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?


thailandchani said...

Oh, I absolutely think you are correct. I've believed that for a long, long time.

It was a clever way of taking women from one set of "no choices" to another set of "no choices".


Geneviève said...

Plot theory? The fact that women have a paid job would not come from the simple change of economy, neither from the feminists’ demand, but it would be a machiavelic conspiracy so all workers could be given a lower salary? and the feminisits would be content, So the evil would come from women, in spite of themselves?

This makes think of the supposed plot about WW1 with the purpose of having many dead when there were way too many workers in the world ( theory one), or the danger of marxism (theory 2)

So would it exist a thinking head leading all this?

Anyway, during every economic crisis women are asked politely or not politely to go back home to sacrifize for their husband’s job

"inequality will prevail" you say in conclusion, what inequality? Men/women or wealthy and not wealthy?

Cecilieaux said...

Wow, Chani, I'm not alone in thinking this? Go figure!

Genevieve, I don't know the situation in Europe in detail. Europeans can, of course, tolerate higher unemployment rates, thanks to their sturdy safety net.

However, with respect to this recession, your calculus regarding women is off. Men have been laid off in much higher proportions than women. Employment in manufacturing and construction, predominantly male, is in the toilet, while health and education, predominantly female industries, are the star net job gainers. I toyed with mentioning this, but I thought this would get way too wonky.

Geneviève said...

I didn't know you were talking of the USA only.

I was not speaking of Europe, but for example the USA during the great recession of the 1930s or South America and Asia in 1997. As to this crisis, here is an extract from ILO March 2009:

"The Global Employment Trends report indicates that of the 3 billion people employed around the world in 2008, 1.2 billion were women (40.4 per cent). It said that in 2009, the global unemployment rate for women could reach 7.4 per cent, compared to 7.0 per cent for men.

The report says that the gender impact of the economic crisis in terms of unemployment rates is expected to be more detrimental for females than for males in most regions of the world and most clearly in Latin America and the Caribbean.

It adds that the only regions where unemployment rates are expected to be less detrimental for women are East Asia, the developed economies and the non- EU South Eastern Europe and CIS which had narrower gender gaps in terms of job opportunities prior to the current economic crisis.

The labour market projections for 2009 show deterioration in global labour markets for both women and men. The ILO projects that the global unemployment rate could reach between 6.3 per cent and 7.1 per cent, with a corresponding female unemployment rate ranging from 6.5 to 7.4 per cent (compared to 6.1 per cent to 7.0 per cent for men). This would result in an increase of between 24 million and 52 million people unemployed worldwide, of which from 10 million to 22 million would be women."

Cecilieaux said...

Sigh! You're offering a January 2009 projection by an international body, based on what obviously are 2008 figures. I am citing analysis of actual U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data throughout 2009.

As to my referring to the USA, in the first paragraph I indicated the "U.S. wage earner" as the issue and in my reply to you I made clear I did not know the details of the European labor market.

geneviève said...

Oh right! my bad! it's an American stuff, pardon the ingerence!

Cecilieaux said...

Someone I know wrote to me to say that now a woman can choose how she will spend her life instead of being consigned to being the caretaker of and drudge for everyone else. She notes that women have gained (what I would argue is a measure of) economic independence, sufficient to be free from abusive men.

The phrase of this friend that I like best is "There are other kinds of equality." I'd like to take that up in a future musing.

G, you're perfectly entitled to meddle in American things. It's just that one has to compare apples with apples.

Also, in general, I find that international statistics are very flawed. There are maybe 15 to 20 countries that have reliable, up-to-date information -- the wealthy nations. The rest ... many of their nominal figures are wild approximations and estimates. In some countries, the underground economy is as large or larger than the nominal economy. And we don't have very accurate ways of translating what these figures mean qualitatively.

But, OK, that's water under the bridge.

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