Saturday, August 20, 2005

What a Load of....


Over at TPMCafe, while also making some credible arguments against a workplace construct of "comparable worth", Michael Lind has shared thoughts that ought to make him blush and cringe....
The theory of comparable worth held that "male jobs" were remunerated better than "female" jobs. This was true during the era of the "breadwinner wage" for the male household head that prevailed in some sectors (with the support of labor organizers like the Irish-American activist Mother Jones and most progressives, I should add) between World War I and the 1960s.
Quite the red herring - if people Lind considers to have been "progressives" supported a concept in the past, it somehow becomes wrong for progressives to take a different stance in the present. I wonder how Lind would come down on the Republican party, the "Party of Lincoln", were it to take a stance on the equality of the races that differed from Lincoln's. Times change, the world moves forward, and progressives aren't stuck in Lind's fictitious past.
Most progressives and pro-labor liberals thought that employers should pay married men enough money for them to support a family, so that their wives could raise their children at home in comfort; it is only since the Sixties that many American liberals, inspired by what strikes me as unconscious elite class bias, have preferred the idea of warehousing infants shortly after birth in collective baby-kennels so that their mothers can join their fathers as wage slaves toiling in mostly-unfulfilling and poorly paid service sector jobs.
Ah yes, the good old days, when only men had to work as wage slaves in unfufilling jobs. What is this, but a load of... utter claptrap. This is how he characterizes advocacy for equal rights in the workplace, the right to work outside the home, the right to equal footing with men, and efforts to ensure the availability of quality child care?

Upon what planet was it, that women weren't working in those unsatisfying, menial positions (even if, in Lind's mind, as part of a "better world" where they could be paid less than men and fired upon marriage) prior to the 1960's? The trend of women entering the workforce began much sooner than 1960. For 1920, "American women in the paid workforce: 23.7% of all women; 46.4% of unmarried women; 9% of married women"; for 1940, "25.8% of all women; 45.5% of unmarried women; 15.6% of married women"; and by 1960, "34.5% of all women; 42.9% of unmarried women; 31.7% of married women". If your notion of "life before 1960" comes from watching television, you are apt to share Lind's misconceptions. But the trends that continued through the 1960's and 1970's began much sooner, and it is naive to suggest that this trend was dictated primarily by choice and not by need.
Inspired by "maternalist feminism," the breadwinner wage system was not so much anti-female as anti-bachelor; it was intended to force unmarried men to subsidize mothers of young children. It was reinforced by customs like the firing of female school-teachers when they got married; the theory was that their husbands would support them and the job should go to an unmarried woman who needed the money.
More accurately, being a school teacher was one of very few jobs which were open to single women and, during the period of time when single women were summarily fired upon marriage, single men received higher pay for exactly the same work. Is he ignorant of the fact that single men worked as teachers during that era? Is he ignorant of the fact that his example contradicts his larger thesis about equal pay for equal work? Probably.
(Note: it seems to me that nonsexist programs to allow both parents to take turns spending a few years with their infant children at home if they chose would be better than baby-kennels for the masses and lower-class nannies for the classes, but that's another subject).
That assumes that parents have the economic opportunity for one parent to stay at home, whether consistently or in alternation with the other parent, during their children's infancy. And if "lower class nannies" are as horrible as daycare, why doesn't he take on the "classes" which have relied upon lower class nannies for centuries, and continue to do so?

4 comments:

  1. The "breadwinner wage system" was inspired by feminism? Good grief.

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  2. He said "maternalist feminism". Perhaps he means the same sort of "feminist" system seen in many cultures which practice female genital mutilation, or along the lines of the fictional system described in Margaret Atwood's "The Handmaid's Tale".

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  3. I was just awed at the notion that forcing women out of their jobs, and making their economic well-being entirely dependent on a man, is some kind of "feminism." I guess it's easier than admitting that the "non-feminist" system is the one that advocates turning men into meal tickets.

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