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Stay-at-home dads help women move up in the corporate world Add to ...

If you want to have sex and children with men, as well as work in interesting jobs where you may occasionally wield real social power, "prepare yourself for good work, treat work seriously, and don't put yourself in a position of unequal resources when you marry," she wrote.

But her hot-button summary of the strategy has left liberal stay-at-home moms up in arms and has conservative pundits wringing their hands with glee: Marry someone with a less-intense career than yours (or else so much younger or older that they don't face the same pressures). And beware that second baby, who often marks a tipping point -- as the doubled cost of child care nears the level of the lower-paid spouse's salary, logic says that, well, the wife stays home.

Ms. Hirshman's subtitle raised hackles too: " 'Choice Feminism' claims that staying home with the kids is just one more feminist option. Funny that most men rarely make the same 'choice.' Exactly what kind of choice is that?"

She argues that while strides have been made in the workplace, the patriarchal structure of the home has remained virtually intact -- a domestic glass ceiling.

To illustrate the point, Ms. Hirshman studied three consecutive Sunday New York Times wedding announcements from 1996. She found that by last year, 90 per cent of those brides were moms and 85 per cent of them had traded their careers as doctors, lawyers, editors and executives to stay home. Among the grooms, not a single man was a stay-at-home dad. None had even taken a parental leave.

No wonder Ms. Hirshman suggests marrying someone with "less social power" as the ultimate safe bet -- although she does allow for picking a mate with an "ideological commitment to gender equality."

Canadian-born magazine publishing magnate Bonnie Fuller might agree. Her stay-at-home architect husband, Michael Fuller, has stuck around for more than two decades and four children while Ms. Fuller made her passion for her career her first priority.

In her memoir, The Joys of Much Too Much, she writes that "the most fulfilling path in life involves discovering your passion, then finding the career that allows you to express that passion, then layering in love and family."

Prof. Duxbury objects that the likes of Ms. Fuller and Ms. Hirshman are talking only about the elite: "They're princesses anyway. Why do we care about what the princesses are doing?"

But Ms. Hirshman has an answer to that: "Elites supply the labour for the decision-making classes -- the senators, the newspaper editors, the research scientists, the entrepreneurs, the policy-makers, and the policy wonks."

If the ruling class is overwhelmingly male, she continues, the rulers will make mistakes that benefit males, whether from ignorance or indifference. What's more, she has said, society as a whole suffers from the "gender brain drain" of women's skills and perspectives.

There are also less politicized cases to be made for Ms. Hirshman's general point -- perhaps the strongest being what happens to mothers who have given up their careers in the event of divorce.

Just ask Terry Martin Hekker. In 1979, she wrote a book extolling the virtues of housewifery, called Ever Since Adam and Eve. But recently she wrote an essay called "Paradise Lost (Domestic Division)," relating how she plunged into emotional and financial horror after being served with divorce papers on her 40th wedding anniversary.

"I read about the young mothers of today -- educated, employed, self-sufficient -- who drop out of the work force when they have children, and I worry and wonder," she wrote in The New York Times. "Perhaps it is the right choice for them. Maybe they'll be fine. But the fragility of modern marriage suggests that at least half of them might not be."

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