Friday, November 06, 2009

Women's Work

So I've been working on a book chapter about Fordism/Taylorism (as in, the assimilation of immigrants through assembly line labor in America) and labor poets. So I've been thinking a lot about 1. what is "American" about certain systems of production and 2. why gender roles in America create so much grief for working women (that is, women who receive compensation for their labor by working outside of the home, as opposed to women who do not receive compensation because they work in the home).

The two concerns dovetail for me this week with the Publisher Weekly list of top ten books of 2009. Forget that we've still got 1/6 of the year to go before 2009 ends. What caught my eye is that there were no books by women listed among the top ten, and only 29 were listed in the top 100. This is the year when our poet laureate is a woman, the winner of the Man/Booker prize is a woman, the Nobel Prize in literature is a woman, and I could go on, but shabbat comes in early today, so I won't right now.

The reviews editors say they were "disturbed" by the lack of women, but they wanted the "best" books, without regard to gender. Susan Steinberg has an interesting and funny meditation on disturbance here.

But what I've noticed is that in recessions years, The New York Times Best-of list seems to exclude women, too. This was the case in 2001 and 1991. (In 1988 women were also excluded. This was the year of Stephen Hawkings and Gabriel Garcia Marquez, so okay, maybe).

I know there was a backlash after WWII, when women had to return home from factories when the men came home from war. And I know that men are disproportionally losing jobs in this year's economy. Especially since health care and education are relatively stable (despite the recent firing of 200 teachers in the DC district. Boo).

But I was surprised at the venom that has been poured on women who are protesting the PW picks. Maybe it has to do with the value we place on women in general. This is a country that has been listed as the second worst placeto raise children in the developed world, better only than Great Britain, according to UNICEF in 2006. It has the shortest maternity leave for women, and men don't have paternity leave unless their companies give it to them. Pregnancy is considered an illness, actually, in terms of maternity leave and health insurance. Ovaries are, in some states, considered "pre-existing conditions" in terms of insurance policies. Which is why women are more expensive to insure in some states.

I'm not sure why all this is true. But it seems to have something to do with our work ethic. This week's post is really just inquiry. I'm still thinking about it all.

I should also note that I do not dislike my America. I am only thinking about how it can be made better for women and children.


Anonymous said...

So that's why you're moving to Israel? A "child loving country" in the middle of the desert (ever heard of the water crisis there?); in constant war condition; which sends its adolescents to be kidnapped on its undefined borders; which has an extremely low rate of women in high ranks (in academia and elsewhere); with a constantly growing gap between the rich and the poor; where what you do with your child is EVERYBODY's business; where children's education is always second to security and defense when it comes to financial priorities and budgets; (where, BTW, giving your poetry books as a gift will probably earn you about as much as selling them) and I could go on....

Queen of Laundry said...

Go on, Anonymous, see where it gets you...

Life in Israel is indeed not easy. Still, that doesn't make it the worst choice, in a world of growing individualism, social alienation, "reality-shows" and "cyber-life". There's a lot to be said about (and improved in) "the Zionist Project", but it is indeed full of passion for life and it involves enough people who care and strive for its success - morally, socially and culturally.

Thinking positive never hurt anyone, so... don't be afraid of what they all say, Maya. If you feel this is the right choice for you - then go for it :)

Hatzlacha on your move!