Linda R. Hirshman, a union lawyer turned law and philosophy professor turned feminist provocateur, author and cultural historian who managed, to her delight, to enrage liberals and conservatives alike with an attack on so-called choice feminism, died on Oct. 31 in Burlington, Vt. She was 79.
Her daughter, Sarah Shapiro, said the cause was cancer.
Ms. Hirshman found herself smack in the middle of the mommy wars in late 2005, when she published an article in The American Prospect, the progressive policy journal. She had become alarmed by statistics showing that women were dropping out of the work force in large numbers to raise their children.
She viewed the opt-out phenomenon, as it was often described, as a failure of feminism, which — more than four decades after Betty Friedan decried housework in “The Feminine Mystique” — supported the trend as just another choice in an arsenal of choices that granted women agency.
Not so, she declared in her article, which was titled “Homeward Bound.” Staying home, she said, was a very, very bad choice.
Her particular target was affluent women with elite degrees; she argued that their disappearance from the halls of power in law, business and politics was not just harmful to them personally — housework and child rearing, she warned, were intellectually stagnant and soul-crushing endeavors — but to the country as a whole, because their absence meant that more than half of the American population would be underrepresented in the places where policy was made.
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