Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Was "Women's Liberation" a Capitalist Con?

Having put on my rotten-tomato resistant armor, allow me to raise an issue that's been bothering me for some time: did the alleged advances of women since the 1970s really improve overall economic conditions for the average U.S. wage earner? I am tempted to wonder whether it wasn't all a clever con.

Look at the facts.

1. Employers can get away with paying less per wage earner -- (we know that between 1973 and 2006 average wages declined in real value 22 percent). Is it a coincidence that this is the period in which there has been a steady and sustained rise in the proportion of women in the labor force and double-income households in the population? Perhaps.

2. Women always worked; anyone who says they didn't has never spent a day with an infant or washing clothes. They merely were not paid directly for their labor. Yet the proportion of time spent by women on average in tasks related to household and child care has not declined notably over the past few decades, while the time spent by men on these things has actually declined.

In brief, women have added responsibilities, but they still earn approximately 85 cents on the dollar that men earn, and both they and their male peers have actually seen their wages' purchasing power decline over time.

Second-wave feminism increased competition for jobs, as women added to men swelled the overall ranks of available workers, making the labor market ever more an employers' game. What happens in capitalism when supply overwhelms demand? Prices drop. The price of an individual worker declined.

Who won here? Not the women of America and not even the average men of America.

Is it at all conceivable that the powers that be allowed second-wave feminism to be promoted with the full knowledge that it would increase the supply of workers? I can't prove such a thing. Yet even if that's not what happened, this is still a pretty convenient coincidence for the wealthy and powerful few.

What's the lesson here? To my mind, it is that merely rearranging the deck chairs on the mighty oceanliner SS Capitalism, by promoting women into professions and prominence, isn't enough to make substantive changes to the system, because inequality will prevail.

Your mileage may vary. What do you think?
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