Microsoft word - rationale.doc

“One day, I wanted to explain myself to myself.And it struck me with a sort of surprise that the first thing I had to say was, ‘I am a woman.’” -Simone de “What I hated most was being a waitress. One guy said, ‘You don’t have to smile, I’m going to give you a tip anyway.’ I said, ‘Keep it, I wasn’t smiling for a tip.” -Peggy Terry, waitress whose jobs have varied “with geography, climate, and the ever felt pinch of circumstance.” (From Studs Terkel’s Working) “I am a woman” is a complicated label around which meanings are produced and understood in a variety of contexts, especially with regard to the politics of work. During my time at Gallatin, I have had the opportunity to become aware of the cultural and social forces that shape women’s work today. This is not because they have become more apparent in general, but because the lens through which I view human interaction has changed. I am seeing now, more clearly than ever, the things I never looked for; the assumptions and expectations we assign to sex that collectively represent “gender. ” In this rationale, I hope to illuminate the link between the social construction of gender and the evolving expectations of work in a capitalist economy. The current relationship between gender and work is best viewed in a post-industrial context. Karl Marx once postulated that workers in a capitalist economy are exploited because they toil on the land, equipment, etc., of the capitalist, but never receive the fruit of their labor in full. In The Traffic in Women, Gayle Rubin takes this idea one step further in asserting that women are the ultimate reserve labor force to be exploited by capitalism. In his 1844 Manuscripts, among other texts, Marx describes the exploitation of the worker who never enjoys the full benefit of his/her labor. The worker is only part of a production line that manufactures an object later sold in a marketplace, never meant to be the worker’s possession despite his efforts to create it. While Marx explains the need to reproduce the labor force in order to continue this industry, he never mentions the resources needed to fuel the reproduction the labor force itself. Rubin acknowledges the work that Marx takes for granted when she writes, “Food must be cooked, clothes must be cleaned, wood chopped. Housework is therefore a key element in the process of the laborer from whom surplus value is taken” (162). Rubin’s insight reveals how capitalism set the stage for gender-biased labor relations. In a capitalist economy, wages account for compensation in the work place, but there is no effort or clear method to calculate compensation for raising children, producing workers of the next generation and caring for workers that function in the current economy. All of this work is systematically relegated to women; thus creating a sexual division of labor in the American market place that has been reproduced despite the inherent inequality of it. It is important to question this division of labor if we are to understand its implications in a broader context. “What is a domestic woman?” Rubin asks, and then concludes, “A female of the species. The one explanation is as good as the other ” (158). A domesticated women is a female of the species who doesn’t just become a domestic, she has been fashioned into a working body to suit cultural expectation. The domestic woman is a classic example that informed the kinds of labor that women would perform outside of the workplace, given the chance. Just as ideological framework turns females into domesticated women, it compels them to assume other work roles tainted by a cultural perceptions of gender. Rubin segues into this idea when she concludes, “A woman is a women, she only becomes a domestic, a wife, a playboy bunny, a prostitute, or a human dictaphone in certain relations ” (158). Picking up where the analysis of the domesticated woman left off allows us to explore the impact of gender on new roles that women assume outside of the A recent article, “Gender and the Prozac Nation,” traces the shift from drugs that sedate housewives to drugs that emotionally numb women who work outside of the home. The article uses pharmaceutical trends to show how gender expectations change in accordance with market necessity, and how “medical ” conditions are manipulated as a result. One might recall the notorious drug Valium, nicknamed in the popular Rolling Stone’s song, “Mother’s Little Helper,” as the drug that thwarted ambition, and, in effect, preserved the passive and docile construction of femininity as it was conceived in the pre-Ford era. By that term I hope to evoke the period of time when divisions of labor meant that women were culturally expected to maintain the household, as in the domestic woman, and had little or nothing to do with the public sphere of work. As market demands have shifted to suit a globalized, post-Ford economy, expectations of American women have changed drastically, and when we examine the current state of affairs in terms of employment, a women is expected to bring in a considerable amount of income, at least enough to supplement or complement the income of her husband or significant other. This shift in working trends has coincided with the popularization of Prozac, a drug that, according to “Gender and the Prozac Nation,” allows women to cope with the simultaneous stress of family life and career obligations. As the article notes, femininity is constructed in accordance with economic trends, in this case the evolving importance of public (v.s. private) labor performed by women in It should be said that the scope of women represented in the “Gender and the Prozac Nation” article is limited to those who have sought and received treatment for depression. While this study sheds light on the status of women’s work, it is only a small piece of the puzzle. Many women don’t have access to basic health care, let alone mental health and costly therapy sessions. And women who face greater economic obstacles feel the constraints that gender imposes on modes of work, perhaps to an even greater degree. Prostitution has been described as the oldest job in the book, and along with domestic labor, it just might be. Prostitutes are given a voice in Sex Work, a compilation of writing by women in the sex industry, from porn stars, to prostitutes to topless dancers. There are no predominant commonalities between these women except for their gender and line of work. That is not to say that men are not part of the underground or legal sex work community, but they remain a small percentage to date. The underlying forces driving women, in particular, to this type of work is complicated. However, taking a look at cultural traditions that perpetuate gender stereotypes sheds light on why women continue to dominate the sex worker community. Though economic opportunities in the 21st century have changed a lot for women, the expectations they face still reflect age old values that compel sexual divisions of labor. In Sex Work, editor Priscilla Alexander explains: “Economic transactions are deeply rooted in many societies with customary dowries and bride prices, covertly with lingering customs as to who. pays for dinner, purchases the engagement ring, and pays for the wedding. Not to mention assumptions about which partner is supposed to be the primary, if not exclusive, breadwinner ” Indeed, subtle behaviors that traditionally link men to industry (and presumably women to domestic labor) compose a greater ideology that prevents