Tag Archives: neoliberalism

The End of Men (as we know them)

This month, journalist and editor Hanna Rosin is releasing her already infamous book “The End of Men: And the Rise of Women” (Riverhead Hardcover). It has been eagerly anticipated ever since the 2010 publishing of her article for The Atlantic which bears the same name. Just a couple of days ago, The New York Times printed a preview under the telling title “Who Wears the Pants in This Economy?”.

shocker! a woman journalist (and with children no less)! clearly, men are on their way out. via wall street journal

The article is an interesting read, if you want to learn about a certain American demographic. That’s right: a certain demographic, because I think there is no way this text can claim universality. It outright ignores the realities of the working poor or of minorities. I sincerely hope that this will be problematized in the rest of her book. But yeah, if you were ever interested in the psyche of middle-aged, middle class, mid-Western white folks, it will surely be enlightening to discover the obvious disconnect between their ideals, and the harsh realities of modern American life. And it tells you about why certain ordinary people still vote Republican. Continue reading

That Pesky XY% – The Gender Pay Gap

It’s spring and countries all over the world are “celebrating” their specific Equal Pay Day on the day that symbolizes “how far into 2011 women must work to earn what men earned in 2010”. The global gender pay gap amounts to 15.6 %***; the European rate is 17.5 % on average. However, there are large differences between the nations that contribute to these average rates: Georgia’s pay gap is more than 50%, Japan’s more than 30%, Canada and the United States more than 20% and in Europe the numbers range from 4.9% (Italy) to 30.9% (Estonia). You can find the data of your home country here (only Europe). Note that these numbers do not mirror the countries’ overall progressiveness regarding gender equality. So what do these numbers actually tell us?
What needs to be pointed out first and foremost, because it has led to a lot of misunderstandings, is that the European 17.5%  gender pay gap is for the most part NOT a result of direct discrimination, meaning women generally DO NOT get paid less than men for doing the exact same job. While this form of discrimination may still occur, it has been outlawed by the European Union and can be subjected to prosecution. The more relevant reasons that factor into the wage injustice are the undervaluing of women’s work, the segregation of the labor market into “male” and “female” professions, the traditions and stereotypes that are often responsible for this segregation, and the difficulties of balancing work and private life (for example, only 62,4% of women with dependent children are employed, compared to 91,4% of men). From the website of the European Commission:

“Jobs requiring similar skills, qualifications or experience tend to be poorly paid and undervalued when they are dominated by women rather than by men. For example, the (mainly female) cashiers in a supermarket usually earn less than the (mainly male) employees involved in stacking shelves and other more physical tasks.

In addition the evaluation of performance, and hence pay level and career progression, may also be biased in favour of men. For example, where women and men are equally well qualified, more value can be attached to responsibility for capital than to responsibility for people.”

While these inequalities certainly are a problem in Europe, they become even more pronounced in a global perspective, especially in developing countries where women can be found more often in vulnerable working positions, while at the same time working for free as primary care-takers of the home and children:

“Women may get paid less than men for the same work, or be denied access to better paid jobs because of entrenched attitudes that incorrectly assume men are the main breadwinners and need to earn more. Or women may not be able to compete equally with their male colleagues because they cannot invest an equal amount of time in work when they remain responsible for the greatest share of household and child-rearing tasks. In other words, women’s unequal status can restrict their ability to choose to leave a job as an accountability strategy if their rights are infringed.”(Unifem, p. 55)

It is useful to mention that the feminisation (i.e. the expansion and outsourcing of the tertiary service sector) and informalisation of labor go hand in hand, and that these developments sustain gender discrimination by keeping the female working sectors (subsistence agriculture, care-taking and services) low-paid and free of “fixed costs” (benefits, social security etc.)(p. 57/58). While the statistics show that the wage gap has been decreasing over the last few years, there are studies that claim that this development can be attributed to a decrease of male workers’ wages. So while work that is traditionally considered “feminine” is on the rise, this does not mean that overall working conditions or wages have improved for women. The neoliberal labor market requires well-trained, flexible and less demanding workers, and women who, as mothers and homemakers, are often forced to work part-time, are the ideal employees.

In conclusion, there is not a lot to celebrate on Equal Pay Day, not even the steady reduction of the global gender pay gap. German journalist and blogger Antje Schrupp has gathered some interesting and clever ideas on what we really need to talk about, when we talk about equal pay. I have taken the liberty to translate them here:

1. The actual upsetting “pay gap” we should be talking about is not the one between men and women but the one between rich and poor. Therefore it is wrong to be focussing exclusively on the gender aspect.

