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Thursday, October 03, 2013

Feminist Privilege and Capitalism

Feminisnt » Freedom of association: Unpacking the most invisible privilege knapsack

"One of the things I've been dealing with as I've been moving out of the sex industry is a longing for the shocking degree of freedom one has as a sex worker.  Even if you're not fully running your own business the way I have been, sex workers generally have the ability to reject clients, to move to another strip club, find a new escort service, work for a different studio, and overall, set a much greater number of boundaries than your average worker.  While that statement seems bizarre - how can you have "boundaries" if a stranger can see your naked body or is even having sex with you? - boundaries come in more forms than ones based on chastity.

With the vast, vast majority of jobs, a worker has very little control over their working environment, boss, coworkers, and upward mobility potential. A typical waitress doesn't show up to shifts only on days she feels like working, bouncing between various restaurants depending on which she prefers at the moment, the way a stripper might. A nurse knows he'll never be able to start his own hospital and declare himself its chief of surgery, unlike a porn star who works hard and invests his money in starting his own production company. For all the endless criticism lobbed at the sex industry for being a measure of last resort and misery, there's a huge and unrecognized amount of freedom in it, both freedom of association and the ability for your hard work to propel you upwards. The sex industry is the true "American dream," in that tenacity, hard work, and creativity can take a person (usually with no formal training and little startup capital) from poverty to the middle class more easily than any other industry.

One of the things I've been thinking about more lately is the issue of "association privilege," both how I've been lucky to have it as a sex worker, and how it remains perhaps the most invisible privilege. When framed in that way, it makes obvious a particularly strong correlation between the shrill lefty feminists who rail endlessly about how everyone is too "privileged," yet themselves possessing the privilege to choose their work environment, bosses/editors, and business/activist contacts. (I've long maintained that nothing is more indicative of privilege than spending all day on the internet picking fights with strangers about how privileged they are.) If someone wants to refuse to associate with anyone who isn't also a socialist feminist wannabe-academic that adorns their virtual spaces with Audre Lorde quotes and Foucault references, they can easily live in such a bubble. There are plenty of such bores in neighboring regions of the blogosphere. (Where all of these people make money remains a mystery. While I know that two big names in the sexy feminist scene have secret rich male partners/husbands who bankroll their lifestyles of being internet pesonas, I don't know how the others do it. NGO jobs? Sporadic paid writing gigs? Trust funds? Secret sex work?)

It all reminds me of a favorite section from a piece in The Atlantic a while back, which perfectly sums up the completely un-checked privilege that runs rampant among those who have declared themselves the enforcers of privilege-checking."

***

I Choose My Choice! - Sandra Tsing Loh - The Atlantic

"As you may have heard, some 50 years after Betty Friedan sprang us from domestic jail, we women … seem to have made a mess of it. What do we want? Not to be men (wrong again, Freud!), at least not businessmen—although slacker men, sans futon and bong, might appeal. In these post-Lisa-Belkin-New-York-Times-Magazine-“Opt-Out” years, we’ve now learned the worst: even female Harvard graduates are fleeing high-powered careers for a kinder, gentler Martha Stewart Living. Not only does the Problem Have a Name, it has its own line of Fiestaware!...

Is the mass media to blame (again!) for pushing women out of the workplace? Not so much. On our zeitgeist-setting TV shows, it’s only the housewives who are desperate. Work is fun! The Manhattan working gals of Sex and the City, whose days revolve chiefly around dishing over cocktails, are essentially ’50s suburban housewives, trophy wives of (in this case) glamorous if emotionally distant New York jobs—skyscraper-housed entities with good addresses and doormen that handsomely fund their lifestyles while requiring that they show up to service them only infrequently, in bustiers and heels. I want a vague job like the one Charlotte has, in the art gallery she never goes to; or the lawyer job Miranda has (charcoal suits and plenty o’ time for lunch with the gals); or Samantha’s PR gig, throwing SoHo loft parties and giving blow jobs to freakishly endowed men (actually, that’s the one job I don’t want); I want to spend my days like “writer” Carrie, lolling in bed in her underwear, smoking and occasionally updating her quasi-bohemian equivalent of a My­Space page...

Hirshman fires with both barrels (Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!) at today’s mommies, who are so busy sniffing the Martha Stewart paint chips that they have forgotten Friedan’s exhortation to get out and change the world...

Hirshman considers all stay-at-home mothers fish in her barrel (think fish pedaling tiny aquatic bicycles). No target is too small: Hirshman even tears mercilessly into the sleep-deprived new mothers who’ve made the unfortunate decision to share their rambling thoughts on something called Bloggingbaby.com... But in fact, Hirshman insists, the problem starts well before mother­hood. It begins when young women enter college and violate Hirshman’s No. 1 rule of female emancipation: “Don’t study art.”

Why aren’t the women who are outnumbering men in undergraduate institutions leading the information economy? “Because they’re dabbling,” she snaps. Here’s yet another Problem That Has a Name: Frida Kahlo.

