Friday, August 08, 2008

There is another way.

I have been neglecting, somewhat, my interest in the bad effects of the feminist movement - not just on the children, elderly parents, volunteer needs, and religious, community and social duties, but also bad economic effects resulted from women's wholesale abandonment of their traditional roles. I was reminded of this by part two (part one was last week) of John Michael Greer's blog on the contributions of the non-monetary economy - sometimes called "household economy" by my parents generation. I guess that dates Mr. Greer, LOL.

He writes:

...Many currents of social change flowed together to launch the women’s movement of the 1960s, but one factor that has not always been given its due is the impact of the abrupt changeover from the war economy of the 1940s to the consumer economy that followed it. As the troops came home, government and industry alike did everything in their very considerable power to get Rosie the Riveter off the factory floor and turn her into Suzy Homemaker as fast as possible, in order to free up jobs for millions of demobilized soldiers. At the same time, the quest for markets to fuel the consumer economy’s expansion and employ those same millions threw the market assault on the household economy into overdrive.

Postwar propaganda – “advertising” is too mild a word for the saturation campaigns that flooded the popular media in the late 1940s and early 1950s – presented middle class families with a glittering image of affluence in which convenient, up-to-date consumer products provided by the market would replace the dowdy routine of the domestic economy with a life of elegance and leisure. The reality behind the facade turned out to be much less palatable. Denied both the place in the market economy they had occupied during the war years, and the role in the household economy their mothers had held before that, millions of middle class women across America found themselves expected to lead a purely decorative and essentially purposeless existence.

As a motor for rebellion, deprivation of meaning is even more potent than deprivation of food, and so an explosion was inevitable. Many of the forms that explosion took were altogether admirable. A great many injustices were set to rights, or at least challenged, and social roles that had become hopelessly restrictive for women and men alike came in for a much needed reassessment. Still, as the feminism of the Sixties and Seventies percolated outward into popular culture, it suffered in some measure the common fate of progressive social movements in the modern West: instead of challenging the system of male privilege, and the presuppositions that underlay it, a great many women who considered themselves feminists simply set out to seize their share of the positions of privilege within the existing system.

In the process, no small number of them embraced the manners, mores, and attitudes of those they hoped to supplant...

As to this last, I just read earlier on Wolf's blog comments from a Rabbi lamenting (among other things) almost the exact same thing.

It's interesting, though, as Wolf points out - in many communities, the Rabbis MADE the women go out to work. Somebody had to! Money does not grow on trees. And now they're griping about the social effects of their going out. Don't worry, this isn't going to be about lazy bums like my late husband who were allergic to gainful employment - at least it mostly isn't.

What it is going to be about is twofold. First and foremost, it is a simple fact of supply and demand that men cannot make a decent living wage in most industries because there are too many women working. If every woman with children or elderly parents worked at home instead of outside the home, there would be no unemployment amoung male heads of households (or divorced women, for that matter). Teens would have no trouble finding summer jobs or after school jobs. The fact is, the market is oversaturated with warm bodies - if 25% of them disappeared (and I admit that is a wild guess of the number of married working mothers/caregivers out there, the real number is probably higher) then immediately wages would go up. Wages would have to go up, because now businesses would have to compete for teens and men and unmarried women who are reasonably well-educated, have a work ethic, and can speak English properly. As the globalization paradigm winds down in the wake of peak oil, many more jobs for skilled tradesmen, craftsmen and artists will be created. Relocalization will keep money in the community instead of sending out to line the pockets of Wally-Wort executives and other transnational robber barons.

The other thing that would happen is that family expenses would go down - non-medically-necessary daycare and eldercare would be almost unheard of, for example. Volunteer societies and co-op societies would spring up everywhere - including cooperatives for homeschooling and kollel. Victory gardens, herbs and spices, home canning and preserving, candymaking, etc. will both add treats to the home's menu and provide additional income at neighborhood farmer's markets. A great burden would be lifted off of a family as the money they "lost" from the second income would be more than made up in reduced expenses.

