases, which is that being a mother isn’t really work. Yes, of course, it’s something — actually, it’s something almost every woman at some time does, some brilliantly and some brutishly and most in the boring middle of making okay meals and decent kid conversation. But 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). Even moms with full-time jobs spend 86 percent as much time with their kids as unemployed mothers, so it is apparently taking up the time of about 14 percent of a paid position. And all the cultish glorification of home and hearth still leaves us in a world where most of the people paid to chef and chauffeur in the commercial world are men. Which is to say, something becomes a job when you are paid for it — and until then, it’s just a part of life.