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.: April 2006 --> What is the price of female equality?

What is the price of female equality?

» A Little Weekend Reading: Working Girls, Broken Society is a terrible title for a really smart article . "While the benefits of career equality are axiomatic, its negative repercussions are wilfully ignored. In a contentious essay that is sparking fierce debate in Britain, a King's College professor argues that we must confront the losses to society when women choose work over family."

Politicians, journalists and businessmen often emphasize the negative economic consequences of any barriers to female participation in the workforce, and of losing half the country's best brains to the kitchen sink. Of course they are right, and I am in no hurry to go back there myself.
But it is striking how little anyone mentions, let alone tries to quantify, the offsetting losses when women choose work over family. This is stupid.

(via dm)

 [ 04.14.06 ]


What standard is being applied here?

Couldn't one also ask: "What are the negative repercussions and offsetting losses to society when men choose work over family?"

In fact, the more I skim this article the more annoying it becomes. She's blaming feminism for the "decline in religion"? Give me a break..

I need to stop typing now..

Since we've never lived in a society in which men typically have chosen home-centered work over money-making activities, the question you propose doesn't make much sense.

Women have always worked. But women's work hasn't been valued as highly -- especially recently -- because it doesn't produce an income. That doesn't mean it wasn't/isn't valuable, and shouldn't be measured/valued in a similar way that money-making activities are.

the question makes complete sense to me -- I had the exact same response. if there is value in having somebody at home, that is worth discussing, but there's no excuse for discussing it only in terms of whether *women* should get out of the workforce. other than breast-feeding, there is no distinction in who is better fit for the house or the office, and I don't want to be told that one or the other is my obligation (or my failure, if I choose the other) because of an accident of birth...

Wait -- does she actually propose that women get out of the work force? As I read the piece, she explicitly states that she is, herself, in no hurry to leave the workforce, and that she's not proposing that anyone else do so, either.

I admit this is one of those articles that make me blow a fuse almost instantly. Saccharine nostalgia does it for me:
"the death of sisterhood, or an end to the millennia during which women of all classes shared the same major life experiences to a far greater degree than did their men."
Was there sisterhood between an upper-class woman of the 19th century who was barred from all dirty work, had a nurse and nanny for her children, and her house-maid who slept in a cupboard? I very much doubt it.

Another problem is the difference between productive vs. re-productive. A modern household hardly offers scope for truly productive work. Not so in rural societies. No matter whether women's work was valued or not, it was productive. Food and textiles had to be made from scratch. So there was much more potential for 'job-satisfaction'.

That said, one could ask how much job-satisfaction there is in much of the service industries and middle management in many sectors of the economy.
I'll try and find a fresh fuse and go on with the article now...

It's all about the frame, Rebecca, and scapegoating. One could just as always bemoan the changes that a post-WWII economy hath wrought. Or the changes that a service economy has brought to bear.

Whether the author explicitly says women shouldn't work, by placing the emphasis on women's "choices" (and in this economy and society I don't really have the "choice" not to work - and I don't even have children!) and "feminism" instead of on, say, major structural challenges in society as a whole, the author does little more than try to make women feel guilty and men feel, as usual, the norm against which all else must be measured.

Look - every major social change will have repercussions, and yes, some repercussions will not be strictly positive - but to focus on the cost when the net benefits (including increased freedom and autonomy for half of society) clearly outweigh them - I just wonder about the motivation.

No serious writer would demand that we all must start paying attention to the "bad things" that came about because of, say, freeing the slaves or, more recently, the civil rights movement. "Oh no, I don't mean that black people should still be slaves, it's just ... don't you see how hard the lack of slavery is for the economy?" Or, "Tsk tsk look at how stressful things are for families when one parent is black and the other white? We must consider the negative effects of allowing miscegenation!"

There are negative social effects of democracy (even the functioning kind) itself and yet we are not generally exhorted to wring our hands about those.

acm is right - my question about the impacts of men's "choices" on society may not "make sense" within this author's frame, but I dispute the entire frame.

friday morning on the subway, young mother plops into seat next to me. easy to get into conversation about the child she's just left at school, wonderful drawings. but tired.

"hard," she said,"people just do not understand what it's like in the city." this old lady feminist replied, "this is not our vision: we saw childcare in neighborhoods, workplace, but most of all that men would change." she smiled. i sighed.

does anyone talk about these things anymore, or is the pace too fast for dreams?

Rebecca, maybe Ms. Wolf didn't get to choose the incongruous title. It originated in Prospect Magazine (April 2006) with the title of simply, "Working girls". Let's assume it was the sub-editor.

I had a feeling, as I read your blog post that this one'd attract a few more comments than average. Your readers didn't let me down.

Medley and acm are right - Medley's original question is a good one. Read it again - she's asking for a costing measurement of what is (the status quo - men usually choosing work over a family caring role), not what isn't.

Now, here's a different question. Do we want to live in an economy, or a society?

Wolf apparently quotes Burggraf, "...the financial disincentives to childbearing have become so high for upper-middle income families that the puzzle is not why professional women have so few children but why they have any at all."

There's one important thing missing from Wolf's and Burggraf's mathematics. Love. Yep. L.O.V.E.

Lemme tell you a true story. I live in Sydney, Australia. There is a well establised system of parents of new-born children being organised into semi-formal groups at the local government sponsored early childhood development centre. For some reason, these are called "Mothers' groups." Our first son was born in November 2003. We then lived in a suburb generally comprised of upwardly mobile professional types. I am a homemaker and the primary carer for our son. Out of the group of 10 new borns, I was the only male primary care giver. On the first day the group met, we were encouraged to give a few personal biographical details, and to include a summary of foreseeable child caring arrangments. Everyone except me was expecting to return to their full-time careers after a period of parental leave ranging from 2 to 6 months.I was the only one not expecting to return to work. Not coincidentally, I was also the eldest.

As time passed, all of the new parents formed a strong and loving bond with their baby. Simultaneously, all except me began to attempt to negotiate a delayed return to full-time work because of a desire to spend more time with the baby. Love.

Sure, I know that there is nearly zero economic value placed on the work I do. But that doesn't matter to me, because my wife and I believe I'm doing something more important than bringing in some $$$. Personally, I feel enriched by this opportunity I have to nurture our son. I know a few women who feel pretty good about it too.

Or to put it in employment terms: I'm doing the most important job I've ever done.



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