Feminization of Insecurity in the New Economy

17 07 2012

What is productive work in an economy–real work, jobs that we value for adding value to an economy? What is it, in other words, that we value. What we value is a function of several decision-making processes; among them are the human–food, shelter, health, and personal security; the purely economic–those jobs that transform a basic or primary resource into something of use to others; and the moral–what humanity values for its metaphysical or numinous quality.

While the term is no longer en vogue, the public sector is conflated in civic discourse with the “nanny state”–it provides those supposedly superfluous services that are otherwise without real economic value. The government does “caretaker” work supposedly, and the term “nanny” state is not accidental. Much of public sector work is so-called “woman’s work,” work that often earns little more than sneers from champions of the private sector and its munificent spontaneous order. Public sector employees are teachers, librarians, social workers, case workers, child care providers, nurses, and so forth. As the public sector shrinks, the economic security of workers in these professions evaporates; and in the neoliberal climate of the last 30 plus years, growing the public sector once its been shrunk means that that economic security is unlikely to return.

Over the last three years of the recession, 80% of the net employment gains have gone to men, and despite the recession officially ending three years ago, the public sector has continued to lose jobs, and women have been disproportionately impacted by that trend.

This isn’t an accident, even if it isn’t a result of an organized effort by a particular cabal. In a policy atmosphere that hews to the idea that the market grants value to economic activity, and that “social engineering” produces quasi-immoral results, it is rational that historically “feminine” work will be under valued and discarded. It is perhaps true that in the short-term economic sense, elder care, social work, and teaching are not valuable. Support for such work requires a conscience decision by civic institutions. Even those private institutions that can turn a profit providing these services rely critically on government programs–either because they are directly contracted by government to provide them, or because government programs like Medicare, Medicaid, or TANF provide the main source of funds for their clientele.

It is of course just outmoded attitudes that characterize “caretaker” work as feminine in people’s minds; there is nothing inherently feminine about social work, or nursing, or child care. We’re conditioned to consider care taking work as feminine, and for that reason presumably women gravitate towards it (or more likely, men gravitate away from it, apologizing for the impossibility of something gravitating away from something).

But of course, given the structure of the mainstream American political left, it’s hard to make a moral case that repudiates the so-called “spontaneous order” of the market. Lip service is paid to a society that cares for the “less fortunate,” but in practice, the Democratic Party in particular can’t operate in a way that acts on these ambiguities.

And the problem remains multifarious. So long as these jobs are dominated by women, they’ll be undervalued, because women are undervalued; jobs that provide care will always be labor intensive, and thus hard to profit from, no matter what the increases in efficiency; because the wealthy–the choice consumer group–can always provide for their own care, the caretaking industries will always rely on socialized models anathema to those institutions and social cohorts who finance elections and employ lobbyists; and because of the dominance of the male worldview of labor, caretaking will not be considered “productive” work.

In the meantime, needed care goes unprovided, labor is further immiserated, and as so often in history, women carry the burden, particularly because given family structures, care that is not provided by society will be provided for free by women, women who already account for at least forty percent of breadwinners.

Just Don’t Get Married, Asshole

10 05 2011

If it takes a Herculean effort to talk to your wife for five goddamn seconds, why the hell are you married?

Maybe its heartbreak–something causes us to treat male-female relationships as inherent contradictions, impossible, necessary evils, insufferable and fraught with disappointment and latent hatred.

But there’s nothing to this. In fact, I have to believe the contrary is the case. There’s no relationship more obviously necessary than sexual and intimate relationships between men and women. Certainly, people make bad choices about whom they choose to couple up with. But where there are failures, frustrations, or insufferable assholes like the guy in the Klondike commercial who can’t stand to talk to his wife for five goddamn seconds, the problem is almost always with one’s self, not with the other person.

Choosing to be with someone you can’t really stand is because of some defect one sees in oneself–a sense of insecurity that creates a terror of being alone, a feeling of unworthiness, suspicion that somebody else’s love or attention is unwarranted and so counterfeit–or really, what we could call a Groucho Pathology, that you wouldn’t want to join any relationship that would have you as a member.

It’s hard not to be scared of trusting that someone wholly independent of you really does have your best interests at heart; that they truly love you and want to see you happy. It takes bravery to accept that condition and to just sink into the warmth of it. So we invent narratives that justify our fear and cowardice.

This manifests in men in the asinine impulse that there is more pleasure in “the hunt” than the catch; and in women with equally asinine impulse that only men for whom they have to compete are worth their time. Whatever evolutionary sources there are for these impulses are not determinative–they can’t be, because the impulse to devote one’s self to, and even sacrifice one’s self for, a mate responsible for child rearing could be equally so attributable–and is indeed found in all types of species. Besides, there’s little in our evolutionary hard-wiring that can’t be tempered or even over-ridden by the capacity for social conditioning that is just as much a result of human evolution.

Perhaps this is a view enriched by rose colored glasses. My parents are still married after thirty four years and are very evidently best friends. This has created in me, and I assume my sister, too, an intense desire to make sure that whoever we decide to settle down with forever be our best friend. And I don’t doubt that if I moved in with my best friend, shared finances with my best friend, and had to make important life decisions with my best friend, we’d often get annoyed with one another, and have a need for privacy now and then.

But these superficial “problems” pale in comparison to the happiness and comfort that would attend getting to share my joy and my most troubling fears with somebody who understands me better than anybody else, and who has sworn to stick with me no matter what.

Not that friendship is enough. It helps if you look at the person you’re with and want to eat them like a meal–and vice versa. You need both, I think. Sometimes having one allows the other to bloom. Sometimes both arise simultaneously. But if there one’s thing pop culture has taught us, it is that women will settle for a slob who can’t stand them if he’ll just stick around, and men are happy to have a suspiciously hot wife even if listening to her talk for five seconds is akin to getting a urinary catheter inserted.

"Tell me about your day."

Perhaps a sign of the growing equality of women is that “take my wife, please” is no longer the sole joke construction that all marriage-based “comedy” is built on. There’s also, “my husband is a mildly retarded ape.” See, for example, every family sitcom this century.
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The Brutal Story of Women in Afghanistan

13 02 2011

Mother Jones has an absolutely shattering story about a female prosecutor in Afghanistan fighting assassination attempts to prosecute men for beating their spouses.

The viscerally grossest part of gender discrimination is that it begins in the family, by parents. Fathers, mothers, and grandparents all contribute to various forms of conditioning, conforming their kids to certain roles and behaviors. Of course this isn’t limited to girls, but the difference is that in extremely patriarchal societies, this extends past childhood–daughters remain “fictional children” until another man claims them. The fact that this authority extends into adulthood means that the structure of the family reaches into civil society–thus, just the one female prosecutor in all of Afghanistan.

No society is free of this problem, but there can’t be any reasonable objection to the claim that the phenomenon is significantly weaker in “the West” and other advanced industrial societies.

This is what I mean: in Afghanistan, the only means of protest available to many women is self-immolation.

At the bottom of the power structure, they don’t have control over anything but their physical body, and even that only in the literal sense. It defies the imagination, a predicament so desperate, so frustrating, so absolutely brutal and devoid of any love or support, that you would not even merely take your own life–but do so as a form semi-public protest in the most painful way imaginable.

This is an absolutely intolerable state of affairs.