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November 03, 2005

Can we call it "opting otherwise" instead?

...and a side of existential angst. , Feminist , Jumping on the bandwagon , Meanwhile, in the outside world... , Warning: Liberal , What, me? Have an opinion? , Work

So everyone has been up in arms about Maureen Dowd this week, and who am I to let a perfectly good bandwagon roll on by? A lot has already been said, better than I could say it, so I'll give you some links on Dowd's elitism and the truth behind Dowd's examples of "backlash" and how Dowd's "data" is questionable at best. And, before I get into my main point here, I'd like to say that my first reaction upon reading the article was that dear Maureen needs to get over herself. Maybe she'd have more romantic success if she, you know, tried being nice to people, or didn't make it quite so abundantly clear that she feels she is superior to everyone around her. I was also a bit unclear as to how Dowd would actually like women (or, for that matter, anyone) to behave, as she seems to disapprove of, well, everything.

But anyway. The part that most bothered me was her take on the whole concept of "opting out." To her credit, Dowd does admit that "to the extent that young women are rejecting the old idea of copying men and reshaping the world around their desires, it's exhilarating progress. But..." And, of course, there's a "but." It's exhilarating progess, but she doesn't like it. She sees it as spoiled, pampered women turning their backs on long-sought education and opportunities in favor of dependence on rich husbands. This strikes me as a narrow view, to say the least.

A little background, although you probably all know all this: I am currently single and self-supporting1. I work for a reasonably large corporation as well as a very large retail chain. I'm in grad school, ostensibly to become qualified to be a professional in a particular field. And, given the chance, I would (I think) "opt out" in a second. But I don't think but reasons are horrible and unfeminist.

1. First of all, corporate life really isn't that great. Theoretically, some people like it, but I haven't met many of those people, either male or female. Other than for reasons of job security, I really couldn't care less whether the company I work for makes money. This isn't the greatest motivation for trying to climb the corporate ladder. I'd rather be doing something I thought actually mattered, somehow.
2. If I ever have children, I feel pretty strongly about staying home with them (and quite possibly homeschooling, but we'll leave that for another discussion) if circumstances allow. I don't think this is because I want to be a Stepford wife, though. It's more that I want to be with my children through their early development. I think that's reasonable (and really rather responsible) of me2.
3. I will admit that I have literary aspirations, and "opting out" of a nine to five schedule would give me more time to write. (Although not if/when there were small children around. I do realize that, don't worry.)
4. I also realize that there is certainly some amount of "the grass is always greener..." in this. Someone3 once posted about a sort of alternate universe fantasy they had: that somewhere there was another version of themselves, a single, childless version with a job and apartment and free time and freedom/money to travel. And I had to laugh, because it sounded like a romanticized version of my life, and I have a parallel alternate universe fantasy that was basically a romanticized version of that person's life.

So there are some of my reasons. Please note that "I want to be pampered and spoiled" was not among them.4 More importantly, though, I refuse to believe that corporate/business/career "success" is any more intrinsically valuable than raising children or knitting a sweater or baking fabulous cupcakes or, for that matter, fixing a car or playing a musical instrument. It's all a question of what you want to do and what makes you, not some ideal, happy and fulfilled. Dowd pays lip service to the idea that feminism is about having choices, but she clearly doesn't actually believe that any choice other than "the old idea of copying men" is a choice worth making.

1 Well, mostly self-supporting: my parents pay most of my tuition, and I don't want to leave that out or seem ungrateful.
2 Not to imply that working mothers are doing something wrong; I just think, for me, I'd rather be home.
3 I thought it was Cate or maybe Jody, but I can't find it in either of their archives. If anyone remembers, please speak up!
EDIT: It was Rachel! Sorry about that.
4 Not that I'd object to a little pampering occasionally. Everyone deserves that.

Posted by Kat at November 3, 2005 12:16 PM

I believe that was actually me with the parallel-universe version of myself. :)

When I first started reading your post, I was wracking my brain, trying to remember -- Maureen Dowd, that sounds SO familiar, WHO IS Maureen Dowd? A little further down when you got into it a bit more I remembered. I read the article; didn't know there was a buzz about it, but that's not surprising. Honestly, I think people like Maureen need to stop freaking out about people like me. Thanks to foregoing generations of women, the fact that I do "opt out" to use her terminology is just that -- an option. I'm grateful for the work that made it that way, no question, because I wouldn't want it to be my role simply because I had no choice. Now she needs to sit down and shut up and actually let us choose what we want to do with our lives without slams from either direction. In my opinion. (I mean, I could go into this a bit deeper, into a woman's role vs. a mother's role, and why it's harder for women to have the same kinds of lives as men and do we WANT that anyway -- but that's the crux of it for me. Yay, we get to choose what we become, now feminists all go about your lives and let me go about mine, thank you very much.)

Posted by: Rachel at November 3, 2005 04:37 PM

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