Women who opt-out of the workforce: non-contributors?

I read Katrina Onstad’s column in the Globe and Mail each week.  I find her social commentary to be witty, encapsulating and at times, provoking.  Which is exactly what her column titled, Kate Middleton Quits Her Job proved to be.

I expected more from a Katrina Onstad article than snide and judgmental comments directed at Kate Middleton for choosing to quit her job to plan her and Prince William’s royal wedding.  I was willing to ignore Onstad’s sneers about “giving it all up” for a man until she flung Kate into the epicenter of the mommy-wars, and the poor woman doesn’t even have children!

To support her argument, Onstad quotes noted philosopher Linda Hirshman:

“Philosopher Linda Hirshman took them on in her 2006 “manifesto” Get to Work. Her argument was only partially about how work can provide “human flourishing” or personal fulfillment (the usual reasons mothers work or don’t, after finances). Her real assertion was that a culture where women aren’t working sets back women as a group, reinforcing a dangerous social imbalance. Women remain financial dependents and unpaid labourers, while men earn cash and respect. Hirshman scorned “choice feminism” as a watery cop-out: Women unquestioningly supporting each other’s choices isn’t feminism; women working together for better social conditions for all women is.”

Well Ms. Hirshman and Ms. Onstad, I couldn’t disagree with you more and by calling women out who choose a different path than you as anti-feminist is frankly, oppressive.  Isn’t that what “choice” is about?  The freedom to choose for yourself what shape your life will take?

Suggesting that women who opt-out of the workforce by choice are non-contributors and setting back the entire feminist movement is asinine.  In fact, in my opinion such comments do nothing but stack insurmountable pressure on both working mothers and stay-at-home mothers.  In addition to bringing home the bacon and frying it up, don’t forget to swing by the local farmer’s market, pound the treadmill, toss in a load of laundry, recall the exact steps of long division, reply to that birthday party invitation and don’t forget that tomorrow is purple shirt day.

Why is it that Hirshman and Onstad have strongly tied work with contribution and contribution with compensation?  I don’t see a dime for the hours upon hours I log on the home front, but to imply that I am not contributing?  Contributing to what exactly?

I see my contribution everyday.  I see my son reach out to help up a fallen friend on the playground.  I see my son enthusiastically separate the recyclables from the garbage.  I see my son neatly fold his outgrown clothes to donate to a family in need.

It is true that there is not a chorus of people telling me what a great job I am doing.  It is true that I don’t see my bank balance increasing.  It is true that there are days I think that there has to be more to my life than snow pants, potty breaks and trips to the doctor.

But who is Hirshman to put a value on my day?  Why are Katrina Onstad’s musings worth more than my walks to the schoolyard?

When I think of a woman like Michelle Obama who has put her law career on hold to focus on being the First Lady, opting-out is the last thought that comes to mind.  I view her as someone who is opting-in.  She is opting-in (for a short time) to be present in her life and do something that she is passionate about.

And that is what feminism means to me.

At this point in my life, I have decided to opt-out of the work force but don’t ever suggest that I am not contributing to our society.

photo credit: http://www.heligirl.com