Friday, February 6, 2009

Shovel ready and kissable

The front page of the New York Times has an article about men being hit harder than women in the recession layoffs (As Layoffs Surge, Women May Pass Men in Job Force). And boy, have there been layoffs. Today’s job report for January is dismal.

In one way, I welcome the story because it’s at least demonstrating the real contributions women are making during this recession. I’m ready to pull my hair out if I see one more anecdote-filled fluff piece on:

- women suffering for no longer having a rich boyfriend;

- men having to learn how to be fathers now that they are laid off;

- women saving the economy through coupons; or

- women’s cost-consciousness by choosing a used wedding dress;

- Let alone the fashion series encouraging women to discover discount shopping and buying basics.

Up until now, the biggest contribution that women as a collective force have made on the economy is buying more lipstick (known as the Lipstick Index). And even that depends on who you ask.

So, while this piece is certainly not good news for women, I am grateful for the first step towards a shift in the paradigm about women's role in the economy.

[P.S. Women Do! has a nice reality check on the real story in the Time's article: "The most popular story on the NYT's website today is a business piece about how women are getting ready to overtake men in the workforce--not by salary or prestige, but by sheer numbers. The reason: They're not getting laid off as much. The reason they're not getting laid off as much: They do crap jobs for no money."]

1 comment:

Liam said...

"Mastercard Marxist" sez:

Well, it would certainly be an unforeseen positive consequence of the current crises if it occasioned a change in workplace and family gender roles. But the likeliest analogy would have to be the widely touted (and widely reproduced) image of "Rosie the Riveter" of WWII fame, whose impact was real but later mythologized and exaggerated. The point is not that WWII didn't create an unusually utopian space for women's labor, but that the so-called "greatest generation" steadily undid their achievements and swept all that under the rug. The same men who temporarily accepted women in the workplace and blacks in the armed forces quickly capitalized on the cultural panache of defeating fascism and parlayed it into an ultra-masculine, deeply conservative social order. In fact, you could argue that they overplayed their hand; the boomers, unable to live up to the rosy-hued, sepia-tinged heroism of their fathers, could only find their identity in opposition to normativity via the counterculture. A generational oedipal conflict, if you will, played out over countless bongs, orgies, LPs, VWs, what have you.
Regardless, to return to the matter at hand: the NYtimes article correctly explains that industries overpopulated by men are the hardest hit (construction, manufacturing), and the link also correctly states that women are more likely to be retained because of pay disparity. What I would like to add to the discussion is that both pieces neglect to mention the terms of employment. The statistics usually crunch the numbers on population of women, and their income relative to men, and the various industries affected. However, we should also be looking at variables like benefits, job security, and pensions. To be clear: To consider these issues, I think, would actually underscore the gap between the genders, and hopefully heighten our sense of outrage (marxists love outrage...it's all we have). But women are being retained in the workforce because they are more likely to have "flexible accumulation" terms of employment, and the recession we are facing is likely to heighten the appeal of a flexible accumulation workforce to employers, and I'm afraid this effect will persist. A hypothetical university that slashes its tenured faculty from 45% to 20% will, even after the economy recovers, be very reluctant to start handing out lucrative lifetime sinecures again. A corporation that lays off half its workforce and manages to muddle through with temps will be only too eager to stick with the temps. On the one hand, this is a disaster. But on the other hand, if the majority of the country is forced to reconsider the relationship between their self-identity, happiness, employer and (hopefully) government, we could be looking at the most drastic re-imagining of the national spirit in a century. Desperately trying to look for a silver lining, I might suggest that if this depression creates a quick and painful rupture between individuals and the people and institutions who extract labor from them (i.e. being fired), then it might be worth it for that social contract I’m always yammering about. In short, if people no longer associate employment with self-esteem, healthcare, and pensions, this whole brutal shitshow might be to our long term advantage. Union-negotiated employer based health care, after all, was the “third way” compromise between unfettered capitalism and the promises socialism made during the 20th century. But really, a government that doesn’t provide healthcare becomes less and less sustainable as less and less people have access to health care. If the first great depression gave us social security, this one might force our hand on universal health. Perhaps, even, the old ubiquitous and omnipresent question "so what do you do?" might attenuate and become the fourth or fifth order of business instead of the second question we ask upon meeting someone. But lest I sound like a cheerleader for catastrophe we are facing –or worse! like some kind of “creative destruction” capitalist asshole, I do want to acknowledge that this economic crisis is really, really going to suck, and sanctimoniously mention that it all could have gone down very differently.