Monday, November 28, 2005

Settle in

...'cause this is gonna be a long one. Thanks to 11D, I found this article in the American Prospect.

I’m really not even sure what point Linda Hirshman is trying to make. Or, more accurately, if she's serious. She gives a nod to the Times piece on Ivy League women planning to be stay-at-home moms, and to Maureen Dowd. And then she launches into the results of her own "research," consisting of interviews with 32 or 33 women (I don't believe she gives the exact number). Not only is this number completely insignificant, but the women she interviews are women whose weddings were announced in the Sunday Styles section of the NYT. To show you all what a classless hick I apparently am, I didn't even know what that was until I read this piece. Later on in the article, she makes various references to her interviewees. One left her job as a lawyer to plan her wedding. That's right--she quit work to plan a wedding. Also, not one of the husbands of these women took any paternity leave when his children were born. These are the types of people Hirshman is relying on to flesh out her story.

I found that among the educated elite, who are the logical heirs of the agenda of empowering women, feminism has largely failed in its goals. There are few women in the corridors of power, and marriage is essentially unchanged. The number of women at universities exceeds the number of men. But, more than a generation after feminism, the number of women in elite jobs doesn’t come close.

Riiiiight. So the reason that the number of women in elite jobs is small is because feminism failed. It has nothing to do with outright or even subtle discrimination in the workplace, or with society's attitudes toward women, work, and families. There's a nifty trick: I'm sorry, but your quest for equality hasn't happened yet, so obviously it's a clunker of an idea. Forget everything you have achieved in the past 30 years--it's time to pack it up and get a new ideology.

What evidence is good enough? Let’s start with you. Educated and affluent reader, if you are a 30- or 40-something woman with children, what are you doing? … Among the affluent-educated-married population, women are letting their careers slide to tend the home fires. If my interviewees are working, they work largely part time, and their part-time careers are not putting them in the executive suite.

Me? I’m working full-time, and plan to keep doing so in the foreseeable future, thanks for asking. Oh, and that reference to the "affluent-educated-married population … letting their careers slide," those are the 32 women you interviewed? Yes? OK, glad we got that straightened out.

The arguments still do not explain the absence of women in elite workplaces. If these women were sticking it out in the business, law, and academic worlds, now, 30 years after feminism started filling the selective schools with women, the elite workplaces should be proportionately female.

Later on, she says this:

It is possible that the workplace is discriminatory and hostile to family life.

Ya think?!!!

Anyway, I’m a lawyer, so obviously my interest was piqued by the references to female lawyers.
Law schools have been graduating classes around 40-percent female for decades -- decades during which both schools and firms experienced enormous growth. And, although the legal population will not be 40-percent female until 2010, in 2003, the major law firms had only 16-percent female partners, according to the American Bar Association.

Again, it's not as though feminism just happened and all the men in charge suddenly said, "Whoopee, let's open the doors, lads!" Change is always fought by people who believe that they are benefitted by the status quo. Moreover, since when is the absence of female partners at the big firms (not all firms, mind you, but "the major law firms") an indicator of women dropping out of the workplace? When I think of my friends who are female lawyers, I think of women who work for the state and federal government, who work in-house, and who work for small and mid-size firms. Apparently, none of these women count. In addition, Hirshman later uses that statistic -- 16 percent female partners in the big firms -- to reference "a world of 84-percent male lawyers." Um, no. Try again, and this time go back and read your own statistics and what they really refer to.

Finally, Hirshman presents her rules to combat the failure of feminism, which basically boil down to "Who gives a shit what you're doing so long as you're making money?" Don't major in liberal arts, and don't work at a job that won't pay a buttload of money. Money is all that matters.

I agree with Hirshman's point that there's no such thing as a perfect job. But that doesn't mean you should just go to work for the highest bidder, regardless of the job. Money isn't enough to get you to drag yourself out of bed every morning. I should know--some of the people I met when I briefly worked for a nonprofit were a lot more satisfied with their jobs than some of the lawyers I know who are pulling down big money.