women from having, or taking advantage of the same economic opportunities as men. What might seem like the minutia of human behavior; such as a man supporting a women, though she might have the same job options as her partner, rewards him with the upper hand in finances (and may even compel her to domestic work to justify the economic relationship). This kind of behavior is less obvious, and thus more difficult to protest. What might seem like chivalry often leaves women in a position characterized by weakness, or incapability. Prostitution stems from this transaction, with a women preforming a sexual act, which among other parts of a woman’s role in a relationship is, indirectly rewarded, presumably by a home and other economic stability. Prostitution isolates one facet of this relationship and rewards the sexual act outright with money. In effect, although equal opportunities for men and women have, in theory, balanced out, this interpretation of prostitution conveys that the social atmosphere that conditions women’s decisions about work has not changed. Women interviewed in Sex Work exhibit awareness of the inherently flawed relationship between gender and work, and many single mothers represented in the text speak out about the daunting burden of responsibility that a single mother must face. Though the population of women in the work force has grown, their responsibilities to children has not shifted accordingly, as illustrated earlier in “Gender and the Prozac Nation ” and tackled more directly in Sex Work. One woman, for example, questioned, “How else can a woman without years of education necessary to become a doctor, or a lawyer, still earn the kind of money a lawyer or a doctor earns? In a few hours? How else could I have so much time to spend with my son, when time is so precious?” (164). This woman’s perspective confirms that women remain the primary caretakers of children, despite their growing role as financial providers. Her responsibility for child care was unshared and the burden of supporting him was too, though the job options she faced were limited as a result. Unequal responsibility means that assumptions about women have changed, but not for the better. The theme of unfair burden in conjunction with work is prevalent in America, but is very apparent outside of our nation’s borders as well. Globalization and the outsourcing of factory labor have affected gender norms in many countries abroad, particularly those in Asia. In Gender and the South China Miracle, author Ching Kwan Lee takes a look at the relationship between gender and work that has formed since new opportunities have become available for women. Her ethnographic study of two factories shows how the impact of globalization has been a blessing and a curse, both allowing women in China to break free from ties of kinship and familial obligation, while continuing to limit the options for Many of Lee’s ideas correspond to the social patterns we observe in American life. For example, she notes that while women have more work opportunities now, their independence and liberty is falsely overstated because they are still the primary care takers of the household and children. The overbearing responsibilities of work and motherhood are made evident when Lee observes that, “. although economic hardships in women’s families of origin always compelled their early entry into factories, after they married and had children their families constrained them to stay with particular employers, resulting in an extremely low rate of inter-firm mobility” (95). This point suggests that while work roles for women have expanded, they have only grown to take on more responsibility rather than share their excess work load with their male counterparts. It also suggests that this burden prevents women from climbing upward in company ranks. This point, in addition to other significant reflections about gendered work comes out later when Lee interviews In China, women with families are not only morally obligated to take factory jobs, as opposed other jobs associated with sexuality, like waiting tables, they are also expected to accommodate their domestic responsibilities within these factory jobs. Both workers and floor managers attest to the fact that women remain stagnant in their factory ranks because they are culturally expected to take more time off. One manager remarked, “In the end, they are still women. When their sons get sick, they have to apply for leave. Foremen have to be male. Their families will expect them to be dedicated mainly to the job ” (153). Although many women Lee interviewees believe they are capable of fulfilling leadership roles, they know that they will never advance. Therefore, unpaid domestic labor prevents them from having any workplace ambition. Lee’s realizations show that despite a changing cultural understanding of gender, sexual divisions of labor have not been extinguished at all. It’s critical to know that gender is not constructed in a vacuum. The push and pull of variable currents define the shape it takes, and in order to understand its meaning, the variables must be taken into account. Interpreting gender through the lense of work familiarizes us with complex frameworks that produce women as workers. Taking a look at an early post-industrial context exposes the importance of unpaid labor in relation to capitalism. Additionally, this approach sheds light on the values that compelled women to unpaid labor before they entered the workplace. The change in arena, from home to workplace, marks a critical paradigm shift that characterizes the current state of affairs. It allowed women to take on paid labor, and consequently share the responsibility of supporting the nuclear family. However, the previous labor expected of women was never alleviated. As noted in Sex Work, customary values that justify women’s unpaid labor were, and are, covertly passed on. Systems of chivalry, or tradition deceptively bind women to unpaid labor despite their advancing to paid positions. The consequences are largely problematic. The popularization of Prozac for American women marks the rise of medical treatment for a non- medical problem. Women in China take jobs that accommodate motherhood at the expense of potential inter-firm mobility. Women have incorporated new work into their routines, without ridding themselves of some of the full time domestic labor they started out with. In the changing discourse on women’s work, the lack of change in men’s work roles becomes unavoidable. Why have the majority of men not stepped in to pick up the slack in domestic labor? There are some modern families with stay-at-home-dads, or shared domestic labor. But the shift has been slow, and non-existent in many parts of the world. I would venture to say there is little respect for domestic labor that prevents the majority of men from contributing to it. Perhaps a lack of pay hinders any incentive to do so. In that case, the task of redefining masculinity falls on the collective shoulders of a society. People must be educated about the unfair burden that women now carry if they are to change the current relationship between gender and work. I suspect the bad news is that if any progress is to be made, the difficult job of creating awareness and putting pressure on men to share domestic labor may inevitably fall, yet again, on the shoulders of women. But cultivating an informed generation of boys, men, and even doubtful women, would certainly be


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