Berk's Blog

From Liberation to Obligation: Girl Power on the Rise in Recession

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We have noted here before that this economic downturn is hitting men much worse than women in terms of job losses. And while it seems easy to explain why (see link below), we are now just beginning to discuss the effects on American society, where women control reproduction and more and more of the production.

I have wondered if women need men at all in a secular society after birth control was developed, especially the pill. Evolutionary psychology would lead us to the conclusion that women choose men based on trust that he’ll stick around and that he will provide food, security and shelter. (One of the reasons cited for a women’s need for bonding before and after sex, while men just let it rip)

With a lot of unemployed men – which part of those evolutionary obligations are necessary? We have discussed before that smaller households lead to statistics that show policy makers that household incomes are falling – so they cry that something must be done about that. But as we point out here people earn money not households. Therefore, median incomes per earner have not been stagnant, they have been rising either in line or faster than GDP growth. The middle class is not disappearing – it’s becoming girl dominated!

Lionel Tiger an anthropology teacher at Rutgers weighs in this morning with an Op-Ed in the Wall Street Journal.

And Dr Mark Perry at the Carpe Diem blog shows more evidence as to why women remain employed while the men are getting laid off – it’s the education stupid!

Follow this link to his blog Girl Power: Employment and Higher Education

From Liberation to Obligation

The economic downturn will place a heavier burden on women.

In a serious economic recession, the environment is often suffused with danger. Unlike in a war, however, when you peer across the ridge or down the road, there is no clear-cut enemy.

But there are clear casualties in downturns, including the current one — including that male employment is more vulnerable than female employment. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, an extraordinary 82% of current job losers are men. Because for various reasons these jobs were more lucrative than women’s jobs to start with, the end point is not only sharp changes in income but new requirements for how families can live.

The impact of these uneven job losses will be felt along lines which have been apparent for quite some time to some of us concerned with basic biology. Ever since females gained control of reproduction, mainly with The Pill, there has been a cascade of subtle but extensive shifts in sociosexual experience. Now, in both a real and symbolic sense, women are acquiring control of production too.

But they are also being more controlled by it. Like men in the past, they no longer have a sassy choice between job or family. Bread before self-expression and “fulfilling potential.”

First find a job. Maybe then, find yourself.

More and more women are having children without husbands. Within the family system, men are more likely to become outlaws than in-laws. They leave the family system, or don’t join it in the first place. This is decisively more likely when they have no work.

Who wants an out-of-work man? They are unlikely to be considered plausible candidates as mates by sensible women — which is virtually all women in this context — who understand the essential economic envelope of romance.

That traditional diamond ring is after all a wholly useless but flagrantly symbolic promise by prehubby of care and resources to come. The rule of thumb and the third finger left hand is that the ring is supposed to cost at least two months of after-tax income. What if there’s no such income now or in the foreseeable future?

But breakfast has to be made, children lulled to sleep, granny taken to her dentist. What is happening in the cold turbulence of the economy is affecting and will affect more deeply the warm intimate parts of life. In short, there will be more pressure than ever on women.

Overall, women will never neglect their families. If women have to, they will tie themselves into knots to do what’s necessary. They will have to find ways to earn money while their men — if they have them — sally forth to job lines and soon breadlines.

Irritated slogans about equal opportunity will fade, replaced by dour acceptance of equal obligation. Or if the current data are predictive for women, unequal obligation.

Mr. Tiger teaches anthropology at Rutgers and is the author of “The Decline of Males” (St. Martin’s, 2000).