Feminism Going Galt

NPR launched an interesting new series this week entitled “Women Changing Lives” that aims to cover a variety of topics related to the rise of women in the workforce.  Unfortunately, it got off to a shaky start yesterday with a story about gender equality in emerging markets that featured right-wing feminist and economist, Sylvia Ann Hewlett.

Hewlett reported some interesting data on the greater percentage of women CEOs and political leaders in emerging countries than in the U.S., but her analysis was firmly rooted in bizarre assumptions, unchallenged by the NPR hosts, about the virtue of the global one percent and the lowly people who enable their greatness.

Hewlett first describes how women in India are advancing in their careers due to “the combination of near extended family and low cost domestic help” reducing childcare concerns without anyone at NPR mentioning that many of these workers are young migrant women who get paid paltry wages for long hours with few benefits and no labor law protections or societal recognition. This isn’t exactly a model we should be thinking about copying here in the United States. Hewlett then advises women to stop worrying about all those barriers to their personal greatness — like kids and families — and just start embracing the entitled, Randian worldview of the men who run corporations today:

MONTAGNE: You’ve written elsewhere about the need to change the narrative of ambitious, successful women in the U.S. because the stories we hear, for the most part in media and in public conversations, they talk about the sacrifices women have to make, and women talk about those sacrifices, rather than what they, say, gain from realizing their ambitions.

HEWLETT: You’re absolutely right. I remember very clearly going to a Wall Street Journal conference, and Andrea Jung, the then-CEO of Avon, was speaking. She’s an incredibly impressive person. She had been head of that company for eight years. So instead of talking about the joys of success and what it felt like to be such an admired world leader with extraordinary leverage and influence in the lives of, you know, four million employees, she chose to talk about what she had given up in terms of being close to her children or spending time with her children, because actually she did, in fact, seem very close to them.

And no male leader does that. I feel that many of us are still mired in some of the expectations of the 1950s, that we are expected to be self-sacrificial in our public voice. As though it’s unseemly for a woman to, I guess, glory in power. We need to get over that.

It’s hard to disagree with the notion of women not being mired in the expectations of the 1950’s.  But it’s a big leap from that sensible position to one where women are advised to emulate a mindset that has allowed men in positions of authority to ignore women’s needs for decades.  The last thing American society needs is more entitled business leaders — male or female — reveling in the glory of their power as cheap migrant labor plugs the holes of a flawed system that doesn’t guarantee affordable, high-quality childcare for American women.

NPR should inform its listeners when the “experts” they interview are trying to pass off right-wing propaganda about the structure of the workforce and society as neutral social science and economics.