| April 30, 2013

Women's liberation 2.0: It's time for an 'Etsy-earner' agenda

Earlier this year, feminists across the country celebrated the golden-jubilee reissue of Betty Friedan’s wave-making work, The Feminine Mystique.

The book — so I am told — inspired many a malcontent woman to seek “liberation” from “the comfortable concentration camp” of suburban housewifery and, for that reason, deserves to be celebrated.

A millennial myself, I never experienced 1950s suburbia — but, whatever the life of a suburban housewife then (and I somehow never quite buy that it was as dreadful as Friedan’s term suggests), the life of a suburban housewife now is anything but a “comfortable concentration camp.”

Betty Friedan simply did not anticipate the Internet.

Today, progressive and conservative housewives alike celebrate their stay-at-home status as the ultimate liberation from drudgery and an unprecedented opportunity for meaningful work. Theirs is not an isolated, dependent domesticity. Enabled by technology, the life of the modern housewife is hyper-connected and, increasingly, income-earning.

Thanks to websites like, “the world’s most vibrant handmade marketplace,” backyard-chicken-raising, crochet-cap-knitting, baby food gourmets are able to ply their wares with electronic ease — and pocket the income with pleasure.

The trend is so pronounced — about 97 percent of so-called “Etsy earners” are women — as to deserve more attention from legislators.

Presumably, free-market policymakers would never condescend to woo women (who are themselves taxpayers) with promises of taxpayer-funded birth control, however effective that strategy might appear to have been.

Yet, the conservative strategy cannot be to ignore women. Nor can it be to treat women as though they are men, for conservatives, above all, acknowledge reality and appreciate it as “given.” However stringently some strive to deny it, the sex of a person is given. The human person is not merely embodied, but engendered. Conservatives must, must, must resist the Gnostic temptation to view gender as malleable. (This, incidentally, is the thesis behind OCPA’s “Policy to Share” project.)

Fortunately, “Etsy earners” provide free-market, reality-minded policymakers with an apt opening to court female favor, as Ben Domenech of The Heartland Institute has suggested. It’s time, in other words, for an “Etsy earner” agenda.

Domenech highlights five general approaches to policy that could serve as the basis for such an agenda, all of them excellent. We at OCPA are particularly fond of his suggestion in the area of education and child care:

School choice is the great white hope on the right, but (policymakers) should expand their normal conversation about it to include the parent trigger and education savings accounts which can be used toward pre-K or toward child care. The current deductibility limit for child care expenses comes nowhere near the annual cost for most families, which particularly hurts single moms, who have no option but to work and put their kids in homecare or daycare. It also creates a huge incentive to dump kids into Head Start, a failed program (that) drives up costs for every other type of child care. Either make every penny of childcare expenses deductible, or create a tax-free childcare/education savings account, perhaps framed more broadly as Childrearing Accounts. The right should look to the example of Arizona’s Empowerment Savings Account program, where in addition to school tuition, the money can also be used for home-schooling and other qualifying expenses.

The question is not whether policymakers will address the needs of “Etsy earners”; it’s which policymakers will and how.

Fifty years from now, may we have occasion to celebrate the golden jubilee of a policy agenda that at last acknowledged that the “good life” — for both men and women — consists of more than mere liberation from something; it consists of liberation for something. While it assuredly includes economic productivity, it also invariably revolves around hearth and home — those elements of life that both motivate and lend meaning to that productivity.

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