2. The gender pay gap is not an illness in itself but a symptom of a much more profound problem of our society. Therefore it cannot be our goal to simply cure the symptom, but we have to tackle the illness – the crass material inequality between people. If we end up having a fifty-fifty quota of men and women among the rich and the poor, but the divide between the two remains as big as ever or even increases, I don’t see how we’ve achieved anything.

3. It is not very useful to compare “men” and “women” regarding their income. Statistics are per se not very conclusive regarding our real lives, but in this context it makes even less sense, because not many men and women find themselves to be in these average situations: in fact, the difference is especially big among the lower income bracket and among the ones who earn a lot; in between among the white-collar employees and other professions, the difference is not that distinct.

4. There is a lot of talk about women earning less money than men, but in my opinion there is too little talk about (some) men simply earning way too much. Now and then, the wages of managers are being debated, and rightly so. But why has no one ever considered presenting the female managers as role models, who are satisfied with earning less money for the same work?

5. All studies show that women confronted with the question of what they should do with their lives, seem to care less about money and status than men, and more about the meaning and the community (study here (in German)). For some reason, this is considered to be a problem. I don’t see why. Rather, it is a problem ( and not just regarding gender relations) that there are still too many men who mainly care about money and status and not so much about the meaning and necessity of their work. We should be talking about this, and about the images of masculinity that lie underneath, and whether or not we still want them. Fortunately, many men don’t want them anymore either.

6. Incidentally, this happens to be my suggestion for getting more women into leading and executive positions: simply pay these positions much less in general. That way, all of those who are attracted to these positions only because of the money and status that they offer, will stay away. Which would surely be to the advantage of the directorates’ quality. Consequently, the amount of women would probably increase on its own.

7. There is always a lot of talk about women choosing the wrong professions. But who should do all the work of the nurses, the carers of the elderly and the nursery school teachers? As a society, we should be thankful that there are enough women who want to work in these professions (and if men want to follow their example, go for it!). It is imperative to have a discussion about the value and the importance of these professions – and, consequently, about how to increase their wages.

8. It is appropriate to encourage women to talk and reflect more about money, and to question their historically socialized distaste for monetary issues. However, the goal should not be that they take on the “normal” approach to money according to “male” standards, but rather the goal should be that they develop their own approach and introduce it to the world.

9. Finally, we need to abandon the idea that men and what they do should be considered the norm to which women need to adapt themselves to, and if they don’t they are to blame for their discrimination. What men do, their tendency to overvalue money, is just as much historically socialized and not at all “normal”. Moreover, it is often enough detrimental to the world at large; financial crisis etc.

10. Therefore I would like to suggest to celebrate Equal Pay Day in autumn from now on: on the day when men can stop working, while normal people (joke) have to keep working until December.

You can find the original text here.

*** I have found different numbers from various sources, some as high as 22%. This variability can be explained by the lack of data from some countries, especially in the developing world.

What It Means To Be A Feminist Activist Today

I have written a short article for the Young Feminist Wire. You can read it here.

Many thanks to Ani for publishing it and to the French and Spanish translators.

Refusing Children, Refusing The Status Quo – The Implicit Systemic Critique Of The Childfree Movement

Europeans are dying out like dinosaurs no longer accustomed to their environment. Since right-wing populists have once again started to announce the decline of the occident, the media is doing the best to feed the public’s fears with possible reasons: immigration, islamification, decline of the birth rate! The latter is especially interesting as it concerns not so much the ”others” (meaning immigrants) but ourselves (meaning white middle class academics because that’s what Europe should look like, right?). We simply suck at reproducing ourselves! Day-in, day-out we have to confront ourselves with statistics claiming that every couple has to produce at least something like 0.6 more children to prevent the European race from extinction. And now this: the ”Childfree” movement!

Edward del Rosario

More and more single individuals and couples decide not to have children of their own, and not due to physical or other incapabilities but voluntarily. The movement is spreading all throughout Europe, North America and even India. The reasons for staying childfree are manifold and usually legitimated as being the individual’s choice only. However, I would like to argue that this choice is to a large extent the product of systemic problems that need to be addressed, not in order to ensure the survival of Europe ”as it used to be” and not because our current economic systems may be unable to deal with the challenges of an overaging population and a decreasing workforce, but because I would like the Childfree movement to be seen as a means of resistance rather than just another libertarian decision.

Here are some of the major reasons for people’s decision not to have children:

Reason # 1:Women decide to be childfree because they lack the ‘maternal instinct’.

