Did the Internet Liberate Women?

In today’s New York Times Magazine, Virginia Heffernan has a somewhat radical proposition: that because of the Internet (and the ability to telecommute) “the bourgeois home has become a woman’s base of operations.”  This is a good thing, Heffernan says, for a variety of reasons, but most of all, work-at-home-moms (or WAHMs – my new acronym of the day) can now “simultaneously be inside and outside, at home and at work, public and private, she no longer has to forfeit the manly rewards of grasping careerism.”

According to Heffernan, all women who work outside the home secretly want to escape the “the trafficky commute, the petroleum-based slacks by Theory or Banana Republic, the noli-me-tangere demeanor that women were supposed to cultivate to ensure boardroom authority.”  They would rather be answering the phone on their floor, with “Judge Judy” on mute (this is actually in the article, I kid you not).  The article is fairly tongue-in-cheek, and I’m not sure how much of it to take seriously.  But Heffernan does seem to be sincere in her claim that telecommuting is the best of both worlds for women: they don’t have to enter the “manly” space of the office or boardroom, they can be at home with their children – in other words, this is the way to actually have it all.

Except – is this what we really do to solve the fact that workplaces are sexist, that women are stuck with the “second shift,” and that some people (and this includes men as well as women) don’t want to vault to the top of a career ladder by neglecting their families?  The implication, in Heffernan’s article, is that “downloading school forms, pumping breast milk, tending to a sick kid, loading up the crockpot, straightening the kitchen,” all things that can be done, she says, “with a BlackBerry in hand,” are women’s work.  And that the Internet simply provides a way for women to avoid the stress of navigating or trying to change the difficult lifestyle of the working mom.

Heffernan’s article has an incredibly disturbing subtext: she is essentially saying that the workplace is an irrevocably male space, that the home is for women, and that the Internet has “liberated” women by providing them with a way to remain in their domestic space while still having a job.  They can “opt out” without really opting out.  And certainly, I think that she’s right, for some women – as well as some men.  The Internet has been great for people who don’t like working in offices, who want to work more independently, who want to be at home for whatever reason, whether it’s children or long commutes or hating “petroleum-based slacks.”  But this liberation is not gendered.  If women do feel that actual workplaces require “broad shoulders, a baritone and understanding of wolf packs,” then that’s something that we need to change, not simply expand the spaces that we reserve for men and women.

Photo courtesy of RGS's Flickr Photostream.

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Leanne B.
Leanne B.5 years ago


Anne F.
Anne F.5 years ago

Liberation (freeing our minds) comes from honest discussions. While the internet sometimes disguises gender, wheat we really need are women talking and taking action together. Technology is only a tool.

Tom P.
Tom P.5 years ago

Read a fantastic essay/study by Viviane K. Namaste (titled "Genderbashing") talking abot gendered space, and she cites someone saying public space is defined by male presence. Virginia Heffernan does reiterate that, and that doesn't just affect women but the whole LGBT community as well - the monopolised public space of today is gender policed to masculine standards. The internet is amazing because it allows you to public and private and something else, but it must not be a substitute (Couldn't imagine the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo protesting in the home with their blackberrys) except in extreme circumstances (eg. an abused spouse learning to reconnect with their world).

Jewels S.
Jewels S.5 years ago

I want to work from home but having my own business. I wouldn't want to transfer the boring office work I do to my home. You need somewhere to escape. I am glad that women and men that have child care concerns can stay at home but article is too broad. I guess it sparks a conversation but some of these articles seem, I don't know what word I am looking for but I feel I couldv'e spent this time in a better way than read this.

Nellie K A.
Nellie K. Adaba5 years ago

I don't reallly like telecommuting. But once in a while is ok. I like to work in an office. Once in a while I could work from home if I have no choice. I need to interact face to face with people!

Anna T.
Anna T.5 years ago

* Florence S. says
* Jan 12, 2010 5:52 AM

women were liberated before the internet

I strongly agree

Zoi Ioz
Zoi Ioz5 years ago

It's so ironic-- female wolves lead the pack.

Florence S.
Past Member 5 years ago

women were liberated before the internet

Janice L.
Janice Lawrence5 years ago

The Internet is, I think, all things to all people---a place for haters to rant, for Wiccans to connect, for perverts to surf for porn, for infoholics to read about whatever they want without worrying about late fes, and for the hyper-social to network. I wouldn't mind working at home too. I'm a single person, and I don't want it all---I just want peace, quiet and a way to shrink my carbon footprint a little more by eliminating the commute.

Katherine T.
Katherine T.5 years ago

"according to Heffernan, all women who work outside the home secretly want to escape the "the trafficky commute, the petroleum-based slacks by Theory or Banana Republic, the noli-me-tangere demeanor that women were supposed to cultivate to ensure boardroom authority"

are you kidding me?!