Everybody loves Frida Kahlo. Half Jewish, half Mexican, tragically injured when young, sexually linked to men and women, abused by a famous genius husband. Oh, and a brilliantly talented painter. If I was a feminazi, the first thing I’d ban would be books about Frida Kahlo. Because Frida Kahlo’s life is not a model for women’s lives. And if you’re not Frida Kahlo and you major in art, you’re going to wind up answering the phones at some gallery in Chelsea, hoping a rich male collector comes to rescue you.

... She leaves aside the matter of whether women driven to make piles of money are the same ones likely to incite meaningful social change. If the Harvard stay-at-home mom walked away from an attack-dog corporate-lawyer job with Exxon, I, for one, would rather see her playing tag and climbing trees. And although Hirsh­man did work as a lawyer (lawyer, along with doctor and judge, is the kind of high-degree, socially relevant job she approves of), she then became a professor of philosophy and women’s studies. (Call the White House! We have a professor of philosophy on the line!)

Not that being an academic isn’t a hell of a lot of fun; in fact, its very pleasantness contributes to a bias peculiar to members of the thinktankerati. So argues Neil Gilbert, a renowned Berkeley sociologist, in A Mother’s Work: How Feminism, the Market and Policy Shape Family Life. According to Gilbert, the debate over the value of women’s work has been framed by those with a too-rosy view of employment,

mainly because the vast majority of those who publicly talk, think, and write about questions of gender equality, motherhood, and work in modern society are people who talk, think, and write for a living. And they tend to associate with other people who, like themselves, do not have “real” jobs—professors, journalists, authors, artists, politicos, pundits, foundation program officers, think-tank scholars, and media personalities.

Many of them can set their own hours, choose their own workspace, get paid for thinking about issues that interest them, and, as a bonus, get to feel, by virtue of their career, important in the world...

To be sure, attacking feminist criticism as being the extended whine of a privileged, educated upper class is as old as … well, as bell hooks’s 1984 critique of Friedan’s Feminine Mystique: “[Friedan] did not tell readers whether it was more fulfilling to be a maid, a babysitter, a factory worker, a clerk, or a prostitute than to be a leisure-class housewife.” It’s a point that keeps having to be made, though...

Employed women expressed a higher degree of enjoyment for shopping, preparing food, taking care of their children, and doing housework than for working at their jobs—an activity that was ranked at the next-to-lowest level of enjoyment, just above commuting to work.

Further, in a development that would shock only today’s most radical feminists (where are those last two hiding? Buffalo?):

When it came to interactions with different partners, the women ranked interactions with their children as more enjoyable than those with clients/customers, coworkers, and bosses.

... Even providing a chilled martini at six o’clock and roast beef at seven to the legendary suburban alpha male of yore allowed most of one’s day to be fairly flexible. As for today’s poorer husbands, many of them are likely too tired from their job’s repetitious, socially invisible physical tasks—such as makin’ kahpies!—to continually oppress their wives...

Financial need is not the force behind women’s shift in the past 50 years from work in the home to work in the market­place; rather, it is the desires of those who have made out like bandits in this new order, the tiny minority (3.5 percent in 2003) of women who earn $75,000 or more. Members of this occupational elite have created a host of cultural norms by which their far less privileged sisters—who, again, make up the vast majority of working women—feel they must abide. For Hirsh­man’s doctors, lawyers, judges, and professors, work has been terrific, so it’s no wonder they’ve advocated social change, imposing on society between the 1960s and the mid-1990s “new expectations about modern life, self-fulfillment, and the joys of work outside the home”...

Since the late 1990s, so-called family-friendly policies in Europe have been, as the Oxford sociologist Jane Lewis observes, “explicitly linked to the promotion of women’s employment in order to further the economic growth and competition agenda.” Women have achieved the freedom to join men on a more or less equal footing in the market­place, which strengthens the notion that the only thing ultimately of value is one’s ability to turn a buck. The triumph of feminism, Gilbert reminds us (echoing those socially conservative men of the left, George Orwell and Christopher Lasch), has served the culture of capitalism...

From 1970 to 1990, a whopping 75 percent of Swedish jobs created were in the public sector … providing social welfare services … almost all of which were filled by women. Uh-oh. In short, as Gilbert points out, because of the 40 percent tax rate on her husband’s job, a new mother may be forced to take that second, highly taxed job to supplement the family’s finances; in other words, she leaves her toddlers behind from eight to five (in that convenient universal day care) so she can go take care of other people’s toddlers or empty the bedpans of elderly strangers. (As Alan Wolfe has pointed out, “the Scandinavian welfare states which express so well a sense of obligation to distant strangers, are beginning to make it more difficult to express a sense of obligation to those with whom one shares family ties.”)"


Funny, I thought housewives' lives were terrible and their work should be valued equally as that of working adults.
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