Upsetting people this week: Elizabeth Wurtzel's piece for The Atlantic, entitled '1% Wives Are Helping Kill Feminism and Make the War on Women Possible', and Cherie Blair's comments on women who put rich husbands and staying at home with the childen ahead of a career. Yes, this is both a 'Mommy Wars' AND a 'Mummy Wars' post, with a dash of Destiny's Child.
The shoes on my feet
I've bought it
The clothes I'm wearing
I've bought it
The rock I'm rockin'
'Cause I depend on me
If I wanted the watch you're wearin'
I'll buy it
The house I live in
I've bought it
The car I'm driving
I've bought it
I depend on me
Wurtzel, like most of us, is concerned about the continuing attempts by Republicans and the Christian right to control what women do with their bodies and their personal lives that have become so numerous and shocking they've required a catch-all term: the War on Women. Unlike most of us, however, she's decided to pin the blame for all this on the wives of rich men. It's a tedious tactic played for maximum controversy: snipe at women; insinuate they're somehow to blame for their own misfortune. Blair, too, has beef with the rich men - and women who want to marry them because they're in search of an easy life and don't want a job. She's also got issues with 'yummy mummies'. Predictably, there is outrage.
Having read Wurtzel's piece, I actually do think that she makes a handful of good points. It's a shame it takes a turn for the worse so quickly.
"Who can possibly take feminism seriously when it allows everything, as long as women choose it?"
That question right there is probably one of the things that makes me - and other feminists I know - want to tear our hair out the most: the idea, beloved of people on the internet who think they're being smart, that gender equality, at the end of the day, is all about choice. We all know it isn't; goodness knows it's used at every available opportunity to justify things that are exploitative, subtly misogynist or have absolutely nothing to do with feminism in the first place.
"Feminism...should mean something. It should mean equality."
"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..."
It's actually not very often that high profile, privileged people point this out. It's usually left to the women who read their articles to shout about it when assumptions about mother who work outside the home are made.
So what goes wrong? For a start, I'm deducting points from Wurtzel because she mentions bra-burning. In general, though, it's her focus on economic equality and how she links this to the War on Women.
"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."
Why is it suddenly all about cash? Never mind the current job market, eh. Or, you know, privilege.
"And there really is only one kind of equality -- it precedes all the emotional hullabaloo -- and it's economic."
Really? Just one kind? Has she been spending time with Louise Mensch?
"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."
Wait. How did we get here?
"...these [rich 'housewives'] are the reason their husbands think all women are dumb, and I don't blame them."
Okay. So from what she's saying, rich women choose not to work and instead lead pampered and pointless lives. Their husbands don't work with women (unless they're secretaries); they don't see them as equals. They see them as the person who racks up enormous credit card bills. And then they support the War on Women. Women need to go out to work and have their own money. Particularly intelligent women who have graduated from top universities. Because being a mother isn't a job. ALL THIS IS RUINING FEMINISM AND LEADING TO LEGISLATION INVOLVING VAGINAL PROBES BEING ENACTED.
Even if all these moneyed women and women with degrees from Ivy League institutions went out and worked and realised that they need to stop pretending motherhood is 'work', the War on Women would still be happening. Look what happened in the 1970s and 1980s. Women took great steps forward in terms of economic equality and careers. The right-wing backlash still began. Women on the right made careers of their own telling women not to work and "return to the home".
Plenty of the politicians involved in the War on Women don't really mind women going out to work - they seek to control their sex lives and reproduction. When they do care about women with jobs, it's part of a bigger picture of wanting to keep us 'in our place'. They simply don't trust women to take care of themselves, make their own decisions, and have their own opinions, and I'm not sure it's rich wives who are to blame. An opinionated woman is a harpy, a woman who uses contraception is a whore. A woman boss is a bitch and a woman who has an abortion is going to hell. Let's not pin all the blame on the Real Housewives of Orange County - it's obvious there's more to it than that.
Cherie Blair, tackling things from a UK perspective, I think, has fallen victim to the media's love of creating drama over any comment made about motherhood and work, however insignificant that comment may be. Fair enough, I don't agree with her that women are making a bad decision if they choose to be stay-at-home mothers, and I don't agree that it discourages children from being independent. Emily Murray explained this very well in a piece for the Guardian, pointing out that a politician and a barrister would hardly have the same worries about childcare costs and paying the bills that most of us have to contend with. But I'm not sure her sentiments as expressed in the quotes below are all that much of an attack.
“I look at the sacrifices that women have made and I think why do I need to bother, why can’t I just marry a rich husband and retire?” and you think how can they even imagine that is the way to fulfil yourself, how dangerous it is. In my case I saw my mother abandoned by my father when I was eight – but even good men could have an accident or die and you’re left holding the baby.”
Isn't everyone in favour of women being able to take care of themselves as much as they can? I don't think this must mean 'having a career' - after all, plenty of people just don't want what's generally regarded as 'a career' - but it's important however much (or little) money you have. A couple of years ago, I remember an acquaintance telling me that she was 'terrible' at managing her finances.
"I think it's because I assumed I'd be married by now, and that my husband would take care of all that side of things," she said.
"We need to devise business strategies and societies that allow women to make choices that aren’t all-or-nothing choices. We’ve been conditioned to think that if we make a choice to have a child at this point, then that defines what you do for the rest of your life. That’s not true – it doesn’t have to be like that…"
I know women who have been conditioned to think that having a child will mean their life will be 'over'. Who think it will mean the end of any job satisfaction or career success. We know the outlook isn't always rosy. As Blair says, the system isn't terribly good at helping us - and our partners - to make "choices that aren't all or nothing choices". Everyone knows that needs to change. It doesn't need to involve every women going out and trying to get top jobs, it needs to result in them being able to feel they are making the best choice for themselves and for their families.