Women’s Work In The New Economy

March 31, 2009 § 5 Comments

Another guest post by Joel, cross-posted at Citizen Obie.

I’ve been thinking about the issue of women work trends since I saw an earlier post here a while back about how feminists were reacting to the stimulus package, and what they thought it offered to support industries with greater representation of women (social work, education, health.) My concern was not so much with the sectors the stimulus emphasized, I believe that fomenting green manufacturing, construction, transportation, and agriculture is going to be fundamental to getting ourselves out of this economic mess we’re in and moving us towards an era of sustainable prosperity and equity. But where do women fit in this agenda? Green-collar jobs, the premier jobs of the new economy, are in construction and manufacturing (and I pray also urban agriculture,) sectors with little female representation. I’m going to assume that construction and manufacturing will remain important and vibrant for years to come, in which case my concern is how do we promote gender equity in those fields? How do we make sure that women share in the vision of the new economy, how do we de-stratify the sectors with the greatest potential for growth?

I thought about it even more when the news got out that the White House vegetable garden is Michelle Obama’s initiative. I love Michelle Obama, I love organic vegetable gardens, and I love children’s health and nutrition, but I was intrigued by the historic association between first ladies and health (specifically children’s health) advocacy. I wouldn’t call it anything as strong as a major concern, but what does it mean for powerful, fiercely intelligent women (in Michelle Obama’s case, a lawyer) to be relegated to work with overtones of domesticity? On the other hand, maybe I ought to rethink my own gendered assumptions about what it means to work with children and health. Maybe it is my own male bias and set of assumptions that I imply above that children and health issues might be ‘beneath’ a fiercely intelligent woman. In this case, how will we encourage (assuming we want to) the disassociation of particular fields with the different genders? And if such associations remain tenacious, what opportunities are available to women in the revolutionary restructuring of the educational and health care systems, as called for in Barack Obama’s agenda? Energy, education, and health are the major focuses of Obama’s agenda. Is it okay for energy to be a primarily masculine field, with education and (to a lesser degree) health to be primarily feminine?

Finally, here are a few articles on the immediate effects of the recession on women’s economic lives. The first is on the likely increase of domestic disputes as a result of male unemployment. It suggests that recessions, with major job loss for male-bodied individuals, breeds resentment as males fail to fulfill their ‘breadwinner’ roles, compounding the other stresses of over-worked women struggling to fulfill their roles as double-time workers and mothers. The second is on women losing their jobs and moving into the sex entertainment industry. And here’s one on the unfortunate likelihood that pregnant women and new mothers may be more likely to face unemployment, despite the illegality of discriminating against mothers. Overall, it looks as though the recession and the vast restructuring of the economy (I hope) will have major effects on perceptions of domesticity and women’s work roles. I hope some of you are as interested in these broad trends as I am. I think they definitely point to a very particular landscape in the contemporary feminist movement.

§ 5 Responses to Women’s Work In The New Economy

  • ginger lady says:

    Okay so I know I posted about my love for Mrs. Obama before, but I was not articulating myself well, so here goes another shot.
    I think it’s very cool and important for everyone (feminists, earth-lovers, and beyond) to see that strength (lawyer-style, super powerhouse strength) does NOT automatically call for the exclusion of more ‘domestic’ things like gardening and caring about children. I think that if more people viewed Michelle-esque strength as a great remedy to issues such as child health care and global warming, we would actually be able to get somewhere really cool. To me, feminism is all about choice and creating the world you want to live in. I can’t imagine a better embodiment of that than the image of strong, wonderful Michelle Obama planting seeds for her future, her daughters’ futures, our future. This feminist says hoorah!

  • Oh, I totally agree. I think having an undeniably strong, intelligent person as a visible and loving parent, educator, and health advocate speaks well to the incredible importance of children, education, and health. Too often environmentalists, feminists, those who care about children’s issues and other ‘nurturing’ activists are characterized as shrill, weak, and timid (I wonder why racial justice activists are characterized as loud, abrasive, and irrational?) and I think it’s awesome that we have Michelle, Van, and the rest of these 30-40 year olds (and younger folks too) who are vocal, passionate, and articulate advocates for ‘domestic’ concerns. I’m gonna just go out and say it, this stuff is way more important than defense spending, there, I said it.

  • [...] Original post by joelfrominwood [...]

  • [...] industry workers are men.  How do we make sure women are equal participants and beneficiaries?  This idea stuck with me as I thought more about how I saw my involvement in the climate movement (with which I still [...]

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