From the Department of WTF: Are Linda Hirshman and Caitlin Flanagan the Dominant Voices of Contemporary Gender Discourse?

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Henry at Crooked Timber says so, and I fear he may be correct. Now, anyone who reads this blog may be aware that I strongly dislike both Hirshman and Flanagan. I was actually interviewed by Hirshman many years ago, and I respect some of the work she has done, but I think she is very wrong to attack women who do not prioritize their careers in the ways she says they should, and when I blogged about this she literally sent me e-mails in which she threatened to tell my Dean on me for being mean to her and using the word “fuck.” I finally told her in no uncertain terms to stop e-mailing me, but a week or so ago I got an e-mail from her asking me to blog here about her new book. Which I am now doing, “vomit-eulogizing” though I may be. As for Flanagan, see this, this and this. So, the idea that Hirshman and Flanagan dominate the discourse about the status of women in this country is pretty alarming. The reason that this is so, however, is fairly obvious: They confirm some of the worst stereotypes about women generally and feminists particularly, and in so doing, they buttress the patriarchy magnificently. Flanagan attacks feminists for being opposed to nurturing and motherhood and sex, and Hirshman seems to confirm that feminists are indeed opposed to nurturing and motherhood, and are incredibly nasty and intolerant of dissent as well. Flanagan reinforces the patriarchy directly, by telling powerful men what they want to hear: women are happiest as willing, subservient helpmates. Hirshman provides the patriarchy with abrasive evidence that many negative beliefs about feminists are true: we despise motherhood and think only of our own self-interest.

This dominance of the mainstream gender discourse is bad for the women that Hirshman and Flanagan don’t speak for, and I count myself among them. As for what can be done about this, well, one solution is simply to try to drown both of them out. Toward that end, let me strongly recommend the new book by Katha Pollitt, Virginity or Death! And Other Social and Political Issues of Our Time. Echidne of the Snakes gives it a very good review here. Pollitt has no appeal to the patriarchy she challenges so eloquently, but the patriarchy isn’t in control of everything! The feminist movement needs more “personified visibility,” and people like Pollitt can serve many of us a lot better than Hirshman, and I will do everything I can to help her get more public attention, such as this:

Walking around with that book in plain view in South Carolina is going to be awesome! Maybe I’ll get the cover silk-screened onto some tee shirts as well!

–Ann Bartow

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0 Responses to From the Department of WTF: Are Linda Hirshman and Caitlin Flanagan the Dominant Voices of Contemporary Gender Discourse?

  1. Mrs. Coulter says:

    Looks like an interesting book. I’ll have to add it to my library list. Oh yeah, and the rest of your post is right on the money. :-)

  2. Jamire says:

    very very very interesting book and the cover looks great! ;)

  3. Ann Bartow says:

    Two smileys! Cool.

  4. doctortwo says:

    Your point is well-taken, that Hirshman exaggerates what is not an established polarization between feminists and Stay-at-home moms (SAHMs). In my daughter’s words, Hirshman makes the personal political. That is, let there be room for personal choice, and networks of women whose choices vary. Law, and women who teach the law from a feminist perspective, I hope, support women’s ability to vary in their work/childbearing choices.

    I am similar in age and attainments and feminist consciousness to Linda Hirshman. My thoughtful feminist commentary disagreeing with Linda Hirshman’s recent American Prospect article and her op-ed piece in the Washington Post can be found at my blog, Undoing Denial, at

  5. I have checked all of my notes for all versions of Get to Work, going back many years and found no evidence of any interview with anyone named Ann Bartow, who did not attract my attention until she blogged that I made her vomit, for which I am infinitely grateful, but which I could hardly have anticipated. I wonder whether she might share with us what she thinks I interviewed her for.

  6. Ann Bartow says:

    What I said was: I was actually interviewed by Hirshman many years ago, and I respect some of the work she has done…

    I did not say you interviewed me for “Get to Work.” You interviewed me when I was a law student, back in the late 1980s.

  7. ah, why was I interviewing you as a law student?