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Comments: Week of April 1, 2013

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1. The fierce debate began early over Lisa Miller’s cover story on self-­described feminist mothers who elect to stay at home and raise children, with conversation on Twitter starting three days before the story was even published (The Retro Wife,” March 25). “Get ready for next week’s shitstorm,” predicted @IrinCarmon. And a shitstorm it was, with the story attracting tens of thousands of new readers online every day throughout the week it was ­published—and many ­hundreds of responses. “The foundations of this fake-trend piece (from the ­normally insightful Lisa Miller) seem a little tenuous,” wrote Jessica Grose at Slate’s Double X blog. “The article also relies on a lot of assertions—mostly from that one feminist housewife, Kelly ­Makino—about how women are more ‘hardwired’ to be mothers. There’s scant evidence for this claim in the piece, beyond a few short quotes from an evolutionary biologist. But you know what the article doesn’t touch on at all? ­Pregnancy. That is one thing women are undeniably wired to do that men aren’t, and it makes a lot of them feel really physically bad for a period of about twelve months, including postpartum. Most articles I’ve read about women’s work choices gloss over the fact that maybe women are staying home because they’re exhausted, or because they don’t get any paid maternity leave. Still, when you strip away the weird gender essentialism and the fact that the article is ­ginning up a trend where there is none, you do see the core of what the current ‘problem that has no name’ is. It’s time. When you’re in a marriage where both people have not-­extremely-lucrative careers and you throw a child into the mix, something, someone has to give.” At Buzzfeed, Anna North also focused on the broader economic context. “There’s something else at work,” she wrote: “a genuine anxiety about how Americans lead their lives … Balancing work and family is difficult, especially now that American parents are spending more time on both, and there’s an undeniable appeal in the idea of choosing just one. Especially when it looks so pretty … The opt-out story is aspirational. Focusing on the ‘left out’ group—women who may have been laid off, who can’t access maternity leave, or who can’t earn enough to cover child-care expenses—raises serious questions about American public policy. These women may be clipping coupons, not buying designer jeans. Their husbands may be working multiple jobs to support their kids. They may be far from the serenity that Makino’s choice seems to offer, and they may not have made a choice at all. Ultimately, the opt-out story is a fantasy: that if women just made the right decisions, their lives could be worry-free.”

2. But many readers had a considerably more sympathetic response. “Having it all might be a debate that resonates for few,” wrote Jen Doll at the ­Atlantic Wire. “But having what it is that you want … and the opportunity to figure out what that is … and then, if you think you’ve achieved it, not being judged for it … that seems like a modern feminist ideal to me.” And plenty of commenters saw their own lives—and ambitions and anxieties and compromises—reflected in the story. “I’m one of those women,” wrote Jessica Wakeman at the Frisky. “At least, I think I will be. If I have kids and if my future baby daddy wants to financially support our family for a couple years, I’d love to primarily stay home and write part-time … It’s not about abandoning my career or wasting my NYU degree (which, I might add, I have to work to pay back probably until I die) … It’s also not about wanting to be ‘taken care of’ in any sort of helpless sense. I’m no stranger to hard work—not in the slightest. [I] don’t feel like I should have to prove to anyone that I was committed to my career of being a writer. Why do I have to work nonstop until I retire, just because I’m a woman, just to prove I’m a ‘good’ feminist? Feminists need to accept the fact that some people, many of them women, feel happier and more fulfilled in a domestic arena than they are by office culture. Ambition has many shades to it and not everyone needs to have Hillary Clinton aspirations … That’s social ­conditioning, not biology.

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