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Two Extremes Of The Opt-Out Revolution

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Two Extremes Of The Opt-Out Revolution

What opting out means for women in the US

Women in the Economy - Research Paper

Two Extremes Of The Opt-Out Revolution

Econ 183 вЂ" Women in the Economy - Research Paper


In October of 2003, Lisa Belkin of the New York Times wrote an article, titled “The Opt-Out Revolution,” and coined the word “opting-out”. The article is about the counter-feminist phenomenon of “high-powered, prestigiously educated women who have decided to вЂ?opt out’ of work in favor of pursing motherhood full time” (Belkin 2003). In her research on several individual cases of these opt-out women, Belkin argues that given the choice between work and raising a family, many mothers are defining success not on the accumulation of power and money but on the attainment of balance and sanity. Belkin (2003) is quick to say that this is not true for all women by issuing the following disclaimer:

There are ambitious women out there who are the emotional and professional equals of any man, and that there are women who stayed the course… I also say this knowing that to suggest that women work differently than men -- that they leave more easily and find other parts of life more fulfilling -- is a dangerous and loaded statement.

However, despite this disclaimer, the obvious generalizations and self-righteous implications of the opt-out revolution, trends that are pulling more and more women into the post-feminist mommy-track, has caused a fervor of debate amongst journalists and feminists alike.

Belkin’s article was followed by many more writers who were quick to capitalize on this new sensational news story of mothers who gave up careers for their children. These neo-traditionalists held a banner of self-righteousness to the world and shaped the way in which a lot of women entering the workforce were perceived. However, these women were also a very small part of the true argument against and for the opt-out revolution. On the one hand, women like Belkin represent a very small population of women in the workforce and sometimes it is not a woman’s choice to leave the workforce but a last resort. The aim of this paper’s research is to show that there now exists two extremes to the opt-out revolution. Belkin believes women who opt out do so out of choice, and perfectly in line with American ideals of freedom and pursuit of happiness. On the other hand, women like Joan C. Williams of The American Prospect see these women’s choices as subversive to the feminist cause, and the media is only following in the patriarchal norm by providing over-coverage on these isolated stories when in fact the majority of women in the workforce are there to stay. Additionally, several contemporary studies have challenged Belkin’s findings on these opt-out women and cite grave social barriers which force mothers out of the workplace, only furthering intuitional sexism in the American workplace.

Belkin вЂ" opting out is American freedom through neo-traditionalism:

Belkin’s article begins with an inspiring glance into the world of an Atlanta book club, whose members are comprised of several highly-educated and immensely accomplished women. These women are the beneficiaries of the trail blazing feminists from roughly thirty years ago, and they have taken the full advantage of the opportunities that that revolution had entailed. Eight of the women in the room each had earned a degree from Princeton, which once was “a citadel of everything male until the first co-educated class entered in 1969” (Belkin 2003), and after Princeton, the women of the book club went on to receive law degrees from Harvard and Columbia and to pursue high-powered careers. Belkin (2003) writes:

These women chose husbands who could keep up with them, not simply support them. They waited to have children because work was too exciting. They put on power suites and marched off to take on the world. Yes, if an early feminist could peer into this scene, she would feel triumphant about the future.

However, Belkin’s elated feminist tones about progress and the heroine-ism of the post-feminist work society falls flat as the first words issued by these women are a slap in the face to the feminist cause of the 1970s: “I don’t want to be on the fast track leading to a partnership at a prestigious law firm… Some people define that as success. I don’t” or ''I don't want to be famous; I don't want to conquer the world; I don't want that kind of life… Maternity provides an escape hatch that paternity does not. Having a baby provides a graceful and convenient exit.'' Both of these statements come from mothers of the Atlanta book club, and Belkin makes them out to be the pioneers of choice. Juliet Mitchell (1984) wrote in “Women, the longest revolution”:

Woman’s biological �destiny’ as mother becomes a cultural vocation in her role as socializer of children. In bringing up children, woman achieves her main social definition. Her suitability for socialization springs from her physiological condition: her ability to produce milk and occasional relative inability to undertake strenuous work loads. It should be said at the outset that suitability is not inevitability.

Despite Acknowledging that motherhood is not an inevitability, these women’s choices end in motherhood. Belkin concludes that once having children, these women are exposed to a pull, if only temporary, to opt-out of work in favor of childrearing, and that the stress and pressures of having both work and a child are far too great for some women who simply don’t want it all. In Belkin’s interview with Sally Sears, who graduated from Princeton in 1975 and went on to become a world-traveling reporter, Sears tried to juggle both her career and her son Will’s childhood in the feminist have-it-all mentality, struggling for nine years. She finally became exhausted and frustrated as she worked while her son was growing up. She remembers, “I knew there would always be wrecks and fires, but there wouldn't always be his [Will’s] childhood,” and so in 2000, she walked



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