There's so much more to gripe about, but 11D hits a lot of it, so I'll just direct you there.


Blogger Yankee T said...

This is an excellent post, APL. Thanks for your thoughts on it, and for referring us over to 11D.

2:13 PM, November 28, 2005  
Blogger susan said...

Wow. Talk about a small lens with which to view the world! I'm going to head over to 11d to get Laura's take on it after I"m done kid-collecting for the afternoon.

2:24 PM, November 28, 2005  
Blogger Mother in Chief said...

I get so frustrated and fed up with the sweeping generalizations that the media makes about women in the workplace. And her sample set of 32 or 33 is pathetic, especially considering the slice of society that she used for collecting her "data." Thanks for the post.

7:44 PM, November 28, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm a little less annoyed than you are with this essay because I think she's voicing an important problem -- as much as feminism has progressed, the glass ceiling is still very much in place, and women are still expected to be the domestic ones even if it means giving up good careers.

Sure, the Times brides represented a narrow sliver of society, but wasn't anyone else a little shocked by the results? That many well-educated women bailed out? It may be wrong to extrapolate any further from that group, but it's stunning to see so many people acting identically outside of a Phish concert.

Besides, I could provide roughly similar data out of my own experiences. I know exactly one other man who, like me, has cut back his work hours. At my office, I see plenty of guys whose wives surely have better job prospects than they do, and but they're not planning to quit anytime soon.

And though we know many lawyers in fulfilling jobs that aren't partner-track, that percentage of female partners is disturbing.

All that said, her "rules" are pretty obnoxious. Only one kid? What is this -- China? And liberal arts majors are far more employable than she thinks -- for one thing, they have no pressure to be confined to the career track they chose at age 20.

Her basic problem is that she forgets her own point. The point is that the workplace still isn't family friendly. And yet she thinks the way to change that is to push more women into the rat race whether they want to or not?

No, the point is supposed to be to change the workplace, mostly in terms of child care and reducing the emphasis on "face time" in an era of easy telecommuting.


8:41 PM, November 28, 2005  
Blogger Piece of Work said...

The workplace isn't family friendly, and family isn't valued by "feminists" like her. Why is the success of the feminist movement measured by how many women work at big time law firms? Why isn't it measured by the respect that everyone gives each other, male or female, for whatever they do--be it have a high powered career, work part-time, or stay home?

9:39 PM, November 28, 2005  
Blogger Phantom Scribbler said...

My favorite line from 11D: "Since when did feminism become the handmaiden for capitalism?" Exactly. And this in the American Prospect, no less. (Rolls eyes.) These are the liberals talking? No wonder we have trouble winning elections.

9:48 PM, November 28, 2005  
Blogger Gina said...

I consider it a feminist "win" that I can either choose to stay at home with my son or go to work. Isn't that what true victory is- freedom of choice?

I have an extensive background in research (no, not market research) and as many people have pointed out, her "study" which I would not even deign to title it, has some very serious flaws. And one thing that I have learned about even the most reputable and most carefully conducted research is that numbers can indeed lie. There are many subtle ways in which the PI (which again, I wouldn't label this woman as one) can influence the outcome of the research if they so choose. I'm guessing there is more than just a little bias on the part of both interviewer and interviewee.

12:31 AM, November 29, 2005  
Blogger ccw said...

Great post, APL.

It is maddening to read articles like this that purport to be valid because of a "study".

Off to 11D's...

8:37 AM, November 29, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just remembered another problem I had with her essay -- the notion of "status." For most people, feminism is all about (at least, partly about) erasing the whole idea of "status," which often serves to reinforce the notion that women are historically inferior because the work they do is somehow less important. But she careens wildly into another direction, urging women to "marry down."

There are so many ways to divvy up bread-winning and homemaking responsibilities besides the conventional fashion of having one upwardly mobile parent and one caregiver with an important job. If one parent is to spend more time at home than the other, then it should be the parent who has the more flexible schedule. Yes, that could mean someone who is sacrificing work hours for the greater good of the family, but it could also mean someone who's self-employed and can set his or her own hours.

