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Wednesday, February 08, 2006

On Betty Friedan's passing

Friedan died Feb 5 2006, the feminist crusader and author of "The Feminine Mystique,"

Ever since I took Professor Trimburger's (real name) Women's Studies 101 class, I've been haunted by Arlie Russell Hochschild's "The Second Shift". The thesis of that book is that when men come home they stop working, but when women come home they put in a second shift. The Second Shift augmented a second wave of feminism following up The Feminine Mystique. We're now swimming in the inevitable backwash of all those waves, and waters are still fairly rough between the genders (if 1st world birth rates are indicative of anything).

In order to square myself up against Prof Trimburger's steely gaze and Hochschild's fancy maths, I've put together a quick inventory. It's an inventory of the type of things a recent UN report on gender division of labors overlooked.

"when the data provided by researchers in some countries (including the US) did not fit the UN's intention to show that women "do more," researchers were asked in a private communication to amend their studies. Researchers were asked to include women's voluntary community work as well as hobbies in order to increase women's perceived workload. Researchers were not asked to include these items or new ones in men's labor. "

I'm not answering anyone's criticisms of myself or trying to get sympathy-pats. I'm more interested in drawing a map of post-feminist-division-of-labors jury mandering. From one man's perspective, this is some of the geography after the revolution. (here is a link to another man's perspective. But watch out, it's a strange one)

things I've fixed:

  • Window over the front door (saved it from 125 years of painting-over)
  • Light over stove (I'd always thought the diffuser was tinted, after good wash found it was clear)
  • Fan (I know it's only temporary, but a successful proof of concept)
  • Some babyproofing ( as needed )
  • reconditioned the ladder ( I'm best when working with that distressed look, shabby chic )
  • sealed the wood around the bathroom window
  • put the "hot" and "cold" tabs back on the taps
  • customized the entertainment unit to hide the cords
  • "fixed" the alarm (unplugged it really)
  • Glued a couple tables back together
  • Glued ceramic trivet and pill dish
  • Installed a dishwasher and clothes dryer
  • A lot of heavy furniture moving
  • Miscellaneous IT and A/V
  • Mosquito net over the baby's bed
  • Extra garden bed for herbs (which I commandeered for my pineapple patch, plus my recently developing moss garden. I figure, if I can grow moss in the summer... )
  • Sold a car (no mean feat selling a 2dr w/ no A/C or PS with only a couple months rego, in the middle of summer)
  • Found the new car
  • The slowly draining sink (couple good yanks with the plunger usually fixes it)
  • There was a smell coming from the washing machine. I think I fixed that.

(gold stars for me all around)

Things I've broken:

  • Window weight in the baby's room (too rough with it)
  • Ceramic trivet (see above)
  • The floorboards in the baby's room have some permanent evidence of my furniture moving (see above)

Things I've failed to fix:

  • The back gate (still difficult to close when it gets wet, or is it dry?)
  • the front gutter is still in very bad shape (even though I've given it a firm looking-at, twice )
  • critters still get through a hole in the fence that I patched
  • I don't do deep plumbing things, like toilets (one of the dark arts)
  • or the heavy electrical stuff, like dimmers (another dark art)
  • cupboard door near the fridge still swings closed on its own (even though I've adjusted it to stay open).
  • The old toaster (but it really was time)
  • Wireless access on the home computers (will revisit when we upgrade)

Things left to do:

  • Attic storage is also my domain. I'm sure I could further exploit that space. The rafters aren't bowing yet.
  • There are a few framed pictures around the joint that could use hanging
  • You can see through the floorboards in livingroom near the TV (would be a feature if we lived above a creek)

Keep in mind that it took about three years for me to achieve the above. I'm sure if I were a Marine I could have had all that done before most people wake up in the morning, but I'm not. The above list can be put in context by a couple semi-random statistics. These aren't key indicators of anything much, but I thought they illustrate where perceptions lie:

According to Linda R. Hirshman (and this story is worth a read and alternet.org is worth a look in general )
"Fully 40 percent of highly qualified women with spouses felt that their husbands create more work around the house than they perform."

Compared to Glenn Sacks' figures via the controversial ifeminists.net
"there were over 125 million workplace injuries in the United States between 1976 and 1999. Nearly 100,000 American workers died from job-related injuries over the past decade and a half, 95% of them men. Of the 25 most dangerous jobs listed by the US Department of Labor, all of them are between 90 percent and 100 percent male."
And this link to a night cab driver's reflections on a fellow driver who was recently killed in Sydney.

All part of the geography that remains in the backwash.

Revolution vs. evolution

Revolutions typically involve a good bit of destruction. But some revolutions achieved great gains. The New English colonial revolutionary war against England was violent, but productive. From that revolution, the US was born. Through that violent period of change some key documents were drafted that form the basis of the United States we know today - Declaration. Intendance., Constitution, etc. But you could also point to the revolutionary war as a prime cause of the civil war that followed much later. It's unlikely civil war would have been tolerated under British rule. Most civil wars seem to happen after the British (or insert any colonial power here) have tapped the natural resources, destabilized local/traditional power structures, and then pull out. Lucky thing then for men that feminists can't simply "pull out" (although it was suggested in the ancient Greek play Lysistrata ).

I'll wonder out loud here if revolution isn't an inherently masculine endeavor, anathema to feminism (similar to MLK or Gandhi using violence to get results). I'm then left wondering if feminism wasn't a somewhat ironically masculinizing exercise for women. I'm also perfectly willing to consider what happened in the 1960's as evolution rather than a revolution. Regardless, the problem with either is the sensitivity to change in complex systems (it had to get back to complex systems, didn't it?). Well intentioned, well informed, even well executed change in the context of a complex system can (and usually does) have unintended outcomes. But this argument is the sort of relativist rabbit hole I'd like to avoid. In order to either avoid the relativism or the complexity we'll have to use some sort of tool of abstraction, something to make a complicated thing simple.

