Thursday, July 06, 2006

Things To Read

Do check out the 18th Carnival of Feminists at Ink and Incapability! Wonderful list of interesting links. And whoever submitted my post...a BIG THANK YOU!

Despite my poverty of both time and money, and despite the stack of things I have to read (for school, for independent resesarch, for pleasure thanks to taking WB's advice on moving up half my library...), I think I'll renew all my subscriptions (which are not even that many, because I am parsimonious). So it's The New Yorker (as necessary as air and water), Harper's Monthly (a bit too partisan sometimes, but only $10.95 to renew, and some truly wonderful long-form narrative journalism), and The New Republic, which continually offers some great writing, always convincing me it's worth not going out to eat for a month for a year's worth of food for thought (yes, I am that parsimonious). If I had more money and time, I'd definitely add The New York Review of Books, the Atlantic Monthly, n+1 and The Believer to the list of subscriptions. Ha! And you thought this commie pinko left wing feminazi was going to choose some more traditionally liberal, partisan, and dare I say, "radical" publications, eh?

It's not like I don't like such magazines. I sometimes read them with interest and a grave or indignant nod of assent. I just don't generally read too much that is excessively partisan, preferring to make up my own mind on issues. And I'm rather conscious of the fact that while I'm quite liberal on many issues, I'm rather moderate on others. So just as I wouldn't naturally pick up a copy of The National Review or The Weekly Standard or visit some right-wing blog, so too do I generally avoid, unless tipped off by more independent-minded publications, extremely partisan liberal blogs (particularly those with an uncivil tone or blunt, uncritical ideas) or preaching-to-the-masses liberal magazines. I don't mind the opinion pages--I just mind it when the pages say so much of the same thing or rather brutishly. There's as broad a spectrum to liberalism (and hopefully as big as tent) as there is for conservativism or libertarianism. So I try not to go too far on either end of the spectrum. Trust me, I am a liberal. Actually, I'm a social democrat liberal. A neo-New Dealer/Great Society woman by today's standards. I'm a civil rights/race-conscious remedies/gay rights/gender equity/abortion rights/big government welfare state/universal healthcare supporting liberal. I'm to the left of a fair amount of people, but not left enough for many of my classmates in my CRT program. I just like to get the news first, think it through myself, and decide for myself--which is as liberal and liberated as you can get compared to being told what you should think and do by either side. Hey, I'm contrarian.

But oh yes, back to the New Republic, and why I'm deciding to renew:

I very much liked this article by Jonathan Chait on the small impact of private charity compared to the big impact of public policy, or, noblesse oblige v. the social contract, or, why Warren Buffet's money would have been better used elsewhere:

Now, let's put that number in perspective. Buffett is donating a staggering $31 billion to the Gates Foundation, which will spend a couple of billion dollars a year for eminently worthy causes. But here's the problem. In the global scheme of things, $2 billion is not that much money. The federal government spends a thousand times as much money every year.

So Buffett's gift matters as much as an annual increase or decrease of one-tenth of one percent of the federal budget. His gift amounts to a tiny fraction of what would be drained by the estate-tax cut. His gift is not unimportant; it just shows the limits of private fortune compared with public policy.

How much would it cost to influence the political system to move one-tenth of one percent of the budget out of, say, wasteful subsidies and into the sorts of programs the Gates Foundation supports? I'm not sure, but it's way less than $31 billion.

I'm not entirely sold on Chait's thesis that lobbying will do more good than funding AIDs research, but I do like his argument that we should look as much to our government to "make lives better" as we hopefully rely on the largesse of rich and dying men. I know I make libertarians mad when I say things like this--but I never professed to be anything less than a raving social democrat, especially since I'm a welfare baby (Disclosure: we were once so poor we used food stamps; and I was on Medicare for a number of years, which saved my life at 14 when my appendix ruptured). And I am rarely in agreement with anyone, whether eco-liberal, conservative, or libertarian. The point is to have civilized discourse about it all. The difference between me and my decidedly anti-tax siblings is that while we all benefitted from welfare, I am willing to give back some of my Medicare money, my Pell grants, and the food stamps. Perhaps this will change when I am less poor and more worried about which tax bracket I occupy. Perhaps I'll live in a McMansion in a gated community with my Lexus rather than a nice little town house and still driving my '97 Camry. Things can change--they certainly did for my beloved, if befuddling siblings. I just hope I don't, at least not too much, and at least not to the extent that I ignore my own long-deferred societal obligations to contribute as much as I have received.

I also liked this article by Lee Siegel, and the title says it all: "A PLAGUE ON LINDA HIRSHMAN, HER CRITICS, AND HER SUPPORTERS":

The FMLA provides most women--not all employers are covered by it--with 12 weeks of pregnancy and maternity leave. After that, they're faced with hard choices. If they lack the money to stay home from work, they have to return to their jobs. But if they don't have the resources for a nanny or access to affordable day-care, they can't go back to their jobs. Whether most women return to work or not after having a child is usually a matter of painful necessity and hard trade-offs, not choice.