I’m not sure how valid this argument is, because isn’t the maternal instinct something that sets in once you actually have a child and not before? Maybe I’m still too young to know what it’s like but I doubt that women these days can rely on hearing the ticking of their biological clock all of a sudden to know when it’s high time to have children. I believe that ‘baby fever’ is a myth when related to the majority of women. In Eastern Germany, for example, it was considered normal for women to have the first child in their early twenties and I doubt the majority of them were guided by maternal instincts but rather economic advantages and social recognition. Otherwise how can it be explained that these days the biological clock starts ticking ten years later than it used to? Considering how a large percentage of women has been taking hormonal contraception for almost half of their lives, I am convinced that this must at least alter if not completely muddle up their experience of fertility.

Reason # 2: Men and women decide not to have children to save time, money and energy and invest it into their own lives.

This strikes me as the most probable and honest reason for being childfree and a perfectly valid one in today’s society, which has seen major changes in the role of the family, marriage, men and women, and self-fulfilment.

Rather than a commonly expected goal, the decision to have a child has become more a matter of preference, an outcome of a careful weighting of the pros and cons of parenthood, and a ‘derivative’ of a personal quest for self-realisation. In contrast to ‘Western’ societies, the social acceptance of childlessness as a matter of choice and personal lifestyle has been spreading only recently in the post-communist countries of Central and Eastern Europe. (Sobotka, 2004)

The last sentence should not be misleading: state socialism does not necessarily result in a higher birth rate. In the GDR, birth rates kept declining despite strong pro-natalist policies. But higher divorce rates and lower birth rates can be considered private means of resistance to a political agenda that put pressure exclusively on women and failed to address men’s role at home and in the family. However, it is far from the truth to make women’s advancement on the labour market responsible for declining birth rates. Studies show that ”working mothers are having more babies than stay-at-home moms’, as the comparison of Sweden and Italy in terms of birth rates and women’s employment illustrates.

Today, under neoliberalism, the pressure put on young women and men concerning their future plans has become even more severe:

Increased individual aspirations and a new image of a dual-earner family as a benchmark serving to evaluate one’s living standard have further strengthened career orientation in women’s lives. Partnerships have become more fragile, with more young people remaining single or cohabiting and marriages being eroded by rising divorce rates. Furthermore, the decision to become a parent has been increasingly seen as a matter of personal choice. Coupled with the growing demands of the labour market in terms of qualification requirements, competitiveness, and flexibility, high levels of childlessness may be viewed as the inevitable consequence of recent societal transformations as well as the competitive character of liberal market societies. A single individual ‘unhindered’ by any commitments is the winner in the race: Beck proposed that “the ultimate market society is a childless society.” (Sobotka, 2004)

That having children is viewed entirely in economic terms and considered a financial liability becomes evident when reading comments by childfree individuals concerning their decision. Statements such as ‘‘children are a non-refundable deal” are all too common. Unfortunately, in a society entirely driven by the market logic, I don’t find those statements very outrageous.

Reason # 3: The world is suffering from overpopulation and childfree people don’t want to contribute to that.

This argument actually repudiates the European population crisis I have mentioned above as a global issue. In fact, globally, the human population is nowhere near extinction, that’s for sure, and since ressources are scarce and unequally distributed, people in developing countries are suffering from starvation and unacceptable living conditions. It seems logical that one person living in an industrialized Western society will do more damage to the environment and use up more of the world’s resources in a lifetime than several people born in Africa. Therefore, having less children could affect the world positively in greater dimensions (especially if childfree people devoted their extra time and money to volunteer work and helping their community, which a lot of them claim they do). So I’m wondering: why do childfree people not openly state that their choice is based on issues in today’s society? What could possibly be a stronger measure for claiming that there’s something wrong with the world we live in, than refusing to bring a child into it? Being childfree is a choice, but it also means resisting the norm and should therefore be expressed as a critique of current conditions in order to improve them for everybody, regardless of whether they are going to have children or not.

Note: I do not mean to offend any parents nor convince anyone to be childfree. Rather, my intention has been to ‘out’ the Childfree movement as not only critical of the idea of and social pressure behind becoming a parent, but critical of society as a whole, and that it should be voiced as such.

Neoliberalism and Feminism – An Unholy Alliance

It’s not exactly new but that doesn’t make it any less relevant: Nancy Fraser’s lecture on Feminism, Capitalism and the Cunning of History, in which she traces the history of the women’s movement with regards to its critique of state capitalism, and how some of the post -’68-movement’s ideas were appropriated by neoliberalism.

You can find a German written pdf-version here.