A Freeway in Hell

My thoughts on the nature of our late capitalist society. The title should give some clue what I think of that! US 101 or I-80 as metaphor for our imperatives. Besides worrying about what sort of black hole we are speeding into, I like airships. One reason being the almost inescapble desire to have one to get out of a traffic jam!

Location: Sonoma County, California

Grew up a military brat, Californian-in-exile, reactionary libertarian-essentially spent the 70s on Mars, for I am hearing impaired and I did not know what the music was saying. Generally still don't unless I listen to it over and over or find the words captioned on a movie or somewhere on line. Came "back" to California to begin my adult life, have not lived elsewhere since. No regrets there despite our problems here. Have studied physics, more math than most human beings will ever need, worked on spaceship projects (well, one) at JPL. Lived with a wonderful disabled person who lives no more--L Natasha Littletree RIP October 2004. I have a life plan, just kind of vague on some of the short-term stuff.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Undervaluing the work that is never done...

Over at the Pandagon place, Amanda has once again attracted a fine crop of concern trolls. Gee, and all she did was point out that making marriage into a sacred norm is a bit of a crock.

Way up here "Robert" quoted Amanda saying:

particularly since the patriarchal model has men doing so very little of the actual work that in some families Dad is mostly regarded as decoration. Seriously, I know people who had more rearing from their aunts and grandmothers.

And then he said:

This is simply a reversal of the patriarchal notion that childrearing isn’t real work. You’re assigning the work of economic support for a family a very low value.

No, no, Robert you bozo, Amanda is clearly not "assigning" that work a low value. She's pointing out that our society does that misassement. It's not subjective, it's a clearly observable fact.

The people who actually do the labor you (correctly for once) point out should be so highly valued actually don't get credited with it. Wifehood is typically a euphemism for "house slave." Of course it doesn't have to be, of course fewer and fewer women are simply accepting that, of course quite a few men are gradually and grudgingly--as always, some willingly and eagerly--taking on their share and perhaps more (for a change) of that drudgery and effort.

Not all of motherwork is a pain, of course. But even the rewarding parts are still work in that it takes serious application, however willingly applied, and that doing it means you can't simultaneously be doing something else that is valued in our screwed-up socioeconomic system.

Quite aside from the specifics of childrearing, the types of work that women do, throughout history, throughout the world, have been systematically undervalued in the patriarchial societies that have been the near-universal norm these past several millenia. Today, in the capitalist world, it is quite possible to contract to have the types of ongoing maintenance of civilization women have "traditionally" been required to do to be done on a fee-for-service basis. When we do this, we typically hire people at the lowest wages, often illegally low (and by the way, arrange for specifically childcare duties to be handled the same way). We expect people working as employees in these sectors to work long hours with minimal or nonexistent benefits. And yet, despite the cut-rate and exploitive standards set, the price tag for getting the jobs done comes out pretty high. If we paid these workers (overwhelmingly women) at rates competitive with "men's work," the price would be even higher.

For 16 years I worked as the care provider for a disabled person. I can testify how minimally I was paid. For all but 2 of those years, it was at the minimum wage. And I learned fast the pragmatic basis of the maxim "Man works from sun to sun but women's work is never done." The most draining thing about it is that you are constantly on the battlefront against entropy itself--everything is coming unraveled as fast as you can ravel it. That's the nature of keeping life going.

And I learned how absolutely essential this inglorious, scorned work is. If the housewives and servants and janitors and cooks of the world could be organized to go on universal strike, I reckon that the entire world would grind to a grimy, sticky, malnourished, sick, miserable halt in about half a week, about when the frozen snacks in the freezers run out.

And yet this work is done, continuously, for the least consideration of any category of labor, often for "free," and has been for thousands of years.

I know you've got some "economic" answer for this, dear Robert. One major reason I have zero respect for mainstream so-called "economics" is that it is precisely an ideological machine for justifying the social order we've got, as the natural and inevitable order of things, nothing more and nothing less. That's its entire content and function.

I've studied a rational, scientific approach to economics, thank you very much, and it is quite straightforward in pointing out that real economic systems are generally based on exploitation enabled by implicit, sometimes demonstrated, systematic violence. Scientific political economy is also far better at accounting for the real structure and observed details of actually existing economies than marginalist twaddle has ever been--that's my main reason, that I think that as a model, political economy based on historical materialism and the labor theory of value is reasonably true, whereas mainstream "economics" is ideological bunk.

"Women's work," especially motherwork, is not underpaid because it is cheap. It's underpaid because women are exploited systematically as an ancient and crucial part of a global system based on general exploitation. In pointing out that in fact, in the real world, men in our patriarchial society very often get full credit for being great patriarchs while actually riding free on the unpaid labor of people drastically underprivileged and arbitrarily subordinated to these very "patriarchs," Amanda is taking note of situations we've all seen examples of ourselves, and they are by no means treated as bizarre extremes. The point of this thread, to reflect on why it is that our society maintains the mystique of "marriage" as a sacred norm, comes clear if we consider that marriage as it actually evolved in our society has always involved some degree of enslavement.

Thanks for blundering directly onto the very crux of the argument that punctures your whole sanctified balloon, Robert.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well said

(Raincitygirl from Pandagon)

1/15/2007 6:43 AM  
Blogger Amanda said...

Chiming in with Raincitygirl, well said. I especially like you point about how implicit violence is used to shepherd women into underpaid labor.

1/15/2007 8:32 AM  
Blogger LtRand said...


In having read both feminist "modern women" and "traditional" patriarchal women, I find it interesting the extreme differences in views.

Not having actually lived during the 50's and 60's, I cannot assert what the normalitive consensus on the value of housewive's work was, I must trust what was written.

However, in my observations, I find it interesting that the modern versions of "traditional families" actually place a very high intristic value on the labor of the homemaker, essentially asserting that it is equally important in the "proper functioning" of a home.

It is from some of my observations that I wonder, if perhaps we take a different look on things, that we could actually turn to a value system that allows and incourages both familial units to exist within our society and leave it to individuals to decide what they value for themselves.

6/16/2007 2:42 PM  
Blogger K. said...

Well said. I'm ashamed to admit I was watching a reality show, but after the husband repeatedly bringing up that he's the one paying to keep a roof over her head, and for all the money, he deserves to have his wife make him a tea (after she'd just finished cooking dinner and was cleaning up from it), the wife hired help to do everything she had to do for one day. The bill came out to $1800.00. And that was just 9-5!

And the traditional husband is quite useless for an intelligent woman, but unfortunately, it seems like not a lot of men want to modernize themselves, or let other willing males modernize themselves....

5/23/2008 7:43 PM  

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