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!

One Sociological Interpretation of the “Manrepeller” Fashion Blog

After reading some of your blog post drafts, I’d like to suggest that you step back and think about what your topic–whatever it is–accomplishes in our society today. Does it make lots of money? Does it connect people, or push them apart? Does the thing or topic help us understand society? Does it symbolize some aspect of modern society, or of NYC?

For example, a few weeks ago we had a brief discussion about the blogger behind the Manrepeller. After our class I fell into a Manrepeller Instagram rabbit hole (and now I’m following that account. lol). I came across another blog post in which the blogger, Kelly Oxford, takes a more sociological approach to the MR. In Oxford’s own words:

The girls like her (wealthy, stylish urbanites) are already wearing that kind of shit, Man Repeller doesn’t have to show them where to buy it or how to wear it.
Man Repeller is blogging for the mid-western girl who buys Vogue and hits the thrift shop and loves Alexa Chung. And if you can buy all that Wang (Alexander, not dick), God bless you, I’m jealous… but when Leandra (I’m getting serious now, so I’m dropping the character name) advertises for Saks $800+ shoes and become a fashion muse to a fan base that can’t afford it, it’s kinda… cruel? God, that’s so first world of me to say.

I like this because Oxford digs a little deeper, or puts the MR into a different perspective (and Oxford states in the post that she is a huge fan of MR, so there’s no hate). Instead, she considers how the MR works as a symbol to “the midwest girls” or to a “fan base that can’t afford” the stuff she wears. I consider this a “symbolic interaction” interpretation of the MR: Because blogging creates a feeling of intimacy between reader and blogger, the business aspect is cloudy. Girls look up to her, want to emulate her (hmm, what do you think, is that a fair statement? As I type, I’m unsure UPDATE: MR replied here). Oxford writes: “ALL I AM SAYING IS THIS: Be realistic about what she is, she isn’t ‘like you’, a small percentage of people are.”  I haven’t read enough of the MR blog to get the specifics on what MR symbolizes, but she, Leandra, is funny and unique. She seems to create the feeling that she’s your friend, in on “it” with you (“it” being the joke, the fun, the manrepelling). She’s kinda of a dream best friend, for a certain type of girl. Like, you could hang out with her and the MR crew and make stupid videos (“It’s 12:23! you know want that means…”), create crazy outfits (outfits that are free from trying to impress boys/men), try new beauty products, etc etc. Perhaps we could think about MR as a modern, digital form of play (and we could then draw from the G.H. Mead theories on socialization through play and imitation). In fact, the man repelling aspect is genius because it immediately tones down competitive comparing, one upping etc. Young women, and girls can forget about that kinda of body/fashion/clothing/beauty assessment and just have fun. Like playing barbie perhaps.

Ok, again, there is no right answer to this project! Sociologists look at modern things, people, or ideas from many of the perspectives we’ve discussed. (symbolic interaction, socialization, play, imitation, social conflict, the public secret). If you’re stuck, step back and think about what your topic does in the world, what does it communicate and who receives the message.

Again, reach out if you’re stuck! I will continue to think about MR, let me know your thoughts in the comments or in class.