Simpson, Jennifer, and E. L. Kirby. “The Invisibility of Identity(s) and Institutions
in ‘Choices’: A White Privilege/Social Class Communicative Response to the
‘Opt-Out Revolution.’” The Electronic Journal of Communication, 16, 3-4 (2006).
This essay adopts the lens of White privilege/social class for responding to discourses of The opt-out revolution. In providing a response, we challenge the language of personal “choice” on grounds that it masks institutional and systemic forces by (a) creating invisible identities that dismiss class and “erace” race and (b) leaving invisible the institutions of marriage, family, and “responsibility.” Lisa Belkin’s (2003) article on The Opt-Out Revolution examines how women who have Ivy League degrees (e.g. Princeton, Harvard, Columbia) have “chosen” to “opt-out” of the workforce to stay home and raise their children while their husbands provide for the family. Belkin describes this phenomenon as “progress,” suggesting that such women are rejecting and subverting the traditional workplace and its lack of accommodation to working mothers. As illustrated in the Kirby introduction to these position papers (see Kirby, 2006 [direct link to article]), the article spawned much controversy, and a heated series of postings quickly emerged on The New York Times online forum. In our discussion, we offer a communicative response to Belkin’s “revolutionary” tale (in the original article and the subsequent on-line forum postings) by critically examining the problematic invisibility of social class alongside the equally insidious ways in which race and class conflate and further mask the privileges of Whiteness. In adopting the lenses of race and class privilege many elements of Belkin’s article that remain un(der)stated become more sharply visible. While we share some of Belkin’s optimism that the choices women make vis-à-vis work and family have the potential to offer “sanity, balance, and a new definition of success” (2003, p.86) we fear the narrow definition of “choices” offered up by her article are anything but revolutionary.