So, what are the tools commonly used to combat the paralyzing uncertainty of manipulating complex systems? Pure math gets used a lot. But how to map mathematics to gender relationships?

Pretend it's not a complex system. Treat it simply, and hope for the best. This pretty much sums up our political system. We get a couple 900lb gorillas to argue over the bananas. If our intention is a soup of mashed bananas mixed with gorilla excrement, then this method works great.

React to someone else's initiative (usually by falling back on precedent). This could be seen as the conservative response to feminism. With thousands of years of patriarchal tradition to rely on, conservative people have been able to dampen the effects of the explicit feminist movement. But this isn't a future-facing posture. Although all we can reference, all we know, is in the past; we face an unrelenting future. Facing it seems important to me. There are a lot of ways to do that, but exclusively dragging the chain doesn't seem particularly useful to me.

I'm sure there are a myriad of other historical ways we deal with complexity, but I'm interested in proposing new ways (that is, I'd like to but I'm not sure I can). That's the really hard question, isn't it? Once we've quantified and gotten used to the way that complex systems work, once we admit traditional methods are hit-n-miss; what knowledge or wisdom do we take from that to change the way we act? Or more to the subject of the day, what do we do after feminism fails to make everything better? I hope we still want to make everything better.

I've had two key ideas in the past that I'll re-table here. (I wrote about this in July of 2004, see this post for those ideas)

1. A trans-human global goal

2. deep future economy

(then combine those two ideas)

A trans-human global goal sounds pretty airy fairy, but it just means a goal that we all share, that's bigger than who we are right now. Religion provides the longest standing model of a trans-human goal. The space race was also a fair example. Building pyramids served a similar purpose in their time - projects of immense scale (other than war) that lifted an entire society towards immortality. I think there are a few of these goals implicitly coming at us (in the form of climate change and peak oil). The quicker we frame them as goals, the more likely an improved society (and the less likely total chaos - see Jared Diamond's Collapse ).

This strikes me as a very masculine way of dealing with the problem, "just build a pyramid, that'll fix everything". It probably is, but it is still a man's world. And until women are able to wrest control of it from men, we'll probably keep solving problems in this sort of heavy handed way. And contrary to something I previously believed, matriarchy does NOT have an intrinsic value that makes it more able to produce a better world than patriarchy. It's suggested, but far from proven.

A deep future economy is just putting tomorrow's price on today's actions. I'm probably misusing the idea of "deep" future because I'm taking the Six Nations Iroquois Confederacy standpoint of considering the 7th generation in the future. "Deep time" is usually considered in millions of years. Regardless of how "deep" you actually go, applying a future economic accountability to today's transactions is way to get a measurable, and self regulated (i.e. market) handle on things like growth and change. It's a way to use an emergent system to throttle change in a complex system.

The futures market already does this for commodities. From what I understand, the futures market acts as a damper to spikes in the market. For example, Qantas was able to float through some of the worst of the high fuel prices because it had purchase a great deal of fuel in the future at a fixed price. This protected their bottom line as much as it kept a realistic demand/supply relationship steady through an unsteady time.

Using an emergent system to manage a complex system is how populations self-regulate in the average square meter of forest floor. The food economy of the furry little creatures of the forest is inextricably related to their social systems. We should create and repeat that sort of meta-relationship wherever we can. Although in saying that, I doubt I'm enjoying the products of our current market/social relationship. Being a big fan of the emergent qualities of the market, I'm not sure where to go with that.

I really did have every intention of keeping this post short, so I'll sum it up. Gender, similar to race, is one of the easily identifiable sets of people. As an easily identifiable set, it forms a logical boundary on which to divide groups. There is a time and place for division. But everything around us, all of society, all economies, all of biology act autonomously more graceful using higher functions than basic arithmetic. As individuals and as a group, we'd do well to grock that and emulate. Until we're able to do that, we're not smarter than things, such as roaches, that are able to roll with the normal dynamic range of our planet. We've got a long way to go before we prove our longevity over roaches. As for finding a way to live better than roaches; we'll need to be around long enough to find that way. It'd be good to combine those two goals. Is that too big an ask? It would be a pity if we never got a chance to use our awareness of a future to make a better one.

For anyone who's still reading, you'll notice I never did get back to feminism. It doesn't feature in my conclusion. I'm aware it's difficult to paint one definition of feminism from the many shades that exist, but one face does present itself. Like so many ideologies, the ideal deviated from the real. I'd like to believe it's the deviated face that assumed the accepted definition of feminism, but I think it's more complicated than that. It may sound counterintuitive, but I don't believe the emphasis on women was a sensible or sustainable basis for an ideology (in the same way I don't believe an emphasis on men would be). I'd be much more in favor of an emphasis on children. While feminism did give rise to a lot of "holistic" thinking, it never managed to extract itself from an adversarial relationship to the status-quo. In not doing so, it didn't provide a new way so much as it provided an opposition (and we can see how effectively oppositions stalemate real change if we look at the major two party democracies). So, in my mind, the holistic tenets of feminism are more on track than the association with women (and necessary exclusion of men). In its lopsidedness it formed an effective tool to get us off balance, which is a sort of movement. But there must be some follow-up to direct that movement somewhere desirable. I haven't seen that follow-through.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

you think the EU is sluggish in its governing style? the iroquois (sp?) had big meetings with tons of delegates requiring unanimous decisions.