Soc of Family links, thoughts

Here is a link to the Rebecca Traister article on the structural forces that are creating this new-ish demographic: the single, adult woman. We didn’t get to the part of the essay, which I’ll quote below, where she makes the argument that women drive social changes. Earlier in the essay she noted that single women lean “way left” and this quote backs up the history of women’s liberal tendencies:

This is not the first time that single women have had such a dramatic impact on the country. In fact, wherever you find increasing numbers of single women in history, you find change. In the 19th century, when the casualties of the Civil War and drain of men to the American West upset the gender ratio, marriage rates for ­middle-class white women on the East Coast plunged and marriage ages rose. Unburdened of the responsibilities of wifeliness and motherhood, many of these women did what women have long been trained to do: throw themselves into service to community, in this case reform movements. Many, though by no means all, of those who led the fights for abolition and suffrage and against lynching, who founded and ran the new colleges for women (Mount Holyoke, Smith, Spelman), who were pioneers in new fields including ­nursing and medicine, were unmarried. Susan B. Anthony; Sarah Grimké; Jane Addams; Alice Paul; Catharine Beecher; Elizabeth Blackwell: None of these women had husbands. Many more activists had marriages that were unconventional for the time — brief, open, or entered into late, after the women had established themselves economically or professionally.

I also found the place where she argues that the marriage boom post WWII did not extend to African American women, as African Americans were summarily denied economic and social benefits such as social security (which did not apply to domestic and agricultural workers), college admissions, loans and mortages, and all coupled with discriminatory racial wage gaps, segregation, and violence. With such obstacles, marriage becomes too costly and too much of a burden. We’ll talk more about how African Americans responded to these economic and social forces at the familial level next week.

I like this article because it’s reiterating the idea that structural changes take form in and through our personal lives–all way to the feeling, that so many women are sharing, that marriage is just not a priority. That feeling comes from educational and job opportunities as well as decreasing wages, increasingly contingent work, and stubborn sexism that places the burden of household and child care labor on women.

That last point brings me to this article about the unequal distribution between men and women around household, unpaid labor (this is often called social reproduction, or the work it takes to keep us all alive, healthy, disease free, happy, cared for). Melinda Gates is taking this up as a social cause. Definitely take a look at the charts, the data compares the household labor between men and women globally and it’s not good (the results, not the charts or data–those seem solid). In all countries women work more than men, in the US women work 4.1 hours/per day and men do 2.7 hours/day. Gates is arguing that this puts women in a time crunch, leaving them with less time to do paid work. Here’s an interesting relationship quote from the article: 

When the time women spend on unpaid work shrinks to three hours a day from five hours, their labor force participation increases 10 percent, according to the O.E.C.D.

I think it’s great to call attention to this phenomenon–the article loses me on the solution side, however. Gates says men have to do more of this unpaid work, to free up women. This is not a new argument at all–feminists have been making it since, at least, as far back as the the 1970s. The “Wages for Housework” movement made a similar argument. Gates also argues that if women have cell phones they’ll be able to work faster. She also wants women to have better contraception (birth control), which is a solid recommendation–when women have access to and education about family planning, they control their fertility and have less children or space them out to better match their lives. She also calls for men to do more household work. Telling men to do more household work has, well, never worked. There is some progress in Nordic countries, due to their attempts to structure family leave so that men have to take some of it. Structuring leave in allows new mothers to return to work and strongly encourages men to stay home so they can bond with their children and run the household too. In other words, these countries structure gender equality into their laws.

The part that is insanely ridiculous to me is the idea that cell phones will help women reduce their time spent on household labor. Technology, especially household technologies–vacuums etc–have a history of creating MORE work, more unpaid labor, and upping the expectations. Cell phones haven’t freed anyone from work, instead they’ve created more! For example, going to the grocery store is a chore but sometimes it’s a fun break from everyone at home. I didn’t realize how great going to the store was until I had kids. Going to the store, while definitely household/unpaid labor, gets me out of the house and my partner has to take over with bath, bed, clean up, laundry etc. Since we don’t have a car, the store trips take awhile and the walk to the store is the best part. The cell phone however extends the family into this “break”–they can text with list, call if things can’t be found, call if someone gets upset…etc. Or, while shopping I could get an important email that needs a quick response. It goes on and on–the main point is that cell phones don’t reduce work for anyone so it’s pretty disingenuous for Gates to make this “suggestion”. More to the point, she found a global market to tap into for tech products. And, women, especially mothers, use cell phones and social media more than most other groups.

Other articles of interest: this article on gender inequality and retirement savings; this article title “The Life of the American Worker in 1915” looks at work 100 years ago (I haven’t read it yet); and the article about women staying in bad relationships because of high rental market (which is discussed in Chapter 4–the increasing costs of renting–and will be on test even though we didn’t discuss in class).

Great discussion tonight, as always!

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