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Apparently it's Women's Issues Week at Wired Cola | Wired Cola

Apparently it's Women's Issues Week at Wired Cola

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I have no idea why.

A friend linked to this article published on the Atlantic's website: "1% Wives Are Helping Kill Feminism and Make the War on Women Possible," by Elizabeth Wurtzel. I usually ignore such things, because while I think the Atlantic is a great magazine, I want to engage with strong arguments, not weak ones, and my initial response was, dismissively, "this is terrible...cyanide-laced Kool-Aid for movement feminism."

I am convinced by the response though, that some people regard this article as advocating something reasonable. I guess I can write a rebuttal, then (and what follows is slightly edited from a comment I made on Facebook).

Quoting straight from the article, "Who can possibly take feminism seriously when it allows everything, as long as women choose it?"

So the author is specifically concerned that some choices women make, specifically full-time motherhood, are not feminist choices.

Let's call this definition of feminism "Wurtzelism," just to give us a handy label. Wurtzelism wants to dictate which choices are good and bad, and says "there really is only one kind of equality...economic."

Wurtzelism is a comically totalitarian philosophy of life. It manages to claim the supremacy of economics while being economically illiterate at the same time (Wurtzel rubbishes Romney for saying his wife's job is more important than his, because "if he thought that, he'd be doing it." This only makes sense if you believe economics is really good at pricing in-family decisions about roles and goals, and also don't know about Ricardo's theory of Comparative Advantage*), but it is at least clear: "Real feminists...have money and means of their own."

This is an argument against ever throwing your lot in with anyone else, ever. It is a claim that every domestic arrangement where people do not maximize their personal earnings is anti-Wurtzelist. Wurtzelism decries child-rearing as non-useful work (because it's not conventionally paid), and implies that parents have no natural advantage in raising their own children over paid help (Wurtzelist logic seems to be that if you can earn more than a good nanny or childcare service, you must put your kids in full-time care and go to work.)

About the most charitable argument I can make is that Wurtzel is stumping for a Guaranteed Minimum Income, or in terms she is surely familiar with, £500 a year and a room with a lock on the door. Noble goals perhaps, but I think more universal than feminist, and badly undercut by her specific charges against wealthy full-time mothers.

The reason I say Wurtzelism is "cyanide-laced Kool-Aid" is that this is so far at odds with the decisions of real-world women, both in claimed values and revealed preferences, that it would redefine feminism as completely at odds with large numbers of women. It would, metaphorically, kill off feminism's followers by making them swallow a completely ridiculous set of claims, surely extending beyond just the stay-at-home moms Wurtzel is specifically excoriating, and into the broader group of men and women who are sympathetic to some strain of feminism, but are also sympathetic to allowing women to choose things.

I would caution anyone that free-market pricing is a great tool for finding out information about prices, but you are not beholden to market value! That's Veblen good crazy-thinking.

*Comparative Advantage is a topic well worth looking up, but applying it to this example, if raising the kids is the thing Mr. & Mrs. Romney value most highly, and Mrs. Romney is better than Mr. Romney at both raising kids and earning money, then Mr. Romney will spend all his time earning money, and Mrs. Romney will spend all her time raising kids, and that will maximize the total amount of "value" they can extract from the marriage. I'm not going to elaborate on how diminishing returns on investment and other factors complicate this calculation.