Opting In: Having a Child Without Losing Yourself

By AMY RICHARDS

In a 2003 cover story for The New York Times Magazine, Lisa Belkin argued that educated, affluent women — the ones that, in her opinion, were the luckiest beneficiaries of feminism — were “opting out” of the workplace in favor of family, exercising their supposedly feminist right to choose. AprŠs Belkin, les Mommy Wars. Five years on, it has become the 9,000-word article that launched several thousand pages of glowing endorsements and angry rebuttals, on blogs, in journals, and in at least a dozen books. Given Amy Richards?s credentials as a self-appointed spokesperson for younger feminists (she is coauthor, with Jennifer Baumgardner, of Manifesta and cofounder of the Third Wave Foundation), it?s unsurprising that she would find Belkin?s thesis troubling enough to explicitly refute it in her title. Feminism, argues Richards, has been unfairly represented as anti-family, and in fact family issues — among them the inclusion of midwives in birthing plans, better childcare and support for working parents, and the promotion of anti-sexist childrearing — have been some of its biggest accomplishments. In a chapter entitled “To Work or Not to Work Is Not the Question,” she reminds women that respect for “women?s work” in the home was always part of feminism and insists that a progressive movement can?t possibly be solely concerned with the problems of middle-class and “elite” women. She contrasts her mother’s life as a single parent with her own, in which she and her partner, Peter, more or less coparent their two boys, and holds up both as models of feminist parenting. As in her other work, Richards?s enthusiasm for including all women in her big feminista hug can, on occasion, lack critical bite. But overall this book provides a welcome respite from the snipers in the playgroup.