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.