She mentions a "starving artist" as a prospective mate. But a successful writer would do just as well. If Stephen King married a female CEO and decided to be the primary caregiver, then which spouse "married down"?

That's the incredible part about her essay. She blindly accepts the very norms she should be fighting, preferring instead to set up a battle of the sexes using conventional warfare.

And she's a distinguished professor?


9:30 AM, November 29, 2005  
Blogger halloweenlover said...

Lordy, that was a long article. There is so much to talk about here, I don't even know where to start.

I guess I feel similarly to NSAH, I wasn't as offended by some of the points in her article although I do think that she is all over the place. She tries to tackle about 15 different (and major) topics in this one article. Ridiculous.

I do believe that gender roles are being enforced at home despite advances made in the workplace. In my legal experience, people often talk badly about female associates and partners who hire nannies because they aren't home full-time with their kids. I think that my male colleagues whose wives stay home have a daily advantage over their female colleagues, because they have someone who accomplishes all of the necessities (i.e. grocery shop, cook, laundry, cleaning, etc.) while most women have to do at least 50% of the household work (whatever that is).

And I agree that feminism has to do with choice, but only if that choice exists. As a lawyer in one of her so-called major firms, I am not sure that choice exists. Or maybe it exists if I am willing to give up everything else and work twice as hard to achieve the same thing.

I feel like I am also going all over the place because there are so many thought swirling in my head over this, but I have to add that her sample size is absurd. I am not at all surprised by the results when looking at women who post their weddings in the NY Times style section. Honestly, isn't that exactly the stereotype of a NY Times bride?

My favorite line was at the bottom... did you see this? "With almost no effort, she landed spot No. 77 on Bernard Goldberg’s “100 People Who Are Screwing Up America.” "


9:37 AM, November 29, 2005  
Blogger halloweenlover said...

I forgot to mention that I do think her article may be tongue in cheek. Her tone (of course difficult to read) seems rather sarcastic.

9:40 AM, November 29, 2005  
Blogger halloweenlover said...

Ok, last comment and I'll be quiet, but where does she get this fact that for decades more than half of graduating law classes are women? I just know that at my law school, my graduating class (2003) was the first time we were at 50% for women. And I'd imagine that she counts it as a major law school.

9:44 AM, November 29, 2005  
Anonymous Kristen said...

I commented over at 11D (a few times...) but what's one more?

I think that the smart corporations are eventually going to realize that "hours worked" does not always equal "productivity" and that having women in upper management will make them a better organization.

My favorite management guru these days is Tom Peters. He gets it. He understand the vital role of women in the marketplace and in the business world. (

So blaming the women who ditch a career because they can't balance family/marriage/career is counterproductive to me.

And I'd like my daughter to get a higher education - no matter what her career choice ends up being. I don't see it as a waste...even if she doesn't become a lawyer or doctor or rocket scientist.

11:13 AM, November 29, 2005  
Blogger the lawmom said...

halloweenlover, I think she is right about most major law schools now have 50% or more female classes. It is a statistic I've seen several times.

I would agree with NASH & halloweenlover that there are lots of problems with the article, but I do think there are some valuable points. Perhaps it is my perspective as a partner-tract associate at a large law firm, but it is really frustrating and frankly intimidating to look at the small number of female partners and then take a look at whether they have kids (generally no) and if they do, when they had them (almost always after making partner). I want to see articles that question why in the face of huge gains by women in so many areas there are still places (such as large law firms) where it is still amazingly hard to balance work and family and be successful in a traditional sense (such as making partner). I'm open to suggestions for how to challenge the norm and give myself better opportunities. APL is exactly right that there are female attorneys in so many other settings that are doing very well. My concern is when I see my friends that really like their job in my law firm feel like they have to leave once they have kids because it is unworkable here.

