I’m writing a little piece for my alumni magazine on being a mom in the ministry. It needs to fit around David Jensen’s main article on faith and work. So, I’m reading a couple of books in preparation: Responsive Labor: A Theology of Work by David Jensen and Get to Work…and Get a Life, Before It’s Too Late by Linda R. Hirshman. They’re actually good companions for each other, two people walking very different paths, going different directions, yet sometimes they intersect.
I’ll tackle Hirshman first. I use the term “tackle,” because I’m pretty sure if Linda and I were in the same room together, she would kick my butt. Yep. That’s clear.
That being said, she’s like the older, smarter, bad girl in high school that I really wish I was cool enough to hang out with, but I know I’m not. Linda Hirshman is an old-school feminist. I, on the other hand, am what she would call a “choice feminist,” part of the new-school, attachment-parenting, my-family-is-my-life, my-career-comes-second crowd. I think that women should be free to make these decisions and I still think changing diapers is important. Actually, I’m pretty sure that Hirshman would rip the “f” label right off of my flame-retardant bra.
If I may use another analogy, Hirshman’s like the mom who killed herself to get her daughter into an Ivy League, who’s still paying off the student loans. While I’m like the daughter who decides to take her expensive degree and go into a low-wage, high-fulfillment social work job.
Can you sense the tension here? Well, we’re going to be sensing it for years to come, because there are a lot of moms who are stark-raving furious with their daughters right now. And Hirshman does a good job of shaking us up, in less than 100 pages.
Her plan is simple: (1) Never study art, prepare for work; (2) Never quit a job without having another one, take work seriously; (3) Demand a just household; (4) Consider a reproductive strike; (5) Stop electing governments that punish women’s work. (Okay, maybe #4’s not so simple. I mean, a lot of us really like having babies.)
I wince at her manifesto, because she doesn’t ever convince me that this plan will work outside of the realm of the upper-middle class, although she tries. She uses a sort-of trickle-down theory, saying that it matters what the elite minority are doing because they’re role models, and other classes reflect the labor trends of the upper class. But her research is scant and unconvincing.
Although, I have to admit, Hirshman is responsible for me becoming a writer. I even give her more credit than Ann Lamott and Julia Cameron. You know why? Because reading her convinced me that my work was important enough to start outsourcing household labor as much as possible.
I used to watch HGTV. When a plumbing problem occurred, I would spend days at Lowe’s trying to figure out the best solution. Then I would buy some Time/Life manual, and spend weeks trying to solve it. I was queen of DIY. I learned a lot, saved a lot of money, and it was fun. But it was time-consuming, and plumbing is not what I was educated to do, or (to put a theological spin on it) what I was called to do.
With Hirshman’s manifesto, I began to realize that my work was important. That the time at Lowe’s would be better spent going to that place where I felt God calling me–in front of the laptop. When I began outsourcing my household labor as much as I could, I had more energy to live out my calling. I wrote my first book. And between the IRS savings and the preliminary sales, I’ve already made enough money to pay the plumbing expenses.
She also has some important critiques for the church, as she points out the ways that we put up obstacles to obstruct equality.
So, I have to say it. Thank you Linda Hirshman, for taking my work seriously. You know, we don’t agree on everything, but I’m still listening and learning from you.
photo by g-mikee