But all the commentators on the Hirshman book, along the entire political spectrum, have been arguing abstractly about feminism and post-feminism, and family values, and conservative hypocrisy and liberal contradictions, etc. etc. I have yet to see a single participant in the debate mention the meager choices pregnant women are confronted with in the first place. Instead, everyone is arguing over whether choice is a good thing or not!

Almost as disheartening is the total absence of discussion about the nature of work. For Hirshman, a woman's job provides her with power and dignity. But she is writing for a very small, elite group of professional women. For most women, their job is something they would gladly have twins to escape. I don't think a cashier at Wal-Mart is going to sit around wondering whether or not she should return to work as a ringing statement of strength and autonomy. I hope I won't offend anyone's tender sensibilities if I say that, if I were an economically struggling young woman, I would gladly get pregnant, take my 12 weeks--in the unlikely event that my employer offered them--and then get myself and my child on welfare, rather than return to some dehumanizing position. Unless, of course, Congress raised the pitiful minimum wage to a dignified level.

I found this commentary most interesting, and am in agreement with Siegel about Hirschman's elitist, classist take on the issue of "choice." I used to work in day care--it is really, really expensive, and no, it's not provided by the State and very rarely provided by your employer. I didn't get paid enough in daycare ($5.50 starting, this was when minimum wage was $5.25 in CA to take care of TWELVE children), but I knew how much the parents were paying per month. It's quite expensive. So unless you have extended family network support (ahem, like Super Aunt Belle, at least for the last few years before I'm up and pursuing this academia thing), it's a wonderful thing to have the "choice" to stay home OR work. So that's an interesting angle Siegel is arguing, that Hirschman is elitist because she advocates working as morally superior when many women are not working in desirable, low-paying jobs or unable to afford day care are unable to even have that choice available.

The flip side of the elitism, classism charge may be levelled at those who argue for moms to stay home--because lower-income families are least able to afford living on a single income. So those who do have some form of child care (often a sister or mother) who can't afford to lose the two-parent income have no choice but to work. So all that dumb "trend" "reporting" by the NY Times (thoroughly debunked by Jack Shafer) about Yale sophomore girls deciding, before they've met their partners, started their careers, or really, really thought about it that they will work for a few years and "opt-out" of the workforce to be full-time mommies (lucky for them) is just the flip-side of the question of who has choice--the elite professional women (I know, I'm one of them) or "the rest"? So Siegel has a point--before we argue whether "choice" is good and "which choice" is better, we should ask why such choices are so draconian and either/or--and interrogate who among us gets to make that choice. And why is this choice not offered to men? To cleanse your mental palate after reading all that dumb (and statistically unreliable) trend reporting, do read this excellent article by Katha Pollit in the Nation (see, I do read liberal magazines once in a while).

I am most interested in the racial aspect to the choice debate, and how it is continually elided even as we talk about "class." In another (better) article by the NY Times, "Work v. Family, Complicated By Race":

Around the country black women are opting out of the "opt-out" debate, the often-heated exchange about the compatibility of motherhood and work. Steeped in issues like working versus staying at home, nannies versus day care, and the benefits or garish excess of $800 strollers, the discussion has become a hot topic online, innewspapers and in book publishing. It is not that black mothers do not wrestle with some of the same considerations as white mothers. But interviews with more than two dozen women suggest that the discussions as portrayed in books and the news media often lack the nuances and complexities particular to their experience.

For professional black women, debates about self-fulfillment can seem incomprehensibly narrow against the need to build sustainable wealth and security for their families. The discussions also pale in comparison to worries about shielding sons and daughters from the perils that black children face growing up, and overlook the practical pull of extended families in need of financial support.

I am rather sick of arguing about who is right, Linda Hirschman or Caitlyn Flanagan (I think neither). I am also sick of bad trend-reporting about this so-called "Opt-Out Revolution" and the "Mommy Wars." What I would like is an honest discussion about how issues of race and class figure into workplace-flexibility issues. What I dream about is more generous Family and Medical Leave policies to be required by the government and extended by private employers. What I fantasize in my wildest dreams about is an entire shifting of corporate culture so that both men and women benefit from better workplace-flexibility policies so that neither have to split the baby down the middle, or throw it out with the bathwater.

I changed my last (at least for four months) diaper yesterday. Not changing diapers and not giving baths and not feeding babies and not putting them to sleep and not teaching them ABCs will give me hours and hours of time per day to devote to school and research. I don't know what I'll do with so much extra time on my hands (excel in school? have fun? pursue my own interests?)--but I definitely won't be spending it debating whether or not Flanagan and Hirschman, the unforunate figureheads in what could be a real and substantive policy debate, are right or wrong. I just don't care about them anymore.


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