By the way, her rules suck. Someone should smack her. I've broken pretty much all of them. English major, had a child in law school and another at the end of my first year as a associate at a Amlaw 100 firm and moved to the suburbs and still pay for private school tuition. I guess I did marry a liberal.

But for all the angst (and there is a lot), I'm doing pretty well, I think. I work hard for my clients, but I don't say that I have a meeting with a client when I have to take a sick kid to the doctor. I'm a mother and that isn't a bad thing in the working world. I keep pictures of my kids on my desk and mention them often. I'm available as much as I can for clients, but I'm not missing the thanksgiving feast at my kid's school and I do the best I can not to work on weekends. I may miss dinner, but I generally don't miss storytime and bedtime. I don't know how I will fare down the road, but right now I think I've put myself in a position to make partner as well as any other associate (despite breaking most of the rules). Time will tell, I guess.

5:33 PM, November 29, 2005  
Blogger Running2Ks said...

Love the scientific method used. Mass generalizations like these NEED to be shot down. Thanks for jumping in.

11:03 PM, November 29, 2005  
Blogger Angry Pregnant Lawyer said...

Thanks for all your thoughtful comments, folks.

I hope I didn't give the impression that the 16% statistic of female partners at big firms doesn't bother me. It does. But I don't see a corresponding need to devalue other women attorneys as if they don't count for anything. Yes, we need more female partners (who are parents of younger children) at big firms, but we also need women in government positions, women leading their own small and mid-size firms, and women acting as general counsel in-house.

8:41 AM, November 30, 2005  
Anonymous nutso-ranter said...

OK, here's what really burns my tush though...

A recurring theme throughout her article is that women who "choose" to work part-time or stay home altogether aren't really "choosing". Instead, all my friends who "choose" to stay home (or take less demanding jobs) are all just a bunch of suckers who don't realize they got gently shoved out of the workforce (either by their employers or their husbands) So instead, these deluded women and mothers claim that they "chose" to stay home.

grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr.... bullsh*t.

I am a mother, and I work at a big law firm where there are probably only 16% female partners. I'm sure the glass ceiling still exists, but I'll tell you what I see. I see women who look at what it takes to be a partner in a big firm (billing 2500 hours a year) and rightly say: "Why the heck do I want to do that???". Is that a glass ceiling? Is it society pushing us back home? I'm sure its a combination of things, but I know a lot of intelligent women out there (mostly lawyers) who are chosing, in different ways, to have a life outside of work.

Let's face it, whether you're in the corporate world, legal, gov't, etc. The people at the top are generally the nuts who work 24/7 365 days a year. That's not unfair. That's not discrimination. That's life.

Its sad, though, that this boob thinks that those of us who choose not to be part of that group are wasting our lives.

In my family (me, my 1 year old son, and my husband), I make the most money. My Princeton educated husband is freaking smart.... but has similar values as I do (i.e. money and career isn't more important than family). Does that mean I married "down"?? How insulting. Let me tell you, if my husband were one of the gung-ho-gonna-make-partner types at some sweatshop law firm, I'd probably divorce him. Life is too short to spend your entire life at work, and its a real shame that dumbo here thinks all the women in the world would be better off if we all just buckled down and put our careers first. Ayyyy!!! Show me someone who prioritizes his (or her) career first, and I'll show you someone with misplaced priorities.

Both my husband and I think one (or both) of us should be home more as the kid(s) get older. We WANT to be involved in my son's life.

I know APL and NSAH, and I know they also care greatly about AB and want to be involved parents.

Who knows? It may be that my husband goes part-time and I end up being the bread-winner. Its a concept that has been discussed.

It may be that I've found the only man in the world who is smart, cooks, does dishes, and plays with his son... but I doubt it.

I think this lady needs to expand her circle beyond the NYT society pages. She might be surprised to find how well many of us are doing.

ugh. that's the end of my rant... for now.

P.S. I loved the Mark Twain quote: "A man who chooses not to read is just as ignorant as a man who cannot read". Translation: "A woman who chooses to stay home is just as ignorant as a woman who is too dumb to get a job." cripes. So glad this idiot wasn't my feminism teacher in college... I might've had to give up my liberal arts degree and become a math major.

