Feminists join forces to ‘womansplain’ to Maria Steen

In a well-reasoned article in the Irish Times last Saturday, Maria Steen sets out what many would consider the self-evident truth that the feminist movement prioritises the empowerment of women in the workplace over motherhood. Hot-foot on the article’s heels came a self-important, hectoring, name-dropping letter to the paper, blusteringly denouncing Maria for visiting her ignorance on a gullible readership who ‘do not have the advantage of our immersion’ in gender studies and social studies and philosophical rumination, of a certain stripe of course.

Not just common or garden studies you must understand but the esoteric sort that validates their world view. The sort I imagine that is taught in Hofstra University, Long Island where one of the dropped names, feminist scholar, Silvia Federici taught.  Never mind that this is a private, elitist institution. It was happy to count the said Federici among its illuminati notwithstanding that she comes up on google searches, as ‘a feminist in the Marxist tradition’. A glance at some of her writing makes that clear enough in any case. Just another of the intriguing inter-penetrations of progressive liberalism and mega capital, but I digress.

Continuing their womansplaining, after bringing up the usual bodies of Magdalene laundries and the Catholic Church, they roll-call the authors they are quite confident Maria Steen has never read. If only she had, she would have seen the light and not written such a benighted article though indeed one that could take many women in. Readers of the Irish Times are patronised as well as Maria. It is only the elite who hold PhDs in feminist theory who can ‘easily see through the nonsense’.  In their noblesse oblige condescension, worthy of Jane Austen’s Lady Catherine de Burgh, they offer a reading list that includes guidance on ‘the political challenges of children’ and ‘the moral reasoning that emerges from performance of the social role of motherhood’.

Maria Steen is a twice qualified professional woman and mother of four, a regular commentator and columnist on various outlets. But that counts for nothing at all given the assumed paucity of her study of windy tracts. At this point one may ask if being a mother confers any authority at all? Does actual experience have authority of itself? If it does not, on what are the lengthy, ponderous opinings of the likes of Federici based? On their own ideological vision it seems. That is why they completely bypass the findings of the Global Family and Gender Survey cited by Maria Steen in her article.  So what if more than two thirds of Irish mothers would prefer to work part time rather than full-time?  Apparently they can all be discounted because like Maria, they haven’t read the right books.

At this point, I ask myself if they have really read the redoubtable Federici themselves? Do they really think Maria, and women who agree with her, would buy into the view that ‘unwaged housework is absenteeism’? As a faithful Marxist it is hardly surprising that Federici proposes a collectivist model of childcare. Are not ‘day care centres run by women’ what we already have? Are they not the very thing that Maria and the majority of young mothers do not want, given choice, as survey after survey tells us?

Maria Steen wrote her opinion piece as a mother. Her critics base their authority on their women’s studies credentials. I would have thought if they had put ‘mother of two preschool children’ or ‘mother of three teenage boys’ and such on their citations that would count for more. Apparently not. A related question relates to their parent friendly jobs. Academics can enjoy enjoy longer holidays to be with their children than the rest of us. Sometimes, they also earn enough to pay for the domestic help that makes it possible to sit down to a good meal in a clean tidy house on their return from work. Many women who leave their homes with children often still in pyjamas get back to the meal table and an obesity inducing supper of pizza and fries. What does the feminist movement offer them? Who speaks for them? Who listens to them? Not Carol Ballantine and her gang of twenty who are too busy checking everyone’s privilege except their own.

Tellingly, they don’t offer a single policy aimed at helping mothers who want to scale down their hours of paid employment. Which was kind of Maria’s point.