Jewish women in general have rarely been in a position to lead a "decorative and essentially purposeless existence," but what we have been living is a life of vast under-appreciation for what we do, and can do, and will do. The feminist revolution was based on the false idea that what women do in the non-monetary (or underground) economy, however you want to call it, has no value compared to a "real" job with wages. This was an idiotic and short-sighted attitude from the get go, and it ought to be clear to any reasonably intelligent person today that the "woman of valour" in Proverbs who ran her house, her home business, her kids education, her farm, and her husband's interests was hardly a drooling idiot who sits around eating bon-bons all day. The non-monetary economy is far, far harder to manage than just going to an office or store, getting through another day, and collect your pay at the end of the week. The non-monetary economy is as complicated and far more intricate than the "paid" economy will every be. It takes knowledge, skill and tenacity to pull it all together. Feminazis who look down on us that can and do accomplish it have no grounds to criticize us. Our "pay" has far more value than a simple dollar. Money can't buy everything.

...The household economy, or what was left of it, was one of the casualties of the process that made these dubious figures popular. The feminist movement might have posed hard questions about the relative social value assigned to the household and market economies, and indeed some of the subtler minds within the movement made forays in this direction, but their ideas found few listeners. Instead, many feminists – and ultimately a great many American women – simply accepted the relative values their culture assigned to the two economies, and aspired to the one that they were taught to consider more valuable...

Feminazis, as Mr. Greer pointed out, have become slaves of the consumerist economy, and man-like in their thinking and reasoning abilities. Women have always been able to work around, above, below, beside, and through the "paid" economy to keep our homes, children, husbands, gardens, parents, communities and shuls running smoothly and harmoniously and in ways that meet everyone's needs. That the consumerist society looks down on that only shows that the consumerist society values money far more than it values the actual meeting of needs and contentment that they imagine money is buying them. In their life, what is unquantifiable is unreal - in real life, the unquantifiable needs of family and friendship and religion and community cooperation are far more valuable than money itself will ever be.

So we don't have to choose to be slaves of the consumerist economy. There is another way. It has some old elements, and it has some new elements. Certainly our grandmothers didn't have the internet as a resource, or such a plethora of "how-to" books, and yes, even the appliances and machines that we use to do housework more efficiently (as much as I enjoy hanging up the laundry to dry, I do not want to ever be hand-washing clothes on a washboard in the bathtub - but if I really had to, I would!). And our own attitudes about working with our own two hands has become our own worst enemy - that disdainful and snide attitude is what has led both feminism and Judaism so far off track, too.

There is another way - a self-sufficient community, a community that relocalizes, a community that cooperates, a community that embraces the non-monetary economy with gusto instead of snobbishness, a community that brings in money from the outside, too, but doesn't send it off again to feed and educate the Walton's children instead of our own.

There is another way - but will we take it?

...Any attempt to rebuild the household economy in the wake of peak oil will inevitably have to contend with these issues. It’s not at all uncommon today, for example, to find couples for whom the cost of professional childcare, an extra car and commuting expenses, and the other costs of a two-salary lifestyle add up to more money than the second salary brings in. In many cases these families would come out substantially ahead if one of the adults were to stay home and provide the same services within the household economy, but in the present social climate, this option is very nearly unthinkable for many people.

That choice is likely to be at least as valuable an option for a great many more people as the market economy contracts in the wake of peak oil. The abandonment of the household economy, after all, was only viable in the first place because of the temporary conjunction of American imperial expansion with the rapidly expanding fossil fuel production of the postwar years. As America’s empire frays and global energy production falters, the costs of the energy-intensive economic structure we have built over the last sixty years will fairly rapidly begin to outweigh its benefits. In that context a renewal of the household economy offers one valuable set of tools for taking up the slack and providing needed goods and services, and those dusty books in the home economics section of your local college library may turn out to be valuable once again.

The longer we hold on to the failing system, the harder it will be to transition to a more sustainable economy - that's a fact. Our own communities are, in many ways, much worse off than a regular American community - because we have embraced ideas even further away from the viable path than mainstream America every would. Does that mean it can't be done? Only if we choose not to do it.

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