1:39 PM, November 30, 2005  
Anonymous Ann Bartow said...

I liked you comments and linked to them here:

4:07 PM, November 30, 2005  
Blogger Tara said...


I don't think it's necessarily not discrimination that now requires horrendous amounts of hours for partnership.

Historically, the atmosphere of the large law firm, the number of hours required of associaties to become partners, and so on, "just happened" to change and dramatically increase just as women were entering the law world in great numbers. I think it's possible that it's not just a coincidence that the bar was raised to a place where people with family obligations that they take seriously (still mostly women) would have much harder/impossible time meeting it, thus preserving the upper echelons of law firms for men.

12:20 PM, December 01, 2005  
Anonymous Anne Glamore said...

This has been an interesting discussion. My husband and I are in our late 30's and we met in law school where we were both at thetop of our class. He was much more heavily recruited by the "top" firms in town. I was asked if I planned to have kids, etc!!

I ended up at a wonderful, smaller firm that has now grown in stature and is equal to the "top firms" in reputation. My husband left his firm and came over this summer.

I worked fulltime through my 1st child, part time after the kids were born, and have taken a couple of leaves of absence for health reasons. Currently I am on leave and writing at iVillage.

My husband took paternity leave with Kid #1 in 1995-- it was the talk of the town!'

Of 8 close girl friends I graduated from law school with, one practices parttime at my firm, 2 are partners in firms and one works for a federal judge. The other four are home with their kids, by choice.

Because my husband and I are both litigators, it became a quality of life issue. We can't BOTH be traveling out of town and trying 2 week cases 5 times a year and still raise three boys the way we want to. I consider that to be our personal decision, not one that was forced on me by anyone.

My marvelous boss has made it clear I'm welcome back at any time, in any capacity.

At any rate, that's my story.

5:23 PM, December 01, 2005  
Blogger Jody said...

I've commented all over, but this seems as good a place as any to emphasize that any woman who quits her job to plan her wedding was NEVER A FEMINIST IN THE FIRST PLACE. What Hirschman has documented with her "dataset" is the rise of the advanced degree as a luxury good for a particular status elite. A generation ago, these women Hirschman interviews would have gotten their MRS degrees in women's colleges. Now they get them in law school. This may or may not drive us a little nuts, but it says nothing about feminism, or about the challenges that female lawyers face, or about the failure of male lawyers to challenge the traditional partner route. For so long as my sister's male colleagues can work the long hours, and not care that they don't know their kids (I'm grossly overgeneralizing here about what's required to make partner at a top firm), the women have no recourse when they demand change. We can blame the wives of those men on the partner track, or we can stop harshing on women alone and blame the men.

But regardless of that debate, Hirschman is at sea if she imagines that the choices of any woman who _plans_ a lifetime of financial dependence on someone else indicate how feminism has failed. Those women were never feminists in the first place.

7:11 PM, December 01, 2005  
Blogger Angry Pregnant Lawyer said...

Ann and Tara, welcome to the blog.

Tara, do you know when the workload shift occurred? I was under the impression it happened when the big jump in first-year salaries occurred some years ago. Was it earlier than that? I would love to look into this further, if I ever have some time.

9:23 PM, December 01, 2005  
Blogger Angry Pregnant Lawyer said...

Jody, I've read all your comments on all the other sites (or all your comments that I could find, anyway). Usually, I only see your name down at the bottom of the comment, after I've said "Amen!" and "Hell yeah!" about a dozen times. :-)

9:24 PM, December 01, 2005  
Blogger halloweenlover said...

Jody is totally right, I think. They were never feminists to begin with, but it still infuriates me.

Lawmom, my comment was that Hirshman says that for DECADES the percentage of women has been 50%. I think it can't be true, although I have seen that recently many law firms are over 50% women.

APL, I am loving the discussion.

6:42 PM, December 02, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


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