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The Chicken or the Ovary

Take a look at this startling graphic from a recent article at the NYTimes on the brick wall that equality for women has hit in the US.  This graphic represents official policies around the world for paid maternity leave:

I can’t believe this is accurate.  In my mind, there is absolutely no way in Hell we could lag behind Afghanistan.  It makes me want to move to Canada.

But even if Afghanistan is not as progressive as this graphic purports, it is absolutely true that we lag behind the most developed countries of the world and those which have the highest standard of living.  There have been other studies that show that the greater the number of female elected representatives in a country, the higher standard of living.

What Stephanie Coontz, the author of the article, does not explain is how things got to be so bad here in the US.  Why did the progress towards gender equality stall here in the US as this graphic shows?  What factors caused it to hit a brick wall in the US but not in Britain or France or Canada?  If I reach back into my memory banks to when progress stalled, I think the problem started right around the time I was in college in the 1980s.  Those were the Reagan years.  That’s when Anita Bryant was touting the virtues of orange juice and the vices of homosexuality and Phyllis Schlafly hit her stride.  It was also a period of intensification of the Cold War and the rise of the religious right.

I think there is something else going on here that has allowed the forces of reactionary conservatism dig its talons into American society to the point of imperiling it permanently.  I think it is the mythology that we grew up with that we’re number one.  That attitude that we’re free and have liberty in greater degree than other countries might just be an artifact of the case that we have enough power in our nuclear arsenal to blow the rest of the world to smithereens.  We’re “free” because no one dares mess with us.  Of course, that is only one possible interpretation of the word “freedom”.

But if our concept of freedom derives from our military strength, then is it any surprise that the genders are unequal in this society?  And now that women are allowed in combat, will gender equality improve?  After all, up until this year, women were precluded from being equal participants *officially* in activities that have been highly prized in our country since the cold war.  If we are a military society, is full participation the only route to equality in the US until it is achieved?

And what about the role of international billionaires, the James Bond villains that have now taken over the world? Do they see gender inequality as a means to breaking labor protections and bringing workers to their knees?  Will we see an uptick in gender related issues in places like Spain, Ireland and Greece or were the seeds of their current economic problems already present because of endemic gender inequality compared to their neighbors?

Just curious.  Other perspectives welcome.

One other thing that this graphic says to me is that as far as the US workforce is concerned, we are already at the bottom of the pile when it comes to labor protections.  There really isn’t any barrier to employers ripping the economic floor out from under us and they’ve done just that in the past decade or so.  That’s because women now make up a good proportion of the workforce and our wages are lower, our employment protections are there in theory but not in practice and paid maternity leave is just an illusion.  If you’ve got it from your employer, know that it’s a gift to you, not your right.  It’s probably calculated based on how much vacation and sick time you have, if you get any at all.  You come back to work exhausted and impoverished from spending your money on daycare.  And in this employment climate, you may not come back to a job at all.  What were you thinking by getting pregnant when there is so much to do and a zillion people waiting for your job?  If you can afford a kid, you can afford to stay home and give some other breadwinner your job.  Right?

The only solace there is to this workplace environment is the knowledge that it can’t last.  The MBAs and business majors are evolving the workplace so rapidly to optimize as much efficiency out of each worker that it’s getting to be impossible to get any work done at all.  We see this in the banking industry and the pharma industry most significantly.  Change for change sake is not necessarily a good way to do business.  There are limits and we are reaching ours.

17 Responses

  1. A similar but much smaller situation showing the same end result because of “hyper-efficiency”: Australia’s “toxic” Olympic swim team.

    ‘The most significant issue, the report found, was a “quietly growing lack of focus on people across the board”.

    ‘”Participants reported that in the zealous and streamlined attempts to obtain gold medals, the delicate management of motivation, communication and collaboration were lost.”‘

    Same story everywhere. At least the Australians haven’t (yet) decided they want the whole economy to be toxic.

    • That’s sad. Those Olympics should have been the highlight of those athlete’s lives to this point. It’s really sad that they couldn’t enjoy it or help each other win.

  2. I think you can add the clothing industry to your list. Take a look in your closet. All of my newer stuff was made in a foreign country: pants in Mexico, sweaters in China, flannel shirts in El Salvador, other shirts from Vietnam, China, Nicaragua and a wool coat from Vietnam.

    The stuff that is really old and has survived 15 or 20 years is all made in the U.S.: shirts, sweaters, and a really expensive suit.

    The brands all sound “American”: Levis, Wrangler, LL Bean, Champion, Tommy Bahama (a shirt), Cherokee, Pendleton, Hathaway. The distribution and sales are all American; the manufacturers now are all foreign. (pendleton and Hathaway were both American made 15 years ago).

    This was colorfully foretold to me while I was sitting in one of those MBA classes and the guest lecturer at the time (1977, I think), said, “Japan has the most efficient manufacturing in the world. The United States has the most efficient distribution. That has made the U.S. economy into a giant machine for sucking in Japanese imports.”

    Change the word Japanese to foreign and it not only still sticks but is more true than ever.

    Even services are imported. Banking transactions recorded in China. Transcription done in India. Carnival, headquartered for real in Miami but avoiding US taxes and regulations by having an official “headquarters” overseas. The cruise ship may have left from Texas but was registered in the Bahamas. None of Carnival’s many ships are actually registered in their home port’s countries be it the U.S., England, or Australia. Carnival made $11 billion profit over the last five years and paid total US taxes (including property taxes) of $1.3 %.

    • Appliances may also fit into that category but in a different way. I’m replacing a dishwasher today. It had fantastic ratings on the site that I ordered it from and oddly enough, it’s one of the few dishwasher manufacturers that is still located in the US.
      Now, I’m not going to say that the Korean appliances are crap but I do have had a love-hate relationship with some of them and the prices for them are as high as the domestic appliances. So, if I’m going to spend hundreds or thousands of dollars on a high ticket item, why *shouldn’t* I buy domestic? The problem is that there just aren’t that many domestic brands of appliances. Maybe energy prices will be the great equalizer, eating into the profits of shareholders so much that they will start to reinvest in American made products but it’s a shame it has to come to that.
      In the meantime, what have they been doing with all the money they’ve extracted from us from the foreign appliance market? Those refrigerators and ranges weren’t really bargains as far as I could tell.

      • Wall Street, aided by republicans and Obama, is working for when it costs too much in energy to run a container ship from the Third World. It’s called the “Race To The Bottom” and it’s taking place in a factory near you.

      • Repealing and abolishing the Free Trade Agreements would certainly be a Great Protector. It would allow us to free our production held hostage from its foreign captivity.
        The “great equalizer” of energy costs will only be used to “equalize all costs down” to a Vietnamese or Bangladeshi level.

    • When I went to college the island nation that imported raw materials and produced goods was England. Until the London bankers decided to ship manufacturing to the colonies.

  3. I think deregulating the media was the big problem.

    Beyond that, I remember Reagan as winking and smirking at the terrorists who started shooting up womens’ health facilities. There was a real, bloody war waged against women and there was a body count to go with it. Everybody laughed. ha ha ha Good times.

  4. Drat, pardon the double post.

    Also wanted to add honorable mention to our nifty patriarchal religion. I mean, really, what kind of religion goes to SO much trouble to have no women, none, nada, zip – represented among the divine? I’ve heard that anthropologists say ANY community that only worships male gods will abuse women. Sounds about right.

  5. I’ve been thinking about this one a lot lately because I was reading this article girls around the world lead in science but not in the US and lots of people posted comments about the way women are treated in STEM education and career fields. The study is really weak tea but the comments were interesting to me.

    Buried in the comments was a post from somebody pointing out that women had the most trouble in “feminist” countries. I can’t find the comment now. It was really insightful for me though because while I think the author of the comment was pointing out the idea that women living in countries where women “know their place” have an easier time pursuing their interests. That comment identified (for me) the source of the anger and resistance to woman and family friendly policy, which I believe both men and women would benefit from.

    I think it is interesting that what we might be seeing is backlash against the perceived threat of feminism in the US.

    The idea that women could have sex (apparently all by themselves) for free (birth control) sends so many MEN into convulsions and I don’t think that is a reaction coming from a faith position. I mean, what would the men do if women could have all the sex they wanted and then get paid maternity leave if they decide to have a baby? That would make having babies all by yourself and KEEPING your job + home possible. Oh and if there were affordable, quality childcare options available… what would happen to the very fabric of our society?

    The Christian right provides the cover for this but I think the so-called progressives are just as freaked out by the whole idea.

    sorry for the book-length comment, it really has been on my mind and I think there is something here – although not completely formed.

    • About the women advancing in non-feminist countries: I once read an explanation that rang true. The countries involved are also highly stratified, and what you’re really seeing is that class can, on occasion, trump gender in that case.

      The stats tend to bear that out. The women there in STEM fields — or in law, politics, whatever — are almost all from the top socioeconomic quintile.

      To me that means that societies are rather thoroughly anti-feminist everywhere (except maybe Iceland??), but the less stratified ones use sexism and misogyny more cuz otherwise they got nothin.

      • You are right. The other thing is that many of these countries don’t educate everyone. The girls they do educate come from families that not only can afford tuition but have enough to afford tuition for a girl.

        The kids that are tested as “representative samples” only represent the kids whose families can afford to send them to school. The girls who get to stay in school likely excel AND come from wealthy families. The boys are more mixed because many families will struggle to educate their boys in Africa and the Middle Eastern countries. So the boys are a slightly more representative sample than the girls.

        I did not see that pointed out in the comments @NYT but I know it is true from working with NGOs. Thanks for the reminder!

  6. When the Equal Rights Ammendment fell a few State Legislatures short of ratification, did the meter on all the State Legislatures which voted to ratify go back to zero? Or do all those Yes On Ratify votes still exist and still stand? And if they do, would it make sense to to try securing the Ratification of just enough more State Legislatures to force the Equal Rights Ammendment into the Constitution?

    • I’m not sure, but I think the ratifications expired in 1982. 35 states out of 38 states had ratified by then. Wikipedia has an insufficiently outraged summary.

      I think whether it expires or not depends on the way the amendment is done. For instance, Mississippi only ratified the Amendment against slavery in 1995. So that one must have been written as ratifiable forever.

  7. Brazilian business give 4 or 6 months of paid maternity leave (the business chooses, but the ones that give 6 months have a bigger tax break). After that the woman can’t be fired for at least a year unless gross incompetence can be proved (something very hard to do) or a substantial penalty is paid plus the salary of all months still remaining for the year. Paternity leave here is 15 consecutive days and the father can’t be fired for 30 days after the license.
    And people used to call my country a backwater…

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