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Dear friends and readers,

A third blog on the same theme, again prompted by off-blog replies.  See my Real history of adjunct employment, and  Reactive defiance or fulfilled life?  My subject here is the real employment histories of women in the US

MIldredLucy2forblog
2011 Mildred Pierce walking on the beach with the friend who took a job from her and supports her

I very much appreciated Gail Dines's rejoinder to Anne-Marie Slaughter's "elitist & fatuous" (both at once) column (why women can't have it all) which partly because of its placement and partly because of the extraordinary position she held, has been discussed much across the Net (and elsewhere); there is a problem in Prof Dines's answer.

On the one hand, a fabled position which the woman gives up to become a tenured professor at Princeton. If this is declination, it's a very peculiar one. On the other, women cleaning airports where it's their third job of the day. Neither is typical: one glamorous appealing to compensatory fantasies, the other abysmal. We just don't have enough real stories with real figures of characteristic fates of women.

Dines wrote on WMST-l to my objection:

"If you read Nickel and Dimed by Ehrenreich or any of the many ethnographies on the life of the working poor, you will see that two jobs per family member is not unusual. Slaughter's life is indeed unusual, but take a walk through a city late at night when the cleaning crews start work, and you will see that the women in the airport are pretty typical.  Or, closer to home, speak to the women who scan your groceries, or who work for Sodexo in college food services.

Gail"

What we need is a study, a thorough readable study, of the occupations, income, and marital status of US women across the country?  The way women are depicted in the media is utterly skewed (men too for that matter).

I've read Ehrenreich's Nickel & Dimed and eloquent, sensible, humane as it is, it makes no pretense to that. In fact it's a autobiographical memoir about "passing."  She passes as the sort of woman who takes the jobs she does, and, as has been said (or written), one weakness of the presentation of her experience is in fact she's not those women. I remember she takes time off (doesn't she get hurt while a cleaning woman hauling this hugely heavy vacuum cleaner on her back?); she is well aware she has a good deal of money and access to a comfortable home, and friends (I half-remember she makes some use of these latter). Her attitudes of mind (the way she thinks and feels about those she works for) is quite  different from the women she works with.

It's a polemic, an illustration of an argument and not thick ethnography.  Someone cited one of these websites thick with charts and brief paragraphs about each chart.  They just don't hack it.

I'm thinking of an older book like Ann Oakley's Subject Women where she really does lay out for the time women's education and demonstrates that unlike men there is a real, frequent or common disconnect between high achievement in education (an advanced degree, awards, work done in an academic setting as student or young scholar) and what position or career the woman ends up doing and not long afterwards either.

Websites don't persuade this way; they are diffuse. You must tell stories. There must be narratives in a concrete firmly researched broad context.

My feeling is Anne Marie Slaughter can get away with her glamorous self-presentation (although her thesis is we should not attack the victims that's not why her column was read) and is answered everywhere because the press is filled with women aspiring to be or who are upper middle in attitude and stance because women don't have a real picture of themselves as a group in the workaday marketplace of jobs.

People often say and observe here how young women don't think they need a feminist movement and want to stay away from it, lest they be "tarred" or stigmatized. One reason they don't think they need one is from their necessarily limited experience and what they see, they really think all jobs are available equally with me. They may see the class inflection; they may have bad sexual experiences but they don't generalize and most of the time don't share. They look at magazines and see pictures of women who look all sorts of liberated. As with the realities of childbirth, the truth is not told anywhere in a coherent accessible form -- and such things need repeating and validation by other publications.

Confrontedblog
Mildred is confronted by an upper class woman who is there to threaten her because Mildred's daughter is trying to sue
the woman's son for a supposed pregnancy: the woman is enraged -- the two are made into antagonists by the system and the values of a daughter who buys into vicious blackmail as a way to get ahead.

Sylvia

Comments

( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
misssylviadrake
Jun. 27th, 2012 01:44 pm (UTC)
From a friend: "Read that whole article by that Princeton rich woman, oh why did I bother, what crapola. Your blog comments just right. She isn't addressing working women, she's addressing the DRIVEN elite who live in a mirrored hell of their own making."
misssylviadrake
Jun. 29th, 2012 12:02 am (UTC)
Another friend:

"I read the Slaughter piece on how difficult it is to "have it all" as a women and Dines's rejoinder. Many thoughts went through my mind but I will try to quickly summarize a few:

1. I whole-heartedly agree that Slaughter's piece was an elitist
screed and does represent another world that doesn't align with the reality of even many relatively privileged people in this culture. While I have troubles with "the men have it bad too" statements from the comments because they ignore any sense of nuance about women's ideological situation, I did agree that few people, male or female, go through life without making significant compromises. When "have it all" is dangled as a possibility, we grow dissatisfied for all the wrong reasons--and it skews politics.

2. How do women in Slaughter's class--or men--find the energy to do what they do? Up at 4:30 a.m. to be on a train to DC to work from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. five days week? Then care for teenagers and work at home? What are what we not hearing about this story? I would collapse after about a month of such a schedule and that would be the end of the high-powered career. Is there a class of super-people with levels of stamina denied the rest of us? Or are these jobs actually not as work intensive as the hours indicate--do these hours include breaks for the gym, long power lunches, long phone calls, delegating rather than working? I mention this because casually throwing around immense work hours create a cruel bar for people doing real work--cleaning toilets, building highways--who are expected to keep pace. As someone who can only (really, I'm talking about real work) work a certain number of hours--and I am in good health--I want to ask what happened to the 40 hour work week."
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )

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