Big Decisions: Why I Wish I’d Never Read Linda Hirshman

by | March 11, 2010
filed under Feminism

Here’s another post from new contributor Darcy A:

Linda Hirshman

I read Linda Hirshman’s Get to Work: A Manifesto for the Women of the World in a feminist theory class, and that little 100-page manuscript blew my mind.  Now, for those of you who have read Hirshman’s manifesto and hated it, you would have found yourself amongst the majority of my classmates (though I think if Hirshman had admitted she was writing a manifesto for the privileged women of North America, rather than all the women in the world, she would have dodged much of their criticism).  Regardless, I don’t know if it was timing or because Hirshman reminded me so much of my pragmatic, unromantic mother—whatever the reason, she struck a chord with me, big time.

Hirshman’s manifesto is an answer to the question: “How do we raise the status of women?”  Her answer: through economic power.  How do we do that?  Women need to work, and they need to strive for those high-paying positions of power.  And how does that happen?  Well, women need to make life choices that are enabling, and (among other things) that means addressing the restrictions of today’s typical (North American) family structure.  And what does that mean?  Well, Hirshman gives us four rules to follow: “Educate yourself for good work [don’t follow your dreams, expect to be the provider of your family and follow the money], treat work seriously [maximize your career options], don’t hamstring yourself when you come to the marital bargaining table [don’t accept the role of domestic expert], and consider a reproductive strike (one child).”

I encourage everyone to read Hirshman’s manifesto (including my partner), but beware: she just might rattle your cage too.  You see I’m on the cusp of a very big decision.  In September, I will be starting law school.  On the one hand, I’m fortunate to pretty much have my choice of school.  On the other, I now have to choose between staying in Vancouver where I’m comfortably living with my partner or moving to Ottawa to build political connections that will advance my post-school career in the direction I want to go, and risk upsetting the good thing I’ve got going on with my man (who really, really doesn’t want to move to Ottawa).  While at one point in time this decision seemed like a no-brainer, its status has now been elevated to the most difficult decision of my life thus far.

I can almost hear Hirshman whispering in my ear: “This is exactly why I didn’t give you suggestions or guidelines, I gave you rules to follow.”  There are enough unsuccessful lawyers out there that moving where I can take advantage of my political connections would be smart.  Furthermore, I’m a bit nomadic—every few years I’ve had this need to change locations, to reinvent myself.  For the last couple years I’ve been looking forward to leaving Vancouver.  But recently, the things I want have started to shift.  And the only thing I can think of to blame is that… well… a year or so ago, a funny thing happened.  I fell in love.  It wasn’t my idea!  But it happened, and it is a new consideration.

So what will I do?  I’m running out of time and still don’t know.  I’ve never believed I can have it all or that there is such a thing as a perfect choice.  Every time we chose, we are setting priorities: we are choosing something over something else.  This decision is between my personal career potential and my heart, which for the first time feels like it could stay put.  So, I’m sorry Linda Hirshman, but your rules are no help this time.



  • KSC

    I heard this woman on Michael Medved today. What a contrast between her and the woman in favor of stay at home moms who choose to do that. Hirshman sounded so lifeless and passionless, not at all the type of woman I can relate to. I researched her becasue I could barely HEAR her while she was interviewed, and felt I missed a lot of her points due to her difficulty articulating her words well enough to hear. I thought perhaps she was eating mashed potatoes while talking. She calls herself a feminist. A true feminist is a woman who is proud of being a woman, and allows herself to embrace motherhood. I just have no use for these uninteresting products of academia…they bore me to tears. I am a college grad, not a mom, and I still get what she doesn’t seem to at all.


    Interesting how Hirshman seems to set the choice between success and “softer” values like love in motion. And yet what is true success? Both women and men are schooled in masculine values and we live and work in a masculine paradigm. We view power in masculine terms – the ability to have “power over” something, whether that’s your earning capacity, one’s co-workers, a political party, or a nation.

    And yet what is feminine power? Perhaps it lies in the ability to choose differently? To define power differently? To make choices that are more life-sustaining and nurturing for you and others? ITo make a powerful statement for love and still have your work – is that not a GREAT STATEMENT to the world about how to live life differently? ANd God know this world needs to live differently!

  • Lol, this book shook me up, too. Don’t listen to idealists. Listen to Linda.

  • Paul S.

    So what decision did Darcy A. make?

    • jarrahpenguin

      In the end I heard she chose to stay at school in Vancouver, but part of the decision was taken out of her hands by a change in admission requirements at